Group Work Dilemma - What Would You Do?

What would you do?

Hello Readers!


There have been a TON of great ideas for guided inquiry (modeling instruction, POGIL, Target Inquiry, etc.). I do a ton of guided inquiry in my classroom. I have engaged in professional development on facilitating group work (through POGIL) and read what I hear is THE book on group work (which really is quite good- “Designing Groupwork”).


Basically, facilitating group work is challenging. These guided inquiry tasks are NOT just worksheets. They are data sets that need to be analyzed and dissected, and meant to be analogous to patterns of thought chemists would do to analyze data (ok, ok lots of it is fabricated, but still, it IS what professional chemists do with their data).


In this blog post, I am going to share a VERY sticky situation from my AP Chemistry classroom to you fine teachers. This event happened a few weeks ago and it is still bugging me. At some point in the near future, I will share what I did next as a comment to this blog post (what a cliffhanger!).


So, my AP chemistry class looks like this:

  • 20 students (60% male, 40% female)

  • All are in the 10th or 11th grade

  • All took one year of chemistry with me (either general or honors chemistry)

  • Varying math levels (Alg II through beyond Calc I)

  • Students are allowed to choose their own seats

  • We meet for six 55 minute periods a week

    • In addition to one 55 minute period each day, one day a week they stay for a “double period” so we have more time for labs. AP Chemistry is taught the last period of the day to facilitate this practice.

  • Our school is a self proclaimed problem based learning school - students are expected to engage in tasks that make them do the heavy lifting.


The Dilemma:

  • Students engage in a variety of tasks in my class: lecture, guided inquiry (both in and out of the laboratory), and sometimes time to work on practice sets.

  • I have one student who I will call Josh (not his real name). Josh has been a pretty high achiever both last year and this year.

  • However, Josh has not demonstrated that he trusts the students in his group. He will try to isolate himself even though he sits between two other students.

  • A few weeks ago, my students were working on a lab titled “Energy in Chemical Reactions” (basically, they were using Q=mcΔT in a variety of scenarios).  

  • The first day of the lab, most students figured out how to successfully apply the use of Q=mcΔT in the lab scenario.

  • On day 2, most students were fine continuing the lab with just a different system, but using the same ideas. While working that day, Josh was seriously confused about how to use Q=mcΔT - he kept wanting to find the change in enthalpy per mole of reaction instead of the total Q. He was frustrated that his calculations didn’t jive with other data students had posted on the board.

  • When he called me over for help, after I asked him what he and his group mates had worked out so far, his response was blatantly said “My group members don’t know so I haven’t asked them.”

  • I told him he needed to engage his group members before I would come over again to actually help. Then I left.


My Take:

I felt like if 85% of the class was fine it did not warrant a whole class re-teach and I was not helping Josh by showing him how to do it if he had so many resources at hand.


On one hand, I felt like a terrible human being to leave Josh in the lurch. On the other hand, I felt like he was being disrespectful to his peers that had valuable contributions to the conversation at hand that he chose to not engage in. I felt like my choice was better for him in the long run.


Welcome to my classroom. It is often challenging. It is at times frustrating. It is always loud. It is where my students learn.


What I would like to know in your response below:

  • What other questions might I ask myself about this scenario?

  • What would you have done in my place?

  • What would your next steps be?

  • What struggles do you have with facilitating group work?


Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 5

Sarah Kitzan | Wed, 03/30/2016 - 13:25

I would have done the same thing. In my AP chemistry classes, I push my students to take a more active role in their learning and to not depend on me as much. AP students that take the initiative to figure things out without relying only on the teacher tend to perform better and have a better understanding of the concepts. There will always be students that don't like working in groups and will do whatever they can to work alone. In regards to his misunderstanding of the concept, I would offer for him to come in and see me on his own time (before school, after school, etc) to get extra help, but I wouldn't use class time to address the issue. I more of the class was having issues I would definitely re-teach, but that isn't necessary when the majority of students understand the concept. 

I would also ask myself if this student normally avoids working in groups or with a partner, and maybe have a conversation with him about trying to work with the group. 

I usually have same issue with certain students when it comes to group work. They will do everything in their power to not work with a group and don't take initiative to be responsible for their own learning. I feel like group work has been a work in progress for me for all 6 years I've been teaching, and I don't know that I will ever completely figure it out. 

Tracy Schloemer's picture
Tracy Schloemer | Mon, 04/04/2016 - 12:55

Hi Sarah-

Thank you so much for your affirmation.

In addition to changing seats for everyone the next day (my excuse: the feng shui is off), I kept an extra special eye on this student.

In fact, when I changed seats, I had a few kids come up to me and asked me to move them because they did not want to work with "Josh".

Now, "Josh" is with one other girl who can hold her own, and he does ask her questions. When they both can't figure it out, after some coaching to the whole class (a reminder of a norm that's always been there), they will BOTH consult one other group before calling me over.

It's not perfect, but it is better than before.

Mark Wanamaker | Tue, 04/05/2016 - 23:48

Good for you on insisting that Josh consult his lab partner. Many students don't make good effort and think they'll con answers out of the teacher instead of working cooperatively. People skills are critical for higher learning.

Tracy Schloemer's picture
Tracy Schloemer | Sun, 06/05/2016 - 19:33

Yikes- sorry I missed this Mark- I really appreciate your affirmation.


Sean Fisk's picture
Sean Fisk | Tue, 06/07/2016 - 20:52

I'd have done the same thing.  I understand where he's coming from, but you won't always be there for him, especially when it matters most, i.e. The AP exam.  Learning collaborative skills is every bit as important as their academics.