Robots, getting in the 'Flow' and more. In this episode Andy, Emily and Adam discuss the value of working in groups and as individuals. What's the purpose of group work? How often do we need to evaluate it? Plus, discussion on whether certain learners can be naturally better in groups or on their own.
The school of school podcast is presented by:
Subscribe to get the latest The School of School podcasts delivered to your inbox.
Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marret.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast. Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Welcome to another episode about podcast School of School. And what we're going to be looking at today is whether or not group work is advantageous. Is it what we want our children to do? Are the downsides to it. We hear a lot about it. It's talked about a lot. So what about it? Is it good? Is it something we want to encourage? Emily, what are your thoughts?
There's a place for group work, but I think there's often too much. There can be too much group work when you can do whole class teaching and independent learning. That can be really effective certainly for me and we can get onto this in more detail a bit later. I think there's been some confusion about group work sometimes with teaching of reading. There's quite different views on this in terms of guided reading and group work. So yeah, whether the group work is done with a teacher interacting and guiding that session, or whether it's done with a group of children together. So yeah, lots to say.
Right. So this is an interesting question. So this question came from Katrina Lord-Levins right, from Bentley Systems and her question... And she emailed it to me or she texted me and she said, "Hey, do we do too much group work in schools?" And I think the motivation for this so I'm putting words in Kat's mouth, is a lot of early starters in companies, new employees seem to not be able to work independently.
And she's asking, is there something wrong with the school system? So she's very high up in this organization, she's in charge of a lot of people. There's a lot of people working in the organization and she notices is a trend that she's seen in her career. A lot of new people coming out of whatever it is and we're talking about professional people who are highly skilled, don't seem to be able to do a lot of independent work.
Is that a problem? I guess the other flip side of that is do we maybe not do enough independent work in schools? It's a real problem, right? I mean, if people are pointing it out and saying these people can't work on their own, maybe there's something wrong. I don't know.
Yeah. I think it's real. One of the things that springs to mind instantly for me is that when we talk about approaches in learning and we've all talked about multiple approaches to learning and we've talked about ways that we can do certain things, but there's something that I think at times gets missed and one of the key ingredients is hard work. Putting in a lot of effort. Individually putting in a lot of effort and hard work. So I think sometimes... And this'll apply for everyone in the classroom, you got to work hard in order to learn.
Learning's not... You don't sit back and just washes over you. So I guess that within group work, we need to be sure that everyone's working hard. I suppose, by the very nature of group work, it's more difficult to see if all of the parts are working hard. And if we know that hard, work's part of learning, then perhaps that's an area where we need to just sharpen the focus in terms of making sure that's the case or making sure that task is right. Because I think that, yeah, you don't learn as much if you don't work hard it's that simple.
I think it's to do with, when you're saying that's what's the purpose of the group work? What's the purpose? So Andy, you are right. Is there an example where there's too much group work and then people find their positions and then maybe going into secondary school, actually having opportunities to change the groups that you are in so that the dynamic changes is an interesting idea, so that you get to have a different role within the group work.
I think that's the issue of purpose and then the concept of collaboration, because it sounds to me a little bit like maybe there's group dynamics and collaboration, but coming back to what Adam specifically is saying. I do think purpose is.. What's the purpose of the group. What do people need to get out of it?
You can take it a step further, right? What's the purpose of education, right? Is it to give people a bunch of skills? Is it to give them a bunch of knowledge or is it to prepare them for their future life as working robots? Or is it something else? Right?
I think that if we want to prepare skills, because we know that there's a knowledge base called Google. Yeah. It's pretty extreme. It's huge. So a lot of things that perhaps we didn't know in the past is at our fingertips. We're carrying a device most of us all the time that can give us the answers almost immediately. So if then we take a step back and say, okay, well each aspect of teaching and learning is something that's going to prepare us to be problem solvers for the future.
Then, I suppose that falls back and say how often do we evaluate group work? So we assess children on the whole. So group work is merely a component of a lesson or a series of lessons. How often do children get asked what have they learned in their group? How effective has that been? And in order to get to the end point, how big of an impact the group work play and that whole progression?
And with that, Adam, just a little thought here, but who decided, who went in the group and what was the criteria for that particular group? And does that benefit everyone in the room?
For sure. And we've all got... Listen, I'm putting the teacher's head on here and being absolutely honest, I can go back 20 years to some of the classes that I've taught and I can guarantee you me 20 years ago, there were some people I wouldn't put together in a group because I felt that the behavior might be a bit tricky or those sorts of things.
And I don't know if that's a good enough reason, if we're trying to learn skills, if the whole idea is that part of group work is to get a lot along with each other and I don't believe I was the only teacher that made decisions on those lines. And whether or not, should I have done this or should I have done that?
So I think, you are right. It's difficult to know and to assess and to evaluate the impact of the groups. And I guess the more people you have in there, the more variables that you need to consider to ensure that it is effective.
So one of the... So I'm going to switch it up here a little bit, right? One of the things that in the past was kind of a trendy thing in education was this notion of multiple intelligences, right? Howard Gartner, I think it was and other people talked about it as well. And this idea that, you got this kind of person, this is a kinetic learner and now I think a lot of people will probably think that that's not such a good idea anymore.
Or maybe it's true, but there's very little practical things that you can do with that information right? You need to develop the whole person. You shouldn't just focus on quote unquote their strengths, right? So is it possible that some people have a predisposition to being independent workers and people have a predisposition to be in group workers?
And is that something that we should encourage? Should we encourage people to have one of those skills or both of those skills or should we not care at all? Let them go whichever direction they like as a question, right?
