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Problem Solving: When Students Don’t Work Well Together

Theatre and drama class are hugely collaborative. Students are always engaged in group work and scene work with others, which helps students gain skills in teamwork, problem-solving, and collaboration. However, it’s impossible for every student to get along with every other student. What can we do when these students are then expected to work together collaboratively in a group setting?

Preventative Preparation

Use the following suggestions to help students get to know each other, build trust, and understand the responsibilities that come with group work.

Identify the Why

While students are working on groups, observe your students and see if you can figure out what is going on within the group. For example:

  • Is there a personality conflict between students?
  • Is there an underlying personal problem going on (such as a fight outside the classroom, a recent breakup, etc.)?
  • Is one of the students “not there” (either engaging in negative behaviour, not contributing to the project, or physically absent)?
  • Is one of the students taking over the group or bossing others around?
  • Are the students distracted or unfocused? Even students who are best friends don’t always work well together because they are too busy socializing to focus on their work.

Bring the Students In

If a conflict does arise, meet quietly with your students in their group.

  • Mention specific behaviours you’ve observed. For example:
    • I noticed that I haven’t received your group’s rough draft script yet.
    • It seems like you are spending a lot of time talking instead of up on your feet rehearsing.
  • Allow students time to share their thoughts and feelings, both with you and with their group members.
  • Work with students to avoid blaming or fighting in a group setting.
  • Listen more than you talk. Help guide your students to come to solutions themselves, rather than telling them what to do or taking over.
  • Students may have concerns that they don’t feel comfortable expressing in front of the rest of the group, for fear of being thought of as a snitch or teacher’s pet. If necessary, meet with students individually if you feel that they would benefit from it.

Work Together to Come to a Solution
  • Come to a compromise and/or enlist conflict resolution techniques – this is not a focus on punishing the students, but rather figuring out the next steps.
  • Establish group ground rules.
  • Come up with specific tasks for each group member. For example, perhaps one student is responsible for creating the first draft of a script while another student is in charge of editing and proofreading.
  • Help students break down the project and create a timeline of tasks that need to be completed and when they need to be completed.
  • Switching groups or working individually should only be used as an absolute last resort. Students need to learn coping skills and how to deal with different people – they won’t be able to avoid this outside of the drama classroom.

  • As always, reflecting on the process is important for students. Have them examine their own behaviour as well as the behaviour of the rest of the group. What worked well? What didn’t work? What could they have done differently? What might they do next time to help them succeed?
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