Group Punishment

There are a couple of things that stood out to me while reading Everyday Antiracism, a book I am reading for one of my courses. The first is when Beth Rubin talks about group work and scaffolding. The dreaded two words that many students cringe when hearing is group work or group project. For some, it means carrying the group and doing the majority of the work. We can see this a lot in Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. I got the impression from business courses I took that group work to Carlson means putting students in a group and giving them case studies or projects to do together. I believe this is where we see a lot of resentment towards working in groups. Rubin also says, “First, go smaller. Overuse of the same group work format can create cynicism and frustration among students” (p 93). We grew up learning material on our own and having the lecturer stand at the front and “pour” knowledge into our heads. Why should I have to do work with other students when I can learn it on my own?

Luckily the University of Minnesota built a new oddly shaped building currently called STSS (name change in progress) which stand for Science, Teaching, and Student Services. I work in a pre-calculus 2 lecture where students watch lecture videos online and do their skill training and material mastery in the lecture. The curriculum and room is designed for the students to split into smaller groups and discuss activities, worksheets, and concepts and then they are able to form a larger group to expand their discussion with other groups. The curriculum focuses on individuals where if a student does not get a certain score on their weekly quiz, they have to retake a different version until they pass otherwise they will not pass the course. It seems harsh, but if a student is not able to master the first concept, then how are they expected to move on and learn about deeper concepts? This is a form of scaffolding that “breaks down complex tasks and intentionally builds competencies in each student” (p 94). Students seems to have the resentment at first and as the semester progresses I can still see the frustration, but that frustration keeps happening because of the discussions the groups are having. Dr. Mike Weimerskirch, the professor who designed this course, says that we should let the students get lost until they have to find their way back to the mistake and realize what they did wrong. He uses the analogy of the woods. If two students are wandering in the woods and we guide one onto the right path and they are able to find their way to the end using the path. The other gets lost. They are roaming frantically through the woods trying to find the path and eventually gets there and makes way to the end. Which student knows more about the woods?

Navigating Woods

Lastly, I would like to talk about punishment. A few posts ago I talked about corporal punishment, but this is not the topic I would like to discuss. This is as simple as sending a student in the hallway or to the principles office. I will try to be as vague as I can to hide identity, but I know of a young preschool student who would throw fits in class and the school would send her home. First, the school chose to remove the student from and educational setting depriving them of social interaction which is vital at that age. Luckily for the student, she was able to go home and play so why not keep throwing fits at school right? In my opinion, and I know I’m not alone, the school is taking an easy way out that will have a detrimental effect on the student’s future. There are many more alternatives rather than sending the student home or even to the hallway. Pedro Noguera says, “Alternatives are essential if schools are to stop using discipline as a strategy for weeding out those they deem undesirable or difficult to teach and instead to use discipline to reconnect students to learning” (p 133). The options taken by the school are taking the opportunity for that student to learn from their misbehavior. I will end with a quote I found online:

“Misbehavior and punishment are not opposites that cancel each other – on the contrary they breed and reinforce each other.” Haim G. Ginott


Everyday Antiracism is a book edited by Mica Pollock about the various issues in our school system still today. It is mostly about racism, but also has spectacular insight on many other topics in education. I will be referencing this book in the posts following.

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3 Responses to Group Punishment

  1. Karla says:

    You have woven together a variety of topics related to the book in this post, and I like the way you have grounded your observations in personal experience. I will admit that the title of your post captured my attention, and has me curious about your thoughts regarding the group structure of our own class (constructive feedback appreciated). I love the addition of the video you included, as well as the additional quote at the end – it seems to sum up your comments about punishment in schools (preschool?! – wow.)

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  2. ellenkfee says:

    I definitely agree with your thoughts about punishment and suspending kids from class or school. A student I work with recently said to me, “I don’t wanna do work. Maybe I can just get kicked out of class and then I won’t have to do anything.” When what we set up as punishment or consequences gets seen as an easy way out or even a reward, we’ve definitely done something wrong. I think suspension just takes a student out of a problematic situation but never actually solves the underlying issue.

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  3. I was especially interested in your commentary about group work. This is something I haven’t much considered as far as the implementation in my future classroom. The major problems I experience with group work include the detraction from the purpose of the project as a result of difficulty splitting up work among members. The explanation of the class you work in is interesting because it seems like a unique type of execution that may help me approach the purpose of group work in the future!

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