In some ways, too much of a focus on collaborative tasks is bad for students.To make group work successful teachers have to give pupils a very specific activity to complete, otherwise things get too chaotic, and outlying ideas get shut off. Also, one group member tends to take control and the thoughts of those who are quieter or don’t fit in socially are disregarded. I’m not saying that students can’t recognise good ideas, but they don’t have the broader perspective on the subject that a teacher does. I’ve frequently seen people roll their eyes when someone’s making a point, but actually what’s being said is very interesting. You need a teacher to make sure these ideas are recognised and drawn out.
The Guardian has a very interesting interview with Diana Senechal about the loss of quiet reflection in schools. She maintains that collaborative learning has been overused in schools, and that space should be made for quiet reflection.
Although I clearly believe in collaboration, I also know that space had to be made for children with a different approach to learning, particularly more introverted children. I would say that there is a big difference between Senechal’s quiet reflection, and children sitting alone studying for exams. This, though, is part of her point.
Part of the reason there isn’t enough room in schools for solitude and intellectual thought is because there’s a focus on exams as an end goal. When I first introduced the new philosophy curriculum we didn’t have tests. One day a pupil said to me, “But professor Senechal, we’ve been trained to think only in terms of the test.” I thought that was so sad. Some students find their way through and realise that the subject is interesting and get taken away by it, but others are trying so hard to do things right that it ends up being a neverending struggle. Young people are under so much pressure to get perfect grades that there’s really no wriggle room for imperfection or taking risks.
I couldn’t agree with her more.