An interesting discussion with my colleagues led to an illuminating discovery about students’ reactions to doing group work. Some teachers were talking about how hard it was to get students to do group work: they drag their feet, complain, and say they’d rather work on their own in their books. Iris Strong, who teaches ABE at the Nanaimo Campus of Malaspina University-College, speculated that her students thought working in groups was inefficient and time-consuming. She thought that they wanted to work on their own in order to make faster progress. The following week, she led discussions in two different classes, and reported that her hypothesis was wrong:
Then I asked them to describe what happens inside their heads and hearts when they’re asked to participate in an activity that doesn’t feel natural to them, or one that they simply do not LIKE doing.
Well, I was wrong about thinking it was a time issue! At least for the students who responded in these two classes, the common denominator was that taking part in some of these activities involves interaction, and during interaction, others can see that they are dumb, stupid, and not as smart. Fear of exposing ignorance seems to be the motivator for these folks to want to do their own individual work. The cool thing is that they were all quite comfortable sharing that, and laughed about acknowledging it to each other. We’ve had a couple of wonderful sharing times on this topic in each class!! (e-mail, February 23, 2006).
We’re back to dealing with resistance again, and with emotions, and with making a safe space for students to take risks.
A recipe for group work developed by some members of the Math Articulation Committee called for both instructor and student readiness, but the two largest ingredients were commitment on the part of the instructor and appropriate activities.