I’ve been reading a lot lately about how today’s employers are looking for employees who collaborate and work well in groups. This has translated into a push by many educators to focus on project-based learning, group work, and multi-student presentations. Now, there is definite value and powerful learning when students work together on common projects. I wonder, though, if we are sometimes going too far to the group side of the group -individual continuum. In a world full of instant information and communication and constant noise from our 24/7 plugged-in world, I wonder if our students are missing out if they don’t take time to be quiet, reflect, and think about their learning and their world.
In her book Quiet, Susan Cain writes about Rosa Parks who unintentionally sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She worked hard at her job as a seamstress and was considered a shy, quiet woman. One day, as she was going home on the bus from another tiring day at work, the bus filled up with other commuters. She was supposed to give up her seat to a white person. She refused and was arrested. She didn’t collaborate or conspire with others to do this; she just decided she had had enough of the discrimination and segregation. No doubt, she probably talked with friends and family about the unjustness of the Jim Crow laws and how something should be done. But, it was her own quiet decision to refuse to give up her seat that day that spurred the boycott that ultimately lead to changes in the laws. My questions: Did the quiet strength of one woman have more impact than the collaborative efforts of a group of individuals? Did the time she spend reflecting on the discrimination of the black people lead her to stay in her seat and not give it to a white person? I suspect so.
Steve Jobs believed in the power of collaboration, and the employees at Apple were expected to do so. However, he was also known to come up with new ideas while he was walking and thinking, alone. Today’s students could also use time to be still, be quiet, and be allowed to think. They may have to be taught how to reflect and be quiet, but it is a skill that will serve them well.
Powerful learning happens when students collaborate, but powerful, deep learning happens when students are given time to reflect on the powerful learning that happened in their groups.
I was talking to a kindergarten teacher the other day, and she told me that she whenever she read a story to her students, they used to sit, absorbed by the story. She doesn’t see that today. Some students, she says, now have trouble listening to the whole story. They are fidgety and restless. What does this have to do with collaboration? If students this young have trouble focusing on Robert Munsch and Dr. Suess and they grow up in a system heavily focused on group work, will they develop the mental focus needed for deep learning? Especially with the persistent pings, beeps, clicks, swooshes, and chings of our wired world.
What benefits do you see in balancing students’ time between collaborating and working solo? How do you work best?
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