Here We Go Again, Dept.

Group work isn’t going away any time soon, given that universities now are embracing the “active learning” model. Supposedly university students are more mature in handling it than those in K-8, but from where I sit, the same problems exist in both venues.

Annie Murphy Paul’s latest column talks about “active learning” based on a presentation on same that she attended. Though she tries to effect a neutral tone in her column, it struck me that she is on the side of active learning–at least at the university level.

She states: “Research has shown again and again that people are generally poor monitors of how well they’re learning and how much they know. This is especially true of novices, which is what science students are. Students can and do walk out of a lecture feeling that they’ve “got it,” when really they don’t; hence the need for a different approach isn’t apparent to them.”

Quite true; students are novices. Particularly true in lower grades (k-8) where group work and student-centered, inquiry-based classes have become more common over the years. Thus, the comparison of “group work” to the collaboration that supposedly is going on in the working world and which they will need to do is flawed. In the real world, whatever collaboration occurs consists of people bringing their individual expertise to the table. In school, everyone is essentially a novice, so you have either the blind leading the blind, or the smart kids (who excel sometimes because they are getting traditionally based education at home, via tutor, or learning center) take the lead and do the work that no one else does.

The idea that group work is rejected because “people don’t like change” (something brought up in the presentation she attended and something she doesn’t exactly refute) reminds me of what I hear school board members say in patronizing tones to angry parents who are protesting constructivist approaches. “The reason you don’t like it is because you weren’t taught this way.”

Bollocks, as they say in the UK.

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