Sunday, July 20, 2014

I'm Not The Only One Who Thinks So

From Community College Spotlight:
Group learning “is a waste of classroom time and an obstacle to student learning,” argues Bruce Gans, who taught English at City Colleges of Chicago...

Group projects are supposed to teach students to collaborate. Gans is dubious. “Groups are creatures of compromise, consensus, the intellectual mean, the mediocre.”

Having students evaluate each other’s writing doesn’t work if nobody’s a good writer, argues Troy Camplin, a lecturer in English at University of North Texas in Dallas.

A remedial writing student asked why we did peer review since, “I feel like I’m getting nothing but bad advice. I mean, they don’t know any more than I do.”
As a student I always hated group work.  Chances are that I had the best grades in the group, why should I have to negotiate and compromise with people who didn't get the grades I could get?  Every year the biggest complaint I get in my statistics classes is from students who had someone in their group who didn't pull their own weight.  Why are the rest of them responsible for that?  I am the one who required them to work in groups, and I do it just so I can tell my bosses that I periodically do so.

I'm sure that in certain situations and under certain situations, group work (or "collaborative learning") can be useful.  But in general you can count me as a skeptic.


pseudotsuga said...

As a college English teacher myself, I have known this for over a decade. It's stupid collective work that doesn't work for learning to write. Yet I know teachers who assign group work--it's for ideological reasons (and to match Required Outcomes) apparently.

Steve USMA '85 said...

While I totally agree with what you've said about this topic, I've always looked at it that group work is a life lesson.

Life isn't fair, sometimes you have to work with idiots and still get the job done.

Learning that this is part of the working world and life in general is something everyone has to learn at some point.

Curmudgeon said...

Group *work* is possible but group *learning* is not.

*Work* implies that all members already know how to do the task and can each take a piece and accomplish their part.

Cooperation requires that all members be capable, exactly not what we work with every day.

Old Andrew: "If you want to learn how to cooperate effectively with others, then the last place you’d start is in a group of teenagers being made to do school work. This is like saying the best way to learn how to make pork sausages is by being imprisoned in a pig farm with a half-dozen rabbis. Putting together people who are neither experienced at doing something, or particularly inclined to want to do it, is not how you learn to do that something."

Darren said...

Steve, I'm paid to teach math not life lessons. I'm more inclined to agree with Curmudgeon on this one.

maxutils said...

In education, you want to select the objective, then design a method to propel the learning. Sometimes, group learning is useful. Mostly, it isn't and ticks off the smart hardworking kids. I generally prefer not to do that.

Jerry Doctor said...

Back when my daughter was in middle school I remember picking her up after classes one day. (In an Alfa Romeo spider with the top down. Take that SUV moms!)

The first thing she did was tell me she'd had it with having to work in groups. "I have to do all the work and they get credit for it." I told her I was glad to hear she felt that way. As a teacher I knew that co-operative learning was just a way to give passing grades to kids that won't do the assignments.

I'd get asked about group work in my classes too. As a chemistry teacher I could point to all the "group work" my students did in lab and get them off my back. I avoided telling them the only reason I had lab groups was there wasn't enough equipment to have students do the experiments individually.

pseudotsuga said...

The only time I do group work in my English classes is for non-graded work (practicing analysis of a poem, for example).
I don't ever do peer editing, because most students can't really make constructive criticism yet.

I do, however, assign student-written essays (saved over the years, properly made anonymous). This allows them the chance to understand what NOT to do, because they can see it right there and articulate, in class, the reasons why this is bad writing (thesis, structure, arguments, etc.) At least they recognize why certain things should be changed.
Peer review and peer editing should ONLY be done if you have actual peers (college seniors with a few years of experience, for example).

Anonymous said...

When I was in college (60s), my freshman honors English course was all based on writing papers - from the professor-made list of topics on each play - discussing them in class (had to type on dittos,so all had copies!) and making the appropriate changes for the final grade. However, that was an invitation-only class of 25, out of a freshman class of over 2000, everyone was a good writer and everyone read and understood every play, so the editorial comments were worthwhile. It was one of the best, and most demanding, classes I've ever had but that level of preparation and motivation can't be assumed all that often, even in college.