Monday, June 29, 2015

More than Group Work

I came across this article a few days ago and tweeted it.  It is a great overview of 21st century teaching foundations and practices.  I'd encourage you to click & read it.  #2 caught my eye particularly.  It seems I've had many conversations over the last five (5) years or so surrounding this idea.  And, many of these conversations were surrounding a misunderstanding of this idea and I'm thinking there are many out there that have had similar experiences.

I remember these conversations began when opening a new middle school campus.  There would be a wealth of technology, but not 1:1.  Our focus was to be more project based, but for some reason that immediately meant that everything we were going to do was group work.  The discussion
soon became focused on group work versus social learning.  I know I've used this analogy before, but this is yet another example of the rectangle/square idea.  These two things are connected, but not the same.  Group work is a great example of and necessary part of social learning, but, again, they are not the are not mutually exclusive.  Social learning casts such a wider net than simply group work.  Here are some specific thoughts.

As stated above, "structured, collaborative group work" is not only definition of social learning - interviews, debates, peer editing, simply going to ask classmates or teachers questions and seek feedback are integral parts of social learning  mentioned in this article.  Anytime we are interacting  with others for the purpose of learning the experience is enhanced and relevance is added to the learning.

"Structured, collaborative group work" must be explicitly taught - when it comes to group work, this must be explicitly taught and coached.  Working with others is tricky and it comes more naturally to some, but this must be a skill that is taught and refined over time.  I have seen that teachers will sometimes avoid group work because of the conflicts and struggles that students face during these times, and that knows no level. I have seen it at elementary and middle levels and I'm positive it continues from there.  I've heard the stories.
The more opportunities and tools we provide to students in collaborative situations the more comfortable they will become.  Tweet this!
There is not a single profession that exists in a silo.  Building the "soft skills" must be part of what we teach our kiddos not just because they must know how to work with others, but because we know it enriches learning!  We must be cognizant in our design not to limit social learning to group work.  Social learning and collaboration cast such a wider net and can be so much more to our students to enhance their learning experience.

What are your thoughts?  What are some great social learning experiences in which you have participated or that you have designed or observed?

Happy learning!


1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts, Brett! Another way I've seen collaborative process work well is when the community is involved; for example, the teacher brings in adult experts from outside the school to participate in the learning experience. Often local experts and even national celebrities are excited to get involved in student learning either from direct participation in the research or at the evaluation stage of the experience. It is great to see kids reach out to their community and/or world to bring relevance to learning.