Working With Kids Who Dominate and Ones Who Do Nothing During Group Projects9 min read
One of the goals of a collaborative classroom is to minimize the impact of hogs and logs. The hogs are those students who insist on monopolizing all of the work. They are the ones who take over the bulk of an assignment or project, not allowing other group members to participate. Hogs exist for a number of reasons. The most prominent is that the hogs do not trust their group mates. School has made them so adept at succeeding individually, that the risk of trusting others with their success is too great. To the hogs, relinquishing control can mean a risk of failure, and in their experience with school, failure is not an option.
Therefore, they hog the work, forcing themselves to sacrifice more time and energy than others, but also getting creative control, thereby not allowing others to contribute.
Now, I really don’t believe students are born hogs. I think the system has created this trait, as well the experience of working with logs: those students who are immobile, sluggish and stagnant, who do nothing to contribute. Whether caused by laziness, apathy, or their own distrust, some students just do not put in the same effort as everyone else. This forces others to carry their slack. Ask any group of people why they do not like group projects, and the overwhelming response will be because of the logs. The injustice of someone riding on your coattail, doing nothing and yet reaping the benefits, is maddening.
Whether it’s dead weight or a student who insists on taking over the entire workload, hogs and logs can be a recipe for disastrous collaboration. Luckily, there are tools and processes to help students no longer be hogs and logs.
Tools for Accountability
Holding someone accountable does not have to be a difficult task if you have some helpful tools, specific processes, and reasonable protocols in place. Here are a few that every classroom can use to practice accountability on the path to successful collaboration:
The Group Contract
*Get the Group Contract Template in the Collaborative Classroom Toolkit at trevormuir.com/resources
At the beginning of any collaborative project, before any work takes place, students should fill out a group contract. A group contract is a shared document that the group members write together and sign. It’s essentially a mutual agreement made by all group members to set the norms for collaboration throughout the project. This is a living document that can be referred to and used as a tool whenever necessary to help students hold each other accountable.
The creation of a group contract starts with a discussion among group members about each other’s strengths and weaknesses concerning whatever project or task they are working on. If students are doing some type of art project, it’s beneficial for everyone to know if someone loves making art. If there is a video component, this is an opportunity for a student with video skills to let everyone else know. If the project involves public speaking and a student is deathly afraid of it, they would share this with their group members during this part of the process.
This does not mean if someone is strong in a certain area that they will be assigned a certain role or that a kid afraid of public speaking won’t have to present. The point of this process is for students to get acquainted with one another, so they have extra knowledge to strengthen collaboration later on. Classroom relationships tend to be surface level, and what students know about each other is based on certain, narrow information. When students are given a formal, directed time to talk with each other about personal strengths and room for growth, relationships go deeper. And I cannot say this enough: the heart of strong collaboration is found in relationships.
Within the context of the group contract, students must discuss what they expect from each other throughout the group project. A teacher can model or lead this discussion the first time, talking about what kind of agreements should be included in the contract. It might include team agreements such as these:
I will complete any task assigned to me by the group.
If I am sick or absent for some reason, I will check-in with the group.
I will not use my headphones unless I am working on an individual task.
I will meet all deadlines that the group sets.
I will be open to constructive criticism by other group members.
It might be helpful to ask students, “What kind of things have bothered you before during group projects?” or “If you are on a team, what do you value most from your teammates?”
After gathering responses, let students know that the group contract is designed to help prevent these issues. Once students have a handle on how to create team agreements, allow them to discuss among themselves what they think should be included.
Consequences for Violations
An important part of drawing up a group contract is coming up with the consequences for not meeting the team expectations. It’s helpful to have a system through which each student is allotted a certain number of warnings or strikes before more serious action is taken. When creating the contract, students should decide how many warnings each group member should get. If someone is off-task or violates the contract, group members are responsible for giving those warnings to each other.
If a student was absent from school and did not check-in with other group members, leaving the group unable to work that day, the group should collectively give that student a warning. This isn’t an argument or even a confrontation but a clear statement recognizing someone did not uphold the group contract. The student who was absent might not have been aware they affected the group, but this warning now makes sure they are. It helps prevent resentment and all of the consequences of not communicating issues. When one student receives a warning from the group, it is a wakeup call to collaborate better and work harder. This usually results in no further issues.
Sometimes a student keeps violating the team agreements and uses up all of their warnings. This results in the more serious action, which is up for the teacher to decide. In my classes, it’s usually a sit-down meeting with me, the teacher. Meeting with a teacher is the result of multiple warnings and can never be used as a first option. Students need to learn how to manage issues with each other and cannot always turn to authority to resolve them.
This is true in the workplace as well. Going to a manager with every grievance one has for someone else is not efficient. It’s a waste of the manager’s time, and probably a waste of the employees.
At this meeting, I allow both sides to share their grievances and defense, letting group members air out their problems. I spend this time mainly listening, and quite often the conversation goes like this:
“He hasn’t done any work.”
“That’s because no one told me what to do!”
“We talked about what to do as a group and you were on your phone!”
“That’s because you wouldn’t listen to my ideas anyway!”
The teacher should mainly listen during this part, as sometimes groups just need the space to vent. It’s easy to want to jump in and try to solve the problem, but conflict resolution is much more successful when students lead the way. Teachers should be conflict mediators, making sure language and tone does not become disrespectful, and that conversation is moving in a positive direction.
To assist in this, it’s extremely helpful to have an active listening protocol to guide the discussion. Here’s a great example adapted from Emily White and Nancy Mohr:
1. Allow one side to speak for a full two minutes
a. During the conversation, maintain eye contact with each other while speaking, but do not say anything.
It is important not to pass judgement on the person speaking, even by reassuring or reaffirming them. You should even avoid nodding your head, making agreeable sounds like, “uh huh,” or even, “I get that.” This is their time to speak and share their side of the story.
2. When they finish, wait ten seconds and then rephrase what they said using the sentence starter, “What I heard you say is…”
3. Wait for confirmation or explanation.
4. Ask one follow-up question.
Having a strict protocol for students to follow ensures everyone is heard and no one leaves the conversation feeling like they were disrespected. Once all the grievances have been laid bare, try to find a way to get the group working together again. Say something like, “It sounds like you guys are frustrated because he isn’t working, and he is frustrated because no one is listening to his ideas. What do you think needs to happen to get this group back on track?”
Students then come up with a plan, often agreeing to a fresh start, and the group can get back to work. Most of the time, and I mean the vast majority of time, this conflict remediation is successful. Most students just need to be made aware that their actions are affecting everyone else, and they will do everything they can to remedy that. We desire peace, and sometimes we have to confront the problem in order to achieve it. Some of the best collaboration I have ever witnessed came after one of these heart-to-heart conversations. Everyone feels heard and valued, and as a result, works harder and with more passion.
Seeing Growth in Your Hogs and Logs
We have to think of collaboration as a muscle. Like our physical muscles, if we do not exercise them, they will atrophy and not be very strong. This is what has happened for many students in school, and so therefore their collaboration skills might be weak. This gives rise to the hogs and logs. However, the more we work these muscles out and expose our students to healthy, productive, and engaging collaboration, the better they will get at it. They will learn to share the load, trust their teammates, and find out that they are capable of doing amazing work when they are apart of a team.