Reading and commenting on Aviva Dunsiger’s post on classroom desk arrangement reminded me of a related but different topic I’ve been wrestling with lately. I’ve been asking myself questions about what it means to do group work.
I’m not certain which lady or gentleman first automatically equated group work with collaboration, but I need to have a word with her/him. When it comes to project work, l’m a proponent of my students taking a larger role in deciding whether working with a partner to create, produce, and/or present is really in the interests of everyone’s progress and learning. Some cite the infamous ‘real world’, in which we are supposedly inundated with demands to work with random people (in many cases, ones we can’t stand), as the pedagogical impetus behind group assignments, but that reasoning just feels lukewarm to me. It’s a strangely defeatist vista which I don’t see reflective of reality, and essentially lays our own adult baggage onto kids. Just who are these masses of people creating great works with people they have little to no working chemistry with? And what kind of bias are we promoting for our extroverted learners over our introverted ones in this equation?
For the next group project you intend on assigning to your class, have you considering having some students work on their own? Shouldn’t our learners be comfortable with the idea that we can differentiate in this area? Why can’t the environment, culture, process, and assessment be collaborative, but products be individual?
On the other hand, perhaps there’s something to be said for the serendipity of picking names out of a bag, forcing learners out of their comfort zone? Perhaps it’s a comfortable idea for some but not others? Maybe it disturbs the regular social dynamics for the better?
How do you do group work with your learners?