Thursday, October 28, 2010

My love/hate relationship with COLLABORATION

For all the talk our articles had this week about our naturally collaborative, collective meaning-making young people, I sure have had a lot of students who hated group projects.

"Do we HAVE to work on this as a group?"
"I work better independently."
"Am I going to be counted off if _____ doesn't do his part?"
"How are we going to be graded on this?"
"You mean we have to find time to meet OUTSIDE of class?"
"These things always take twice as much time as projects I do on my own!"

And I could never forget the parent (who happened to be a brain surgeon, very short, and a very scary angry person) who publicly accosted me at a charity for the school I was helping work at: "My son got an A- in your class because of a GROUP PROJECT?? That is entirely ridiculous, and I will ensure that you lose your job! If MY son got an A-, I hope that the rest of the class got F's!"

I bring this up, in part, because I relate to these crazy traditionalists. Being the control freak that most of us teachers are, group projects represented, to me, a dangerous zone, with lots of unknowns. The only time they were fun or insight-creating was when I was allowed to choose my other nerd friends to work with in a group. (We then, would create incredible, strange, time-consuming video productions involving lots of props, background music, and laughter.)

So my take-aways here?

-Just because young people are naturally social beings doesn't mean this will directly lead them to LOVE all technology things that are collaborative.
-Teachers have to establish ways of facilitating group work that feel safe and quality to students, parents, and all of the stakeholders.
-As in all things, the less experienced with collaboration the student (due to age or past educational experiences), the more scaffolding that will be required for success in working together.

But the big tension I struggle with, one that is particularly relevant for the K-12 environment?
-How can we best group students? Homogenous? Heterogenous?
-How can we make students of mixed levels, mixed talents, mixed abilities collaborate successfully?
-How can we use technology to make this doable?

And MOST of all, how we can we empower pre-service teachers to navigate the tricky but oh-so-vital land of collaborative work with their students, and avoid passing along the inaccurate belief that "all students LOVE working in groups". . .


  1. You know what grinds my gears? When teachers divide up a group that was working well and disperses those students into the collaborative groups that weren't being collaborative. If a group works, change around the kiddos in the groups that weren't working, yo.

    I also think that technology is not entirely collaborative. Really, if anything, it promotes distance.

  2. Seriously guys. I love how (as usual) this wastes no time in getting right back into the classroom with kids and teachers. It's true! Collaboration can be great, or it can totally waste time if it's not scaffolded well. We've all been in those groups where it'd be easier just to do everything yourself (oops, is that the control freak in me making an appearance?) But yah, I would love to read more--or hear more from experienced teachers--about setting up successful groupwork in various K-12 settings. Not just from self-sufficient students with lots of experience and motivation.