May 26th, 2009

Dealing with Students Who Hate Working in Groups

By:

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.

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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 with groups:

Think about your experience working in groups. Please select the one response that best suits your experience.

  1. I enjoy working in groups because my group members usually help me understand the material and tasks and therefore I can perform better.
  2. I question the value of group work for me, because I usually end up doing more than my fair share of the work.
  3. I have little or no experience working in groups.
  4. I have a different experience than the choices given above. Please describe.

When we form groups, we place the students who have selected 2 (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 in groups.

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.

Joseph F. Byrnes, PhD, is a professor at Bentley College. MaryAnn Byrnes, PhD, teaches at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Excerpted from I Hate Groups! The Teaching Professor, May 2007.


  • rathernotsay

    Does this always work ? I mean considering that some "Lone wolves" are more controlling than others one would end up becoming the dominant leader of the "wolf pack" imposing his/her ideas on the group. Sort of the "My way or the highway" Leader mentality.

  • Timmy

    I was always the lone wolf throughout HS.

    "I work hard, I’m smart, I can get good grades by myself" that isn't always the case, but it's a great excuse.

    The primary reason why I hated working in groups was because I was a shy person and was never very patient.

    I always told my teachers that I was not comfotable working in groups ahead of time and they all understood my position, so I was allowed to work by myself.