I recently stated that I was “enough of an extrovert to find the energy to share regardless of how tired I was, when students call with questions beyond class time”. Only recently have I realized what a clue to my own personality I was offering with the use of the word “enough” – it meant I had realized that I wasn’t a bona fide extrovert needing the limelight, however I’m not a shy recluse either. A new book describes the differences between the shy personality and the introvert, and calls for a reminder to teachers/schools to make space for the introvert when it comes to learning situations. I was surprised to think that we had in fact begun to ignore this need for private contemplation within a group/classroom setting.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain suggests that the emphasis on group projects may be currently undervaluing the contributions of the less gregarious in the groups. Placed beside research done on group dynamics – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?pagewanted=all is the need to demonstrate how to collaborate on a project.
What I do hear constantly from students (private tutoring allows for private venting) is how rarely do all contribute equally to what is meant to be a group project; someone inevitably becomes the main researcher/coordinator/ final producer and suggesting that this person has then acquired the most skills is far from satisfactory to an already overworked student. Why then do teachers continue to promote group project work? There are benefits to learning how to contribute to a project, to valuing being a part of a whole, and to practicing negotiation skills in what ought to be a relatively safe environment, a school setting. What seems to be needed though is greater involvement on the part of a teacher to help delegate and establish commitment from group project participants. It is not enough to assign groups and topics and walk away. Students through grade 12 need the encouragement of the teacher, and educators need to recognize the difference between a student’s organized (grassroots) participatory involvement in extra curricular activities at a school and a teacher organized group project/presentation. Joining an extra-curricular school based activity means finding a place to share one’s passion; participating in a teacher directed class small-group project means earning marks for work done. While the “gregarious students” might come through at final presentation time, I have seen the quieter students often doing the majority of the research; an ok balance if both sets of students have been taught to appreciate each other’s contributions, however from what I have heard, this has rarely been the case.