Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Consider This a Divorce

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Consider This a Divorce

Article excerpt

Decades ago, group work meant hiding from the class clowns as they tried to turn me into Pinhead from Hellraiser with a hot-wire plastic cutter. We had been told to build a mosque from polystyrene. Fast forward to now, to me, post-trauma, actually in charge of a class, and I'm not saying you'd have to put a gun to my head to make me set group work, but I'd have to know you were packing heat.

Across the world, children are enthusiastically learning about Tudor belfries in trios and quartets, while flaying sugar paper and gobbling coloured pens and glue sticks. Group work: I hate the concept, as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee. I bite my thumb at it.

All my career, I have struggled with this contradiction. Every book I've read and trainer I've listened to have said it was the best way to learn, but I would set tasks and watch as, predictable as a metronome, the following would happen.

1. Uneven loading, as one or two children inevitably did most of the work.

2. Withdrawal, as the laziest fell into roles that suited their task-dodging talents.

3. Time-wasting, as the capacities of the many were engaged in the flabbiest way.

4. Unfair outcomes, as some groups produced good work from gifted key players and others didn't.

I saw this time and time again, even if I had prepped the classes with rules for group work, defined their roles clearly and assigned groups in balanced ways. I saw it even though I persevered - and, I promise you, I am reasonably handy in the classroom. It was always a patchwork quilt of outcomes: some would enjoy it and engage, others would throw it off in disgust. …

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