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“I’ll Just Do It Myself…” Encouraging Students to Work Together

Encouraging students to work together is often a challenge. Some students worry that they’ll be saddled with peers who won’t pull their weight. Some students are super-shy and the idea of approaching others to work together can be terrifying. And still others don’t want to work in a group because their friends aren’t in the class, because they think the assignment isn’t worth their time, or because they’re just “too cool.” In such cases, students may decide that working in a group isn’t worth their time and that it would be easier for them to just do the work themselves.

However, group work teaches a host of important skills that students can’t develop as effectively when working alone. Group work, particularly in the drama classroom, is important and necessary because:

1. It encourages students to listen to each other.

Theatre is a collaborative effort, and each student will come to the group with different thoughts, ideas, goals, and expectations for the project. Just because one student has a whole bunch of brilliant ideas doesn’t mean that the rest of the group won’t have equally great ideas. Working in a group encourages students to keep their egos in check and to be open to new and different ideas on how to approach the project.

2. It develops students’ communication skills.

Continuing on with the previous point, while students may have brilliant ideas, those ideas won’t be of any use if students can’t express themselves. Working in a group challenges students to communicate effectively. Whether it’s speaking up when another group member is steamrolling over everyone else’s ideas, solving a problem that has the group stumped, or dealing with conflict between group members, communication is key.

How can students ensure that they are all heard and can contribute equally to the group work process? Here’s a method for brainstorming ideas (for a scene topic, a playwriting prompt, etc.).

  • Go around in a circle and have each group member add an idea to the brainstorming list, one by one.
  • Do this five times.
  • No editing or judgment – the point is for each student to contribute five ideas. However, going around in a circle and taking turns giving ideas ensures that one student isn’t left until the end with all the “good ideas” having been already suggested.

As well, it’s important for students to communicate their expectations for success within the project. Students should take some time with their group members to describe what they feel are acceptable and unacceptable levels of participation and completion within the parameters of the project, as well as insight into other group members’ feelings about deadlines, the delegation of jobs, and so on. This gives them a greater level of understanding of each other and will help them to manage their expectations, both of themselves and of others within the group.

3. It helps students learn to delegate.

As do-it-all directors and teachers, we know how stressful trying to do everything ourselves is. Now add on top of that additional classes, homework, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, home life, friendships, and all the other worries and challenges facing students on a daily basis, and it becomes quite clear that students need to learn how to delegate group work.

For example, if groups are staging a scene, perhaps one group member can be in charge of writing the scene while another one is in charge of editing. And another group member directs while a fourth group member is in charge of finding props and costumes. This way, each member is able to contribute – either in an aspect they feel confident about or in an aspect they want to learn more about. Both are beneficial!

4. It helps students learn to trust others.

This can be a difficult one. Students can listen, communicate, and delegate. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of actually doing the work, students have to trust that the rest of the group is going to come through and complete their portion of the project. It’s not easy, but it’s part of the process!

5. It helps students develop empathy.

Students need to learn to understand and work with students from different backgrounds, with different abilities, and with different levels of experience. Just because something is easy for one student doesn’t mean it is so simple for another. Furthermore, having different thoughts, opinions, and ideas in a group is a great thing because it encourages students to be more open-minded and develop a deeper understanding of others. It creates a richer, more diverse starting point for developing new and interesting theatrical creations.

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