Independence First, Interdependence Second
"Stop the madness for constant group work." said author Susan Cain in her recent TED Talk, The Power of Introverts. "We need to be teaching kids to work together, for sure. But we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own because that is where deep thought comes from." (Check out Cain's talk--it's enlightening and inspiring.)
I agree with Cain, which may seem like I'm contradicting myself, since teamwork is the "t" in my "success comes from the H.E.A.R.T." acronym. But the "r" in H.E.A.R.T. is resourcefulness, which provides the link between students working on their own and working together.
At teacher workshops on small groups, I stress the importance of students working independently first, interdependently second. Establish a protocol for students to rely on their own knowledge, creativity, and resources when they first approach a task. Advise them to collaborate or consult with each other only after they've exhausted their own ideas and resources, or have completed a task and are ready to discuss what they did.
Another point I make at workshops is that we should facilitate collaboration rather than force it. We need to teach students to work together, as Susan Cain says. But forcing introverted kids to work together doesn't teach them to work together. It teaches them to resent and avoid situations where they're required to work together. If students insist on sitting by themselves, let them. Then encourage them to reach out to classmates as situations arise where this would benefit them. When group-averse kids ask for help, I point out a classmate who can help them. And more often than not, they're willing to approach that classmate (sometimes with me escorting them, sometimes on their own).
Even better, most of these students sit with a group from then on. Not because anyone forces them to, but because they realize it's a win-win: get and give help when it's needed, otherwise work on your own. It's a balanced approach that cultivates two important skills, working independently and interdependently, in all kids--introverts and extroverts alike.
Image by Avava, provided by Dreamstime license
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