In pursuit of student-led learning, more classes turn the floor over to students. Schools proudly announce they are moving away from lectures to student-initiated discussion and debate, but is that productive in a class of 33 kids where a few extroverts reduce discussion to recitation?
Several students complained about a similar experience this year: They were doing group presentations in science or history. The instructions stated presentations could not exceed 10 minutes, but teachers failed to call time when classmates rambled for 30 or 40 minutes. “The group before mine had four people who never bothered to work together on their presentation so each one did their own 10 minutes,” said a student, whose own presentation was pushed back twice.
Speaking of group projects, most students hate them and wonder why schools revere them. A teen said her assigned partner failed to show for meetings and then blew off the last three days of school — when they were supposed to present — to go to the beach. “She didn’t even tell me she wasn’t coming to class any more,” the 16-year-old said.
Volunteering at a Sunday afternoon baccalaureate event for my local high school, I overheard a student tell another mother pouring punch, “Oh my gosh, I just remembered I’m supposed to be working with your son right now on a project.” The mother assured the student her son would complete the project on his own because he wanted an A in the course.
Therein is the unwritten rule of group projects, according to students: The smartest kids do all the work because the grade matters to them. You always want to be put in the group with the academic strivers, said the kids.
Describing himself as both easygoing and driven, a University of Georgia bound teen from Gwinnett told me his teachers paired him with less motivated personalities since fifth grade. As a result, he dreaded group assignments or labs. However, this year in all advanced classes, he collaborated with highly driven peers, and it changed his view. “When you work with someone who wants the A as much as you do, group projects can be pretty fun,” he said.
There is a great social media meme on group projects that a student shared: “When I die I want my group project members to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time.”