In order to create writer response groups, I asked students to write down the names of two classmates they would like to work with. I also said that they could write down any students with whom they have conflicts. And I mean severe conflicts. Not that you don't like the person because his shoes are ugly or he has different friends, or something equally lame.
I believe that students should have to learn to work with people they don't like, but I've also discovered that when sharing writing, students are more comfortable if they have at least one person in their groups that they know and trust.
Oh, and life is miserable on writing response days when there are mortal enemies working in the same group week after week. Some battles aren't worth fighting. And when I say fighting...there has been near bloodshed in the past.
I've had some insight into my classes after asking them to give me personal grouping options. I've found quite a few students who are happy with whatever group they are in, and most students do not have conflicts with others. I love that!
What I did find interesting is that the students who irritate me to no end also irritate their classmates. Cheater kid? Several students do not want to work with him. Chatty Cathy is the least popular student in one of my classes. The way she goes on and on, you'd think she had a lot of friends. Flakey Fred, who I think is probably pretty smart but walks around with his head in the clouds, is apparently not an ideal group mate.
It actually makes me sad to think that these academically inept students are also lacking social skills. Life must be tough for them. Are they misunderstood, or do they just need to grow up? I hope we all have the patience to figure that out.