Teamwork for what?

“Social-emotional skills’ such as teamwork, collaboration and communications are fashionable these days, writes Diana Senechal. She thinks students need to learn “a different way of being with others, a way of coming together for something interesting and beautiful.”

Teen socializing can be one of the most miserable experiences in life. If you don’t fit in, you have several options: to try to fit in, to take pride in not fitting in, to ignore the whole thing, to experience shame, or to build friendships over time. Many young people do a combination of all of these—and still go through school with a sense of rejection that stays with them for years, even decades.

If students get together to study a work of literature or music, they “come together as participants and witnesses, as people with ideas and questions,” Senechal writes. In her eighth-grade English class, she “came to know my classmates, and they me,” in discussing The Sword in the Stone, Henry IV, Antigone, The Glass Menagerie and  more.

Something similar happened in other classes, in chorus, and in our production of Romeo and Juliet. We were given room to think about something, to appreciate something, to work on something substantial.

Most group work  “degenerates into regular socializing with a task added on,” Senechal writes. “Too often, the group members shut out the student with the unusual idea (who, in many cases, would get much more done if allowed to work alone).”

Teamwork is not good in itself, she argues.

Just as much as students need to work together, they also need to think and act on their own. . . . Yes, there are times when you need to learn how to work together (on something specific)–for instance, how to act together in a scene, or how to conduct a physics experiment together. Still, the teamwork skills (if that’s the right term for them) will be determined by the work at hand. Teamwork as a generic skill does not exist (or if it does, it’s dreary).

. . . schools should offer more than the purely social; they should give students something worth learning and doing together, something beyond the peer group and its limited, limiting judgments.

Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.

I think people learn teamwork only when they’re on real teams coming together to dramatize Romeo and Juliet, sing in the chorus, march in the band, win the game, put out a newspaper and so on.

Teach to boys’ energy, curiosity, drive

Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Being Able to Sit Still at School, writes Jessica Lahey, who teaches middle school, in The Atlantic.

“Something is rotten in the state of boys’ education,” she starts. Boys are kept back at twice the rate of girls, according to Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why Boys are “diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls,” do less homework, earn lower grades and drop out of high school in higher numbers. Only 43 percent of college students  are male.

Many teachers and school administrators think “boys are too fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development,” Lahey writes.

Peek into most American classrooms and you will see desks in rows, teachers pleading with students to stay in their seats and refrain from talking to their neighbors. Marks for good behavior are rewarded to the students who are proficient at sitting still for long periods of time. Many boys do not have this skill.

What works for boys?  Teaching Boys: A Global Study of Effective Practices recommends lessons:  that result in an end product (a booklet, a catapult, a poem, a comic strip), that are structured as competitive games, that require movement, that require boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others, that address open questions or unsolved problems, that combine competition and teamwork, that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization and that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.

In short, ‘the most effective way to teach boys is to take advantage of that high energy, curiosity, and thirst for competition,” Lahey concludes. And it’s not as if girls can’t learn from these sort of lessons.

Group projects in the real world

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From Awful Group Projects at 11D.

College will evaluate ‘soft skills’

“Soft skills,” such as punctuality and teamwork, will be factored into grades and “work readiness” certificates at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina. Employers have complained that graduates have technical skills but lack knowledge of workplace norms.

That reminds me of yesterday’s post on a McKinsey report that found a mismatch between teachers’ estimation of their students’ skills and employers’ expectations. (No, that doesn’t mean teachers are “stupid,” as one comment writer insists. It means teachers  and employers aren’t communicating.)