I Hate Groups!
By Joseph F. Byrnes, Bentley College, and MaryAnn Byrnes, University
of Massachusetts Boston
Some students tell us they hate groups—as in really hate
groups. Why do faculty love groups so much, they ask. I work hard, I’m
smart, I can get good grades by myself, these students insist. Other
students are a waste. I end up doing all the work and they get the good
grade I earned for the group. Why do you, Professor Byrnes, make me work
in a group. I hate groups!
Sound familiar? We call these bright, motivated, annoyed students our
lone wolves. They demand learning activities where they know they can
excel and are fearful that our emphasis on group work will mean lower
grades for them. The least of the students will drag down the best,
seems to be their constant refrain. Get me out of these groups and let
me show you what I can really do.
We have developed an unusual way to deal with these bright, motivated
lone wolves—we form groups of lone wolves! On the first day of class, we
have students fill out a data sheet. Here is the question that deals
Think about your experience working in groups. Please select the
one response that best suits your experience.
A. _________I enjoy working in groups because my
group members usually help me understand the material and tasks and
therefore I can perform better.
B. _________I question the value of group work
for me, because I usually end up doing more than my fair share of the
C. _________I have little or no experience
working in groups.
D. _________I have a different experience than
the choices given above. Please describe.
When we form groups, we place the students who have
selected B (our lone wolves) in the same group. There are usually
sufficient numbers to form one or even two groups of these lone wolves.
The result is delightful to observe. Often for the first time, the lone
wolves are challenged by group-mates. They must learn to negotiate,
trust, and share with others who are equally driven and equally
intelligent. Another positive outcome is that students in other groups
have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate leadership capacity,
without the interference of these lone wolves who tend to control others
At the end of the semester, many of our lone wolves make a point of
telling us this is the best group they have ever had. They are shocked
about their experience and they ask us for our secrets about forming
groups. When we tell them we placed them in a group where every student
hated groups, they inevitably smile and thank us. Their next question is
whether we will be telling other professors about our sneaky technique.
We just have.
Contact Joseph F. Byrnes at
and MaryAnn Byrnes at
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