Friday, February 7, 2014

Back to the Rows

This is a picture of my classroom as of 3:30 this afternoon.  I've gone back to conventional rows.

I have tried the warm-fuzzy "collaborative learning" Kagan groups for five weeks now.  Maybe that's not long enough, but frankly I don't have much more time I can afford to invest in them.  My students aren't learning like that, and as my pay is now tied to their performance, I'm making the call to go back to rows.

I did my dead-level best with the Kagan groups.  I grouped the kids based on diagnostic tests and placed them according to scoring just as prescribed.  I made adjustments to the groups.  I planned cooperative learning activities.  I used the Kagan techniques we learned in inservice and professional development meetings.

I can see where this might be an acceptable arrangement sometimes, but not every day.  And it works better with my honors students than with my regular ones.  If all I taught was honors kids, I might leave them that way, but I don't.  I teach kids of all levels and grades.

The Kagan groups are out.

Mary Grabar, writing for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, posted an interesting commentary last month on the state of higher education and the effect Common Core will have on college students.  She addressed specifically these warm-fuzzy collaborative learning groups:

Under Common Core, high school juniors and seniors are to be evaluated on their ability to “initiate and participate in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.” 
Unfortunately, those progressive pedagogical methods of group work and projects have been shown to be ineffective. But students are well-versed and comfortable with such collaborative learning and extend the discussion format to class discussion, where they convey impressions, feelings, and well-learned political platitudes. It’s almost like group therapy.  
A student will say something like “I agree with Josh, but I’d like to add to his point about gender identity…” Grouped with their peers, students are not likely to engage in academically challenging debates. Indeed, the Common Core standards preclude such debate--debate that is based on logic, evidence, and rhetorical mastery—because it involves winners and losers.

Grabar goes on to make the case that incoming college freshmen can't read a 600 page novel and write a literary analysis paper on it because they've never been asked to do that in high school.  They come knowing how to do PowerPoint presentations or videos, but analytical analysis is beyond them:

Many of my colleagues and I have noticed among college freshmen an unwillingness and inability to read complex and long works. Assign anything from the nineteenth century and the biggest complaint will be that the essay or story (forget entire novels) was “too long.” Ask any student to explain one sentence from such a text and even the brightest future doctors and scientists will look at you dumbfounded. “Just this one sentence,” I would ask my students.  “Take it apart. Look at the clauses. Look at the words, their definitions, their connotations.”  Nothing.  Not surprisingly, very few students know the feeling of getting “lost” in a novel.

Read the whole thing.

I think ultimately the decision should lie with the teacher and not some suit in an office as to how students learn best.  It will always depend on he individual student and the dynamic of that classroom and that teacher.  One cookie-cutter style will not work across the board.

I might be rebelling against the status quo, but so be it.  I've got to do what I know works and what is best for my students.

I'll work in group activities now and then, but as a matter of daily routine - nope.


Jayhawk said...

"They come knowing how to do PowerPoint presentations or videos, but analytical analysis is beyond them."

My nephew is a colonel in the Army and a graduate of the War College and Command Staff School, and was part of the planning staff for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Power Point is one of his pet peeves. It is used in almost all military briefings, and it renders the briefing almost entirely useless. Mark claims that Power Point not only fails to convey information itself, but it distracts so badly from the spoken word that it makes spoken information disappear into a vacuum.

Business meetings I have been in have confirmed that opinion. He is entirely correct.

yukio ngaby said...

The "group sit around style" really only worked for me in college writing classes so that people were more comfortable talking about other students' writing while facing each other. In high school it seems like it would not work at all.

I'm not so sure about Grabar's comment about group working not preparing students for college. A friend of mine just graduated from college with a business degree, and he said about 90% of each of his classes was group work. This, of course, means about 20% of the class did 99.9% of the work. So most of the degrees that come out of there are pretty much useless crud. Now this was in California so...

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Pat. Great posting!

George Sewell said...

Rennaisance education - one classroom at a time. Thanks, Pat.

George Sewell said...

Renaissance education - one classroom at a time. Thanks, Pat.