Benefits and Costs of Group Work

Li Chen and Nick Clancy

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Most days, the same thing happens every class–the teacher gives the student a drill to start on, and then they start teaching their lesson for the day. They tell the student to take notes when they are teaching, and when they’re done teaching, they give students classwork for the topic that was instructed.  

But not all students understand the first time the lesson, so it’s beneficial if the teacher assigns groupwork to students first, to let them talk it out with their classmates and get a hang of the topic. Then the teacher can assign individual work like an exit ticket or homework. 

“Group work can be easier because if you don’t understand something your group can help you out, but some people might learn better if they work individually,” freshman Dominic Joseph explained. “You can learn the topic from both work in group work other people can help you but depending on your learning style individual work can help you more.” 

A study by Pennsylvania State University said that studying in groups can help students to “increase retention, expand access to information, and boost motivation to study.” It also claimed that having others studying around you will reduce your chances of getting off task, as your peers can help motivate you to continue studying.  The biggest disadvantage to individual work is that people could become off task without even realizing it. 

Group work can help students learn cooperation and teamwork. Not only this, but it can allow students to try more complex problems and give a deeper understanding of the material. It can help students think about a problem in a variety of ways.  If students are struggling, their group members can help them to understand the material better than they could if they were working individually. Group work can also help students improve on skills such as time management and breaking complex task into parts and steps. Advantages of group work include how students can hold one another responsible and accountable, and students are better able to take ownership of the subject matter. 

Group work does have some drawbacks; for example, a study from Grand Canyon University found that teachers must design lessons in a way in which all members of a group are able to participate and learn. Not all students are comfortable in a group setting, and this could lead to anxiety and students falling below expectations.  Group work also takes more time, students need to organize themselves and may fool around.  

Teachers would need to monitor groups to keep them on task, which takes time away from them while they could be grading papers, or preparing lessons. 

“It really depends on your group, if your group isn’t focused it can be hard to get work done,” D’Angelo Hawkins said. “But if your group has people who are focused and know what they’re doing it can be easier.” 

Individual work can also benefit students; it can give students a sense of independence, students can work at their own pace, and they won’t be left behind or be held back by a group.  It can also help people practice self-control and give them more confidence in their own abilities and knowledge.  It’s also easier for teachers to grade individual work because each person will turn in their own work, instead of trying to decide who contributed to the group project. 

A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that the average grade for those who worked individually is higher than those who worked in groups. It also found that students who worked individually had a tendency to show their work more, while students who worked in groups did not.  But this study did not recommend getting rid of group work entirely, instead it recommended to “investigate which elements of cooperative learning were more effective in [the] classroom.” So, group work can be effective, it just needs to be used properly. 

English teacher Christina Ruzzi believes that, “Giving group work is better, students learn more when they collaborate. [Individual work] can be boring for students; they can’t out their heads together and are less creative.” 

Junior Zion Stanley agrees. 

“Individual work is harder: you have more to do, and you need to concentrate more on your work,” he explained. 

Overall, it is important to have both group work and individual work in a classroom.  Students need to learn how to work with others, manage time, and work independently.  Sometimes, in subjects like English or Government, it is important to get a variety of opinions on certain issues. In other subjects, like Math and Science, students will need to learn how to solve problems on their own.  All teachers should try to use both groupwork and individual work in their classes. A student would prefer to have a mix of both so at times they can work with friends and peers and ask for help if needed, and other time they can concentrate and focus on their own work.