Monday, March 24, 2008

Path of Least Resistance

When freshmen in my Global Studies Class were given the opportunity to write an individual essay or work in a cooperative group and create an online presentation, more than half the class chose to write the essay.

Why was I shocked by this?

I was shocked because so many other educators have planted a seed in my head that groupwork is easier than individual work. I was shocked because students were relieved that they had the opportunity to do something easy [write an essay].

I shouldn’t have been shocked. In my own life working alone is easier. I don’t have to worry about others feelings. I don’t have to explain my thought process, my rationale for decisions, and I don’t have to answer to peers. I can set my own pace and be in control of all aspects of a project.

Working on a team isn’t easy. Students all have their own thoughts as to how a project should turn out. They all have their own expectations, and each brings with them a particular skill set. Asking people to work together can be toxic. Groups, in classes or SLCs, not only have to work together, but they also have to present findings in a content area.

Teachers working together are no different. Being a true team player is tough.

Often cooperative groupwork in the classroom is criticized for its lack of ‘academic rigor’. Students slack off and refuse to do the ‘real work’. Students, being human, tend to take the easiest route through a course. But then why did 70% of the class choose the individual essay over the groupwork?

Why is it that students know what so many others fail to see; ‘working together is more difficult than working alone’. In a world of a globalized economy, when collaboration on Internet based projects using WEB 2.0 technology real part of everyone’s career, educators would be remiss not facilitating these real world skills. Not working together, not facilitating group skills, and not praising out of the box [off the rubric] choices would be a true disservice to our next generation.


Woolsey said...

I am not surprised Wally. I hear the same types of things in my 9th grade classes as well (and 12th grade). I have students asking for tests. "Please Mr. Woolsey its just so much easier to study for". I know what they are really saying; studying equals memorizing and no effort into critical thinking, analysis, or process work. No fuss, cram it in and then forget about it.

I love when they ask. I know I am doing my job. I am challenging them on one level or another. They feel the pressure that comes from being more than a robot. My response to them? "You may ask but ye shall not receive. Now get back on the phone to Vietnam and find out how your sweatshirt is manufactured".

Go Mongol Madness!!! First round bracket: Genghis Khan Univ. vs. China State!!!


Mary Ann C. said...

We may need to help these students a bit more with the dynamics of the group process. Kids are clear about expectations and roles, but, often, one or two members do not follow through with assigned tasks, are absent for presentations, or otherwise undermine the project. Having students evaluate the contribution of each group member can be helpful, especially if they use a rubric and have adult guidance during the process.

Some teachers grade each group product with points. The group members then meet and divide the points according to the contribution made by each group member. (This can result in considerable rancor and occasional bloodshed, but all participants are held accountable.)

Brenda Lee said...

Traditional learning is the best way to go and I have no idea why people are being blinded by this. Of course you need group work skills because they are needed throughout your entire life, however to what extent? Forcing students to work in groups is a bit too much nowadays. Why are kids begging for tests? Not because they want the easy way but because it tests the knowledge of content. Teachers sometimes worry the students didn't understand the significance of the unit. What is the best way to know? Testing. Sometimes problems we face in life are needed to be handled with individually and these students need to learn that they can rely on themselves rather than a team of 4,5, or even 10 kids. I'm completely against this new learning style. The most prestigious colleges still stick to this traditional format and their graduates succeed in life. For example, at the Bronx H.S. of Science, five students were nominated nobel laurettes. How? Through comprehensive learning. It's that simple. Perhaps I'm overlooking the scenario with this. If so, someone please let me know. I teach at a private institution.

Mr Tesler said...

Insightful post, and comments as well, WB.

In my classes, I often find students, particularly traditional "high acheivers" to be relieved when they know that they have a test. Wise beyond his years, Woolsey points out why.

During a long-term assessment which required composing original rap songs, and creating music through computer programs, I had many students confess that something that they thought would be so easy was so hard, based on how much "outside the box" thinking that needed to be done. I knew was on to something good.

On the other hand, I think we should take pause, and listen to some of the reasons why students choose individual assignments. How many times, as much as we structure, differentiate, etc., do we see in groups the students who do not contribute, and someone else picks up their slack? How many times does it happen on the job?

Part of the answer has to involve teaching students how to truly work together, and also honestly evaluate their contributions to projects. This is where the element of teambuilding is so important. Maybe the whole first month of school could/should be centered around that? How cool would that be?

Anonymous said...

I think it's about balance; like the rest of life, everything in moderation. There should be some group work, some individual work. Right now my freshmen are working in groups (literature circles), but I do tend to work more on individual work (writing). That said, working on a team where I know a lot of group work is done, I see the big picture and don't feel responsible to provide all the group experiences.

I don't know about the prestigious universities, but I do know a lot of kids in college tell me that they work alone and in groups.

As for testing because we want to determine the knowledge of content...yes, if content is what you value (don't get me started on the Ed Hirsch article in American Educator). I don't think you'll get too many supporters of a core knowledge program at a progressive school. And most of us remember being tested on content, and have forgotten the content. That said, it is easier for some kids to memorize and spit it back than to cooperatively work with other people. That's why we need to teach them how to work with other people.


Brenda Lee said...

Interesting post by Lori.

I agree that being in school doesn't mean stuffing your nose into a syllabus and teaching the content for a Regents Exam, however how much is too much? is the question here. Students need to know that, of course, they will be expected to work in group projects but not as typically as they might expect. As I mentioned before, in order for someone to work in a group they have to first work by themselves. So as Lori mentioned above, group work and individual work needs to be taken into proportionality.

I agree, students learn Biology one year and the next it seems like the knowledge was plunged away. Yes, prestigious schools require memorization however they also have a balance. The word here is evidently moderation.