Friday, February 24, 2012

Group Non-Work

Can you pick out the student
 who isn't paying attention?
When you think back to your school years, what do you recall about the classroom arrangement?  Some common characteristics would be the instructional borders (print or script alphabets, most likely) above the black board, flourescent lighting, a globe and the teacher's desk.  And, of course, the students' desks were lined up nice and neat, each student facing forward.  Rows are now as obsolete as typewriters, rotary phones and common courtesy.  Teachers now must seat their students in groups. 

Once upon a time, you'd have to employ a modicum of skill to to make a "psst" sound of just the right decibel level at the exact moment to attract the attention of your intended audience, but not of your teacher.  It used to be that the class clowns wanted to sit in the back, but today the prime seats are the ones not facing the teacher.  In fact, a good way to get a quick read of a class is to see who chooses to position themselves with a view of the board and who does not.
We've all been there!  Frustrating!
I have yet to see a movie theater or performance hall with the seats arranged in groups.  Most of us are bothered if a person doesn't make eye contact during conversation, and I'm sure we've all experienced that all-to-common frustration when a lady wearing a large hat sits in the line-of-vision.  It is hard to concentrate on something if you are not looking at it.  Now that attention deficit is on the rise, some genius decided that children should no longer direct their attention at the teacher, but look at eachother.  Wha-ha-ha?

On top of the fact that half of a class is not even looking at the teacher, understand that the point of groups is "group work".  That is where the ever tolerant and patient children help eachother.  Ah, what a glorious, sun dappled vision of kids working together to solve problems!  Even adults, who largely possess more impulse control than youngsters, do not stay on task when working in groups.  Those of us who were ever assigned a group project knew that meant that one person did the work, and everyone got credit for it. 
This only occurs in movies
and television

The Bystander Effect notes that the bigger the group, the less likely people will intervene to help.  I think the phenomenom applies equally well to today's classroom.  Since students now do everything as a group, that means that no one really needs to pay attention because you can just ask your neighbor.  Shared responsibility usually translates to no one taking responsibility.  I wish I had a dime for the number of times I explain something, ask if anyone has any questions, and when I set them off to work I just hear a chorus of "what are we supposed to do?".  When everyone is relying on someone else, no one is actually learning.  Pluralistic ignorance is the new trend in education.  Everyone is not doing it.


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