I just re-watched Sir Ken Robinson’s “Changing Education Paradigms” and he reminded me of something I have always believed but rarely acted upon. He says:
“Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth. If we atomize people and separate them and judge them separately we form a disjunction between them and their actual learning environment.”
I remember seeing this for the first time and thinking, “Exactly!” The real world is collaborative and some of the most important skills that adults can possess, no matter their field, are those of leadership and teamwork.
So why was I “atomizing” my class, as Sir Ken Robinson put it? Why was I insisting on individual efforts leading to individual performances and individual grades?
I decided to take a risk: assign ONLY collaborative, team-oriented projects that required students to work together on a group product, perform as a team, and be graded collectively.
It was a little scary, actually, to make this shift. What if parents called to complain? Would administrators approve? Would grades be fair? Would students actually learn?
The first push-back came from students: “Why should my grade depend on what they do? What if she doesn’t do her part? What if he doesn’t understand the material?” They were obviously skeptical of relying on others or having their grades tied to the work of their teammates.
But in the “real world,” we ALL rely on the collective efforts of the group to accomplish our goals, even personal goals. So I pushed back and rephrased their concerns: “How can you lead your team to accomplish the goal together? How can you motivate her to do her part? How can you help him understand better?” I channeled Sir Ken Robinson as best I could.
After an entire semester of learning this way, with grades entirely dependent on the group, here is what students say they have learned:
“Before we did this, I didn’t understand what it meant to work in a group. Now I know you need to be responsible and it’s important to be a coach to the other teammates so they can be responsible too.”
“I am a leader now. I know what I have to do to get my team to accomplish great things. I feel proud.”
“I thought they would let me down, so I was nervous, but actually we were able to support each other and when I didn’t know something or I was unsure, my team had my back.”
“Now I know I learn better in groups and I have more fun when we are working well together instead of as individuals.”
Is it perfect? Of course not. Did some of my fears come true? Yes. Was it worth it? Undoubtedly. Thanks, Sir Ken Robinson, for helping me take the leap!