Typical Objections To Cooperative Group Discussion Sections

When we learn a new teaching technique, there is a tendency to focus on the disadvantages of the new technique -- we forget that all techniques, including the traditional techniques with which we are comfortable, have disadvantages. This table will help you compare the advantages and disadvantages of cooperative-group discussion sections and traditional recitation sections.

Typical "Objections" to Cooperative Group Discussion Sections How Would You Reply? Analogous Objection in Traditional Recitations
#1. Instructor can not always be there to stop alternative conceptions from being reinforced in a group. There is actually less chance of alternative conceptions being maintained in groups because of the interaction between students. The instructor can usually observe the evidence of alternative conceptions by listening to the group discussion or looking at their group solution as it is being constructed. Instructors can not get inside students' minds to see if they are forming alternative conceptions.
#2 . Some groups get done before others, so there is a lot of wasted time. Yes, so be prepared with something for them to do -- either an extension to the problem or have them go to the board and start their solutions. Some students already know how to solve the problem that is being done on the board. So there is a lot of wasted time.
#3. Some students do not contribute -- they "hitch hike" their way through the problem. This is a sign of a dysfunctional group. You need to intervene. Some students do not ask questions, have not prepared, or are not thinking about the material.
#4. There is no time to answer student questions about the homework or the lecture. There are other times available for this -- office hours, review sessions, maybe even in lab. You are only answering one student's question, so you don't address the concerns of the other students in the class.
#5. It takes more time to teach with cooperative groups, so less material can be covered True. The intention is to better teach a firm understanding of the fundamental concepts upon which to build later applications. The amount covered depends only on how fast the instructor can speak or write. It does not require real time intellectual engagement of the students.
#6. Cooperative groups hold back the best students, and the weaker students can "freeload." The research indicates that cooperative groups seem to help all students because the best students get to "teach" and the weaker students get peer coaching. See Heller, Keith and Anderson (1992) and Johnson and Johnson (1989). Traditionally the weaker students get left behind and the best students are bored.
#7. Often groups are dysfunctional. Most groups function reasonably well from the outset, although careful intervention and group processing will make them function better. For the approx. 20% of groups that are dysfunctional, you should intervene. No instructional method will reach all students. The research indicates that traditional instruction tends to only teach to about the top 15% - 20% of the class.
#8. Cooperative grouping is not teaching because anyone can do it. You just stand around and watch. Observing cooperative groups working allows you to diagnose how the students are thinking and coach them to overcome their conceptual difficulty (when the others students in the group can not).

Cooperative groups are egalitarian and respectful (i.e., student-centered) by nature

Lecturing is not teaching because you are concentrating on what you say and do instead of concentrating on what your students think.

Recitations are egotistical and authoritarian (i.e., teacher-centered) by nature.

#9. Cooperative group work is authoritarian because it forces everyone to work together even if they don't like to. Cooperative groups respect the different ways that students think. They allow students the opportunity of validating their thought process or getting the precise instruction they need. Traditional recitations are authoritarian because everyone must interact only with the instructor and must think like them to follow their solutions
#10. Students hate to play group roles. In effective groups, the roles occur naturally and shift among the students. Role playing is a technique to get dysfunctional groups working together. Roles help students who have not learned to work together in teams develop that capability.

Be patient. The roles do work, but for some students, it takes time for them to sink in.

Students are bored by being forced to play the role of listener
#11. Students do not want to work in groups because they believe that they learn better on their own. Learning is a complicated process. To learn something correctly, it is usually necessary for most people to "bounce" their ideas off someone else. For most students, learning is a combination of individual reflection and group interaction. After they get used to it, most students prefer to work in groups. Unfortunately, many students have not developed the simple skills necessary for really effective group work. Practice, especially with roles, will hone these skills.

Empathize with those that are uncomfortable, but keep them working in groups. Teamwork is a powerful learning tool and a necessary component for succeeding in the modern world.

Students do not want to go to a recitation section which rarely addresses their problem in understanding the concepts. Questions of other students are either so "advanced" that they can't follow or so "simple" that they are bored.