As a student, I was that kid who, when the teacher said that an assignment needed to be done in a group, I cringed. I wanted to run and hide and I really did NOT want to come back. I hated working in a group, and here’s why. Inevitably, regardless of who is in a group or what the assignment is, you have people who will naturally fall into some key roles. You have the person who takes over the project and whether they completely understand the project or not, they begin barking orders and completely take over the group. No one gets a word in edgewise, they simply, dutifully, do as they are told. Then you have the member of the group who just puts their head down, they have no desire to participate so they find it a convenient time to nap. You have another member of the group who takes offense to the self appointed leader of the group and loudly discusses how he/she doesn’t know what he/she is doing, and then you have the quiet kid who just silently goes about doing the project on his/her own while chaos ensues around him/her.
I was usually the quiet one. (Hard for some to believe at this point in my life, but it is true). I detested “group work”.
I found myself recently in a situation where I was working as a group in a classroom setting. A math classroom setting. It was amazing to me that as adults, educators even, as soon as we are given the direction to work as a group, we immediately fell back into some of these roles! There was of course, the louder student who took over. And I fell into the role of quietly working it out. The loudest of the group was a very intelligent new college graduate. She was determined to get the answer. And get it correct. Great! No problem. The problem is that as the quiet thinker of the group (I like to think things through silently before I share) I got sucked into the loudness of her thinking and immediately thought I was on the wrong track. So I regrouped, and joined the group in their lively discussion of the problem at hand. We ended up coming up with an answer and we were ready to share.
What’s the problem then? Well, had I followed my own thinking through, I would have gotten the correct answer.
This was a huge “A-ha” moment for me as a teacher. One that I will forever remember and be conscious of when I say, “Let’s work as a group!” I want to allow a limited time for silent thinking. I want to encourage those students who are reluctant to share because they lack confidence to speak up! I want to help those students with a natural inclination to loudly lead a group to stop talking for a minute and listen to other members of the group! I want to encourage the student with a different way of solving a problem to be able to construct viable arguments. Prove that they know what they’re talking about! Use appropriate tools to help make their point! Persevere! Use appropriate language such as, “Can you explain…”, “I like how you thought about that. What if we…” Wait…this is sounding familiar! The Standards for Mathematical Practice!
As we embark on a new school year adventure, with lots of changes and opportunities to make learning a social event, I find this to be a valuable lesson. These are standards for all students, not just the loud ones or the ones who consider themselves to be the smartest. All students. What a fabulous opportunity to empower even the most quiet, insecure students! Group work can now play a whole new role in the classroom, and I get a second chance to fall in love with it!