Tag Archives: group project work

What might really help?

I remember when the concept of distance education was being discussed in graduate school only from the potential to aid students in rural areas or students who might not otherwise have had access to teachers.  Many an hour was spent debating the merits of this “future form of teaching and learning” and this was only a little over a decade ago.  Today we take for granted the relative simplicity and beauty of communicating over distances thanks to personal technology. But with this growth in on-line learning has developed a new breed of student- the student who will buy a credit without doing the work. Of course, not all students who sign up for distance education plan on cheating, in fact, I think many do not even realize that this is what they are doing in asking a tutor to “just sit beside me and answer the questions when I take the test”.  Or am I still being willfully naive?

     A recent rash of requests to do just that – to either write the paper for a student, or to take the test for a student has made me wonder.  Though not yet an epidemic, is this the future of education?  And I know that there are “tutors” willing to do the full work for the student which says something else about the education system- too many underemployed.   

  Yes competition can be fierce. Today’s student is growing up tech savvy and a student’s discovering ways around a system is not something new.  What to me is new is that adults are often behind the student and encouraging the practice.  When we as tutors share knowledge in such a way that students, regardless of age or background, can feel empowered and able to use the skills and move beyond the basics to create their own set of “personal, practical knowledge”  then as tutors we will have achieved a basic goal of education: to encourage curiosity in others, to facilitate growth.  “Character education”, “problem solving skills” “lessons in empathy”, are the new buzz words and hardly a curriculum can be found that isn’t touting these phrases.  What might really help? Reading skills everyone, comprehension practice, readings from the literature of other countries/ other cultures/ other time periods.  Learning by doing happens when the words on the page have an effect on the reader and affect change.  Change is good – it is a part of growing.  I challenge you to find a classic, modern or traditional, or one of today’s “best sellers”, that doesn’t, in one way or another, through the story, further the development of all three.  Active reading is a wonderful key.

A reminder- it is OK to be on the quieter side

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.