Saturday, December 6, 2008

Constructivism and group work

It's not that I'm against it, per se. I just don't think it's very good for teaching math. The cartoon below is exaggerating for the humor value, but the idea that students will be able to learn math on their own, without being taught, is silly to me. The idea that students should construct their own view of the subject, building from scratch because they'll learn it better that way, is ludicrous. We humans have spent millennia devising these ideas and rules and concepts. We expect the kids to develop them from scratch?

The Guide-on-the-Side spends a great deal of time leading the kids by not leading them, pushing them in the right direction without pushing, guiding them without showing the way. I find the students just want the guide to stop dancing around and get to the point. Teach, ask, listen, reply, adjust. They want a sage. They don't want someone to stand there and talk incessantly for 90 minutes but they DO want someone who can impart some knowledge and help them to understand it, then take them down the road a little further each day.

Working together to solve a problem is wonderful for some things. After one has been taught, has been lead through the easier problems, and has been pushed through some harder ones, it's time for some practice. "Work together and ask each other" is okay - as long as the teacher is right there to correct the smart kid who doesn't quite get it yet. I have too often seen the smart kid in this situation "think he has it" but tell his compatriots a very wrong analogy or algorithm.

It's not conducive to the learning styles and abilities of high-schoolers to have too much of the education come at their initiative and design. Having a teacher stand there while kids are reading the book's instructions, sitting nearby while they follow the book's directions, sauntering around while the kids copy the "math notes" out of the book -- what's with that? Haven't you simply removed a sage with brains and intelligence, only to replace him/her with a dead-soul of a book? If that were effective, what the hell are you paying me for? Why not get a $6/hour substitute and let the kids teach themselves? They teach themselves math all summer long, right? That works, doesn't it?

Teenagers learn best in groups, right? Not from my experience. As Old Andrew says quite nicely, though a tad indelicately, in his article on Groupwork, "If you want to learn how to cooperate effectively with others, then the last place you’d start is in a group of teenagers being made to do school work. This is like saying the best way to learn how to make pork sausages is by being imprisoned in a pig farm with a half-dozen rabbis. Putting together people who are neither experienced at doing something, or particularly inclined to want to do it, is not how you learn to do that something."

And they don't need to learn to socialize -- they've got that down pretty well. Frankly, I'd rather they didn't do quite so much of it.

Maybe it's just late in the evening, but that cartoon's not really that funny. Kind of sad we're doing this to our kids.

1 comment:

  1. Amen Curmudgeon! I have found the best time for cooperative learning is AFTER the original learning takes place. Group members have the skills to gently help the struggling student along. I love to hear the coaching that goes on between group members. I use cooperative learning to cement in skills we have been practicing. I will give them some kind of group assignment to do that takes several steps and about 30 minutes to complete. At the end I always give a short indiidual asessment to make sure each group member learned what it was they were supposed to learn.