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Help. I need somebody. Help. Not just anybody.

Beatles HELP albumOkay. There are limitations to many human endeavors. There are boundaries of time, space, resources, and yes, human kindness.

I say this in response to the limitations of 140 characters in Twitter. A wonderful, helpful boundary, because it forces me to be ‘less is more.’ The current 140 character volley concerns ‘student collaborative and cooperative learning.’ But I have more than a 140 characters on this one.

Yes: Cooperative, collaborative learning: All Good Things. Here’s where the goodness gets a little sugary-sticky for me though:

1. Some kids/adults are know-it-alls, and want to share too much. (Shhh….yes, I know this may be my category….)

2. Some are know-it-alls, but don’t want to share knowledge.

3. Some know-nothings don’t want to be informed by their peers, thank you very much. (And the know-it-alls get labeled as ‘geeks, nerds, teachers’ pets, etc.)

4. Some are resentful when they are co-opted by teachers and put into service of teaching others under the guise of ‘cooperative learning.’ Kids smell a rat, and are always on alert to when they think someone’s not doing her job.

In my experience, setting up artificial cooperative learning partnerships feels hollow. The students sense it, and indeed, we all do. That is perhaps part of human nature. Just because Grog the Mighty Hunter knows how to find the best and biggest bison in the area doesn’t mean he knows the best way to barbecue his quarry. And Grog may not be all that interested in A. teaching his fellow Neanderthals how to hunt or B. learning how to make bison brisket. So what’s the other tribe supposed to do? Keep their great recipes to themselves, and go hungry, while Grog and his gang have lots of fresh groceries to eat, but no flavor? Cooperative learning takes place best when it’s a mutually-agreed upon (mental) bargain or trade. If one person is the “expert,” and the others are just the receivers of knowledge, the recipient group doesn’t feel respect or encouragement. This is what teachers mean by true cooperative learning–encourage the trades, the bargainings, so that each person is feeling respect and bolstered by the other. This is why teachers often refer to themselves as ‘facilitators,’ rather than ‘lecturers.’ But here’s again the gopher hole: sometimes Grog does need to stand up in front of a willing audience and tell them how to hunt. And Iron-Chef Brog needs to stand up in front of a group and tell them where to find the fresh rosemary for the reduction sauce. (Duh! Cave Paintings = first social network!)

So, just how do we know when to sit down and shut up, or stand up and say something?

Well, perhaps it’s all in the reflection. Sometimes students just need to know things before they can step up the taxonomical steps. And, as they climb, need to discuss and confer with teachers and others about if what they’re seeing and hearing makes sense, and what others see from their perspectives.

We tend to specialize, compartmentalize, and marginalize our learning.This is probably one reason why I abadoned the roles in book groups. Roles led to expert-think, and not share-think. Usually just a few good questions to start a discussion is all it takes. Encourage the conversation, which in turn leads to knowledge, thinking, and more questions. Model to students how fun, interesting conversations can happen, and then stand back. We have a world of followers of single-focused ‘experts.’ These so-called experts seem to be more interested in the sound of their own braying than in hearing what others have to say, and I would suspect are not the most reflective of souls. Teachers, as you reflect, consider that value for your students, too, and allow them a lot of time to write/talk about what they heard, saw, said, and thought. And that’s helpful for anyone.

1 Comment »

  1. I love this post. It’s mind-blowing for me, because it captures the pulse of what I experience, but puts it in a way more articulate way and adds layers of perspective.

    I tend to stick to partners rather than large groups, though sometimes I do larger groups. I also abandoned the “group roles” and watched what happened organically. The hardest change for me to admit was that groups need to work with one another – not in group isolation. I’m still working through that one.

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