Group work can be daunting for lots of people. A friend can be struggling in a group for the following reasons:
- They don’t have the knowledge to contribute
- They worry about how their contributions will be perceived
- Group dynamic issues
Try and work out which of these is the problem for your friend.
Don’t have enough knowledge
There isn’t really a short cut here. Your friend needs to do some reading or they may need to read more strategically.
- You might be able to help by suggesting which bit they should read and having a discussion about it before the group meets so that they have formulated some ideas in their head about the material.
- They may be reading the wrong sort of material and you can give them a bit of direction.
- They may be reading so much information that they can’t focus on the main issues. Helping them to focus on the key messages and ideas can help.
Worry about how they will be perceived
Your friend is probably having negative thoughts about their contributions.
They might be thinking things like:
- “I’ll be wrong – I’m hopeless”
- “I’ll just sound stupid”
- “I don’t have anything intelligent to say”
- “Everyone is more confident than me”
- “They can see I’m nervous and don’t know anything”
These are exaggerated and unrealistic. You can try and dispute these. For example,
“Just because you are wrong doesn’t mean you are hopeless. We don’t have to be right all the time, it is only a tute”.
Other people are wrong and this is what a tutorial is about to help clarify our understanding.
“I’m sure that many other people in the group are also feeling a bit nervous, they aren’t all confident and know everything. Give it a go anyway.”
If you want to find out specifically why you friend is having difficulties contributing then you could gently ask your friend – “What is stopping you from contributing in the group?” Note: try and avoid questions starting with ‘Why’ as this sounds demanding and judgemental.
Remind your friend that a contribution doesn’t have to be anything amazing.
- It can just be a comment to indicate that you have read the material and had a thought about it.
- It could be an agreement with another colleague.
- It could be a question on something you are unsure about.
Remember also that for some students, particularly those from other cultures, contributing to group work can be very new and also difficult to do when the discussion is not in their language. They may not know the process for making a comment, like how to indicate that you have something to say.
If you are working in the same group or tutorial as your student colleague then you can ask them, ‘Do you have anything you’d like to add?”, or “Do you agree with this?” This can invite them in.
You might also like to tell them some cues for how to contribute, like ‘signal with your hand if you would like to comment’, or ‘make eye contact with the tutor if you have something to say’. In some cultures women may not be allowed to talk when men are discussing things so they should be encouraged and supported to contribute to mixed gender discussions in this environment.