Well, there's going to be so social aspects to that and there's going to be personality traits and there's going to be issues based on experiences at home and what they're bringing to it in terms of how confident. I think group work and independent work has a place. And just because a child presents themselves in a particular way doesn't necessarily mean that that's them for life. They might need to be encouraged. And I think group work can have a place in doing that.
But I equally think which harks back to what Adam was saying about independent work, you got to be able to work things out. You've got to be able to make mistakes. You've got to be able to fail and you've got to have space for the challenge and the sticky bit where it suddenly has the light bulb moment.
And if you don't have any of that either, then I think that's quite problematic and let's be honest, more than ever in the world of collaboration and social, and I'm talking from a kind of wider technical platform space. We need to be independent thinkers and have independent thought because we're going to be bombarded with everyone else's perspectives and views. So, I do believe very strongly that some level of independence of thought and a chance to fail and play and make independently as well as group and collaboratively. I think it's a really interesting point and I think it should be considered further.
It's not independent work versus group work. It's independent work and group work, right? Like you need to be able to be fluent, capable, whatever in both environments. I think that's fair. I think when I just look at my own work days, there's this kind of zone that you get in sometimes. There's a name for it, I can't remember what people call it. It's like a flow zone, I think. Right? When you are in flow mode. And usually for me, that's like door closed, don't talk to me, I'm not answering the phone, I'm not reading my emails, I'm not a member of society. I am totally an individual. Those are my most productive days. I have days where I don't talk to anybody. I don't want to talk to anybody. Don't bother me. I got a lot of work to do.
And I sit down and I just plow through huge amounts of work. And it's often when I do my best work. When you need to write, or when you need to create something that's intense, it requires a lot of reflecting and thinking. But those are special days. I can't do that every day. Right? So I think some people can, I think like authors, like Isaac Asimov, that's his mode, right?
He sat down at the typewriter, every morning at whatever specified time and started writing. Didn't matter if it was good or bad, just keep writing and don't talk to me. But then when I think of the more creative parts of my job, where I need to really kind of flush out ideas and whatever, then I need that interaction.
I'm kind of useless on my own. I need to come up with crazy ideas and put them out there and people say to me, "Andy, that's a crazy idea." And I go, "No it isn't, this is why it isn't." And then that challenges me and that communication that to and fro is where I do most of my thrashing out of ideas. Yeah. I need other people to do that. I can't do it on my own because I get fixated and invested in my own ideas and then maybe go off in a rabbit hole or on a tangent that based on something that needs more challenge. So I think you need both skills. I need both skills for sure. Right? In my job.
For sure. I think the other thing I listened to a speaker and it was a number of years ago. So forgive me, his name escapes me and he is talking about people who appeared more introverted, knows that appeared more extroverted. And he talked about Apollo 13, the spacecraft that, that blew up on... A huge tragedy. And he was talking about, he read lots of anecdotal reports around it because he was studying this idea of introvert and extrovert and talking about engineers that perhaps felt that in the group dynamic, they could have said more.
And that was one of the things that came out that they should have, could have said more. The extroverts are yeah, yeah, let's launch, let's launch let's launch. And I guess in hindsight, maybe they had thought perhaps we could pull back a bit, but I think what to take from that, because clearly that's not a lot of detail on that and I wouldn't want to be quoted as that was at verbatim.
But what I would say is it's also really important.
Yeah, yeah. No, let's not go down that road. But I think what was really important in that is not just about, we should all learn the skills of group dynamics, but actually the consequences that can happen if we don't our roles within groups and challenge those things that maybe we find difficult. So we need people who... And we've all been in groups where someone... Not just taking the lead, but that is far more vocal, it's far more powerful in delivery and we've all probably been... Maybe we've been of those roles. Where we've sat back and we're not sure. So I think that we also have to recognize that it's not just a skill, that's nice. This isn't just a nice skill.
This is crucial. This is absolutely crucial that within group dynamics, people are aware of the consequences of not doing something within that group. And I wonder if that's raised, because we can say, yeah, it'd be nice to have everyone talking in the group because then we all feel valued. But actually maybe the consequences need to be spelled out a little bit more. And perhaps the idea within a group dynamic of everyone realizing the roles that they take and the consequences at the end of it.
Again, for me, it comes back to evaluation is whether or not we evaluate the impact on anyone's learning or the outcome of group work as part of a learning process or as part of a process that has an end goal, that's a tangible end goal. But I found it really interesting talking to him about that or listening to him talk about that.
Going back to the question, do we do too much group work, or I guess the flip side, do we not do enough independent work in schools?
I'll keep it as succinct as possible, I think that the amount that we do is almost irrelevant, as long as we are very clear about the skills being developed and how it plays its part in the overall success of whatever we are doing. And if we don't know that, then it's just left to chance and of course people can be hidden in a group, so we're just making it harder to work out whether or not something is effective.
So effectively, what you're saying is there needs to be opportunities and a lesson to work in groups and to work independently.
And there needs to be grit, right? People need to know that they have to work hard when they work in the group.
As well as when they work in groups.
Yeah. For sure.
Go on Emily, what are you going to summarize?
No, I liked that bit about grit and working hard and having the opportunity to have a bit of time independently to challenge and to overcome. Actually independently and in a group is really important. And I think, kids need that. There's nothing wrong with failure or there's nothing wrong with having to realize that you thought you understood something, but you haven't yet. So you just got to own that. And I think lifelong learners and opportunities to problem solve organizations and being able to do that, that's going to be more and more important. So, I'm all for that.
So Kat the answer for your question is can you blame schools and teachers for everything that's wrong with your new employees? Yes. But you can also blame the parents, right? How's that for an ending?
Send into the wedge there, Andy, so there's a follow up to this.
Alright. Thanks for joining everyone.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.