Group Conctracts: Firing Group Members

I’m collaborating on a Project Based Learning unit with two other teachers in my teaching fellowship as initial exploration before doing a PBL workshop in the summer.  We’ve just started doing some work on group contracts to keep members accountable and responsible.  There are a few ideas that I love, and some that I find interesting but haven’t made my mind up about.

I love the idea of groups creating their own contracts (with support/guidance from teacher when appropriate) because I am all for students working towards personal responsibility.  I think group effective work is a good discussion to have and can be a very beneficial learning experience.  In the materials we are using, the example recommends having a total amount of points for the project that the group then distributes how they see fit.  They must unanimously agree on the distribution of points.  I really like this idea because I’ve personally been in groups where I end up doing all the work because I care about my grade when others do not.  I wonder though, what happens when students don’t agree. 

I also like the idea of group members defining roles at the start of the project.  One worry though, is will the roles make them work at different times within the sequence of the project.  Will the result be more like a relay race, rather then a unit working together throughout the duration of the project?

I’m interested most in the concept of firing group members.  If a member of a group is not pulling their weight, it makes sense that they should not get credit for other students’ work.  This could also save the issue of not reaching an agreement about points distribution.  However, what happens when a member is fired? I worry it might be especially difficult to engage a student who is kicked out of a group and now works alone.  Does this option set students up for failure or does it help make sure they don’t get pushed through the course by their peers without any personal contribution?

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2 thoughts on “Group Conctracts: Firing Group Members

  1. I can’t remember now if I had this in place when you were a 9th grader, but it’s something I did for a year or two when Survivor first came out on television: I had tables with 4 to 6 students, and after a group project or group assessment, I’d let them vote one kid “off the island.” It was harsh because then that student had to go around to other tables, trying to get accepted — but because they’d been voted off their original island for not carrying their own academic weight, nobody would willingly take them on for the next group project, activity, or assessment.

    It was a valuable lesson… but ultimately too harsh of one for me to continue… after a few years of doing it…

    • The materials I’ve been reading suggest it for smaller groups where it could at least be possible for one person to complete the project without a group or that people who get fired could group up. I worry that if it is just voting there could be cases where students fire someone because they don’t like them, not because they aren’t pulling their weight. It also suggests a process that first involves meeting with the teacher to address the concern, outline a plan, and only allow firing if that plan isn’t held up.

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