The attributes of group work are many. Multiple brains working on the same problem to create better thinking is a worthy objective. But the power of a group can also produce the opposite. I saw that happen in my fifth-grade classroom this week. The less resilient crumbled. Unspoken stereotypes cropped up. Learning objectives became sidetracked.
It made me think about what is being taught and what needs to be taught.
Friday, students formed groups and were given limited resources and time to build the tallest and most stable tower. This fun problem-solving, listening, speaking, and synthesizing activity was a part of a day of math and science learning.
A group of boys dumped the materials out of the bag, and all started talking at once. The loudest and most forceful boy took charge rejecting ideas, promoting others. All but one, fed into his leadership. Jack*walked away wanting his own materials saying, “They said my ideas are stupid. I’m never right.” I brought this to the group’s attention to which another member, Matt* offered, “I’ve been told my ideas won’t work five times!” Jack* fell apart after one rejection but Matt* didn’t give up.
A group of girls approached the work methodically. They produced efficiently, listening to everyone’s ideas. I watched thinking this is the way it should go. But in the end, they were out-performed. The once positive group turned sour. I heard, “Why bother if you can’t win.” Their structure ended up in the trash.
Another group girls sat and stared at the materials. They talked. I walked over to inquire what they were thinking. As it turned out, they had already given up. They said they weren’t smart enough to beat others so why try. Ironically, after a bit of coaching, they produced the tallest, stablest tower.
The pressure to be right, to be heard, to try, to win brought out strengths and weaknesses in each student. And, it made me question what is being taught and learned.
This week I celebrate seeing my students outside the light of reading and writing.
I celebrate discussions that include listening.
I celebrate opportunities to try.
I celebrate losing.
I celebrate unexpected success.
I celebrate questioning what and how we teach.
Read other celebrations here @ Ruth Ayers Writes.