According to Michael Gove‘s speech last week, group work is “in practice, children chatting to each other”. And from the tone of his speech he makes it clear that this is something to be avoided at all costs. (Because of course there is no way that children could learn anything from anyone unless they are an ‘expert teacher imparting knowledge’). Personally, I find this bizarre. It is as though we inhabit parallel universes.
Because group work is a whole lot more complicated, and complex, than the throwaway comment “children chatting to each other” could ever encapsulate. Yes, it’s hard to do well, and very hard to do brilliantly, but that’s no excuse for not trying. Because otherwise you are left with only two options for your teaching: the teacher instructs the students, or the students work individually. Everything else (even a whole class debate or discussion) is, in essence, a form of ‘group work’.
That being the case, what can we hope or expect children, and indeed adults, to learn from group work?
* How to share.
* How to take turns.
* How to focus.
* How to listen to other people’s ideas, and build on them with ideas of your own.
* How to create something by working in partnership with other people.
* How to solve problems by working in partnership with other people.
* That sometimes it’s good to talk, but that equally you must learn to listen as well.
* How to ‘direct’ a group of people, and the kind of situations in which this might be valuable or necessary.
* How to be ‘directed’ by someone else, as a member of a group, following instructions and doing as you are asked.
* How to negotiate your role within a group of other people.
* How to work as a member of a team, each taking on equitable roles within that team. (This is the hardest kind of group work of all for a teacher to manage – even adults find it hard. I wonder if this is where people get the idea that group work is a recipe for chaotic chatter.)
* How to take on a specific role within a group (perhaps decided by a teacher, one you choose yourself or one that is a challenge for you).
* That different people have different viewpoints, perspectives and opinions.
* That it is possible to listen to other people’s views, and in so doing to change or adapt your own perspective.
* That it is possible to listen to other people’s views, and in so doing strengthen your belief in your own perspective.
* That people are all different – different views, different abilities, different talents, different backgrounds.
* That we all have something to offer, and that it is important to be gentle, kind and supportive of the talents and views of others.
* That working with others can be a great way to motivate yourself and those within your group.
* That we all have the right for our voices and opinions to be heard.
* How to have fun, and be relaxed, while learning.
* That the teacher is not always right, and that questioning what an ‘authority’ tells you is not always wrong.
I’m going to stop there, because I’ve run out of ideas, and I’m working on my own, so I’ve got no one else to turn to. Now of course if I was working in a group …….