Monday, 16 November 2015

“stop the madness for constant group work” (Susan Cain)

Susan Cain said that we need to teach our students to be able to work on their own, to “stop the madness for constant group work” and allow them the ability to go off on their own and develop deep thought which generally only happens in solitude (Susan Cain, TED talks). Some of the greatest thinkers in history, Ghandi, Eleanor D. Roosevelt and ‘Dr. Seuss’ were introverts, yet society expects, respects and pushes people to be extroverts (Susan Cain). Elizabeth Barkley said that “it is not safe to conclude that if students are talking to each other, they are learning. It is equally risky to conclude that students are learning when they are listening to other students talking” (Barkley, pg.16).  Students who listen attentively to self-questioning lectures are learning more than those involved in some discussion (Barkley, 2010). Maslow argued that that when students feel more connected to a community, learning takes place which involves participating in collaborative activities.





The meaning in all of this for me is that I realize extroverts are not always the most engaged learners and the introverted learner may be having the greatest learning experience and I honestly hadn’t really considered that. As a child, my report cards would in the beginning refer to me as a daydreamer because I was quiet. I would often observe and take in more than what was spilling out of my mouth (my Dad taught me you have two ears and a mouth for a reason, so that you can listen twice as much as you talk), so I did, but I learned that this was not appreciated in the school system, so I became more extroverted and it won me praise. Having not thought of this for so long, I hadn’t even considered my own experiences and how I teach. Amazing that it never occurred to me since I had to develop ‘expected classroom behavior’ but it really wasn’t who I was initially. I conformed to the expectations of what a ‘good student’ should be, not who I was or wanted to be. In some ways I perhaps had my learning squashed and it is now apparent that is what I have done to some of my students.


According to Barkley, sense and meaning equal retention of learning (Barkley, 2010). If students are not allowed to go off in some sort of solitude, make sense and  meaning how can they engage in deep thought? Where is the learning? Students need to make connections with learning, it is an individual and dynamic process that students need to develop, it takes time and in an environment that creates harmony. Learning is more than thinking rationally, ‘body, heart and mind are all involved in learning and are necessary for engagement’ (Barkley, 2010). So is this likely to happen in the classroom environment? I am guilty of facilitating far too much group work, I used to believe that ‘two heads are better than one’, better to stimulate ideas within a group, learn from each other, but I didn’t have it quite right. I also called upon ‘quieter’ people to share their thoughts when I hadn’t heard from them, thinking I was ‘helping’ and sometimes because I thought they might be ‘tuned out’. I believed that if I involved them in the discussion, they would be more engaged (learn more) and feel more supported and their opinions appreciated.  I am also guilty of thinking that the most outspoken in the group are the most attentive and are actively learning, boy did I get this all wrong. I probably had the opposite affect, in that while someone might have been (quietly) engaged in learning, I put them under a spotlight and took them out of their quiet comfort ‘learning’ zone, just so I could see if they were engaged.





The significance in this for me is that I cannot assume that introverted students are not listening, nor can I assume that the introvert is actively engaged in deep thought. While it continues to be a challenge to evaluate the learning that takes place I will be less quick to assume the worst (not learning). I must remember my young self a bit more and remember how I wanted to learn and how I felt having to change into a different student did not feel good. I will be more understanding of the introvert and also the extrovert, recognizing that perhaps they are not as engaged as I thought. I was surprised to hear Susan Cain report that 1/3-1/2 of people are introverts. I am an ‘ambivert’ (Susan Cain) which is a new term for me. I am obviously very extroverted at work, yet at home, I take on the quiet role, listening to everyone’s day. I used to think that perhaps I was just tired of socializing, after working all day, but perhaps it’s not as simple as that.





I will definitely have less biased opinions of my students. I will call on the introverts much less, recognizing that that is perhaps how they wish to be. I will also remember not to assume the quiet are learning and the ‘noisy’ are too. Perhaps I never get it exactly right, but I can moderate the amount of group work and balance it with individual work so that students can learn the skill of working autonomously and also in a group setting. I will keep learning, trying and asking questions, getting to know my students more will help. I will focus on more of the transformational learning and mentoring (Daloz, 1986). Allowing for more opportunities for the student to go off and make sense of the learning through independent study times. Coming back together for the ‘forming’, etc.


I will put more positivity on the introverted and support them more now that I understand more. I must also remember that Adult learners have established their learning style and I must be the one to adapt instead of trying to assimilate everyone (Merriam, 2007).  It was also a wake up call for me to have more quiet times to be by myself so I can engage in some deeper thought. When I am home, I am greeted by my husband, 6 year old and 2 year old, not conducive to quiet, deep reflective moments ;) but as much as I wouldn’t trade them for the world, I recognize the need for solitude and to ‘get inside my own head’.


Definitely an enlightening video, and I hope I haven’t squashed any future “Ghandi’s, Mohammed’s and ‘Dr. Seuss’s”.



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