5th Blogpost

Here we are nearly at the end of March, and we have been covering a large quantity of topics in MTH 329-01.  There is one  concept that I have come across while in MTH 329-01 that I feel the need to discuss, the idea of group work and collaboration in regards to the “teacher-student relationship and classroom environment”.

The basis for this comes from, primarily, two sources, my own experiences and the following:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-bJoapxS5o&list=PL1eYMNcRIC5k901YDPauiMOcCl47hIqIl

In short, the “thesis” that the presenter puts forth equates student seating choice in the classroom with how well they perform or how attentive and engaged the student is in regards to the mathematical content being taught by the source of that knowledge i.e. the teacher.  The presenter then goes on to discuss how she combated the mindset of some students that “sitting in the back allows I [the student] to be non-involved with the learning process” by showing how she incorporated various technologies {clickers}, working in groups, and a more active/diverse approach to involving students’ in mathematics education by utilizing more “interesting and applicable” activities.   Personally, I think she has the right approach to getting student’s more active in their mathematics education, but I disagree with the mantra that group work and collaborative effort be the “end-all-cure-all” to help students.  I say this because I dislike group work of all forms; whether forced or unforced, due to the simple fact that in the “big” things in academics {tests} and in life [interviews, actual job, etc.] a person is on their own; hence, it seems counterproductive to encourage a “group mentality” mindset in students currently when they are, in essence, on their own when it comes to some of life’s “biggest” challenges.

Let me be clear though, I am NOT advocating for a child isolationist practice and a classroom environment where no one talks to each other, ever, and the teacher does nothing to engage his or her students, instead, I would prefer to see, at best, a more pro-option approach to student activities in class.  What this means is that teachers must, on day 1, set the tone that their classroom is a safe and nurturing place where it is okay to ask questions, but the responsibility to ask those questions is on the individual students themselves, NOT the group as a whole NOR the instructor.

Furthermore, all in class activities should be done in collaboration with classmates or solo, by choice of each student, but the teacher is equally ready to assist all students with any potential difficulties that arise as they proceed through the activity.

In adopting this approach, I believe teachers can still do their job, students can still show up and learn, but the responsibility for the actual learning rests with the student, not with the teacher.  Clearly, an issue then arises when trying to evaluate how “good” a teacher is, since, in the case of the students who ‘do not care’, will perform poorly on assessments; thus, when a teacher’s performance review is heavily based on assessment scores, that teacher, even if they do a “good” job with every student, and everyone of those students makes their own choice to engage or not, then the instructor is still held liable for the “poor” performance of those students who consciously made the choice to not engage both with their peers and their instructor in regards to the taught material.

The end result of adopting this viewpoint towards teacher-student relationships and the atmosphere in the classroom will be to produce students who are capable, independent individuals who can rationally react to a wide variety of mathematical (and other) contexts and proceed accordingly; while, simultaneously, grooming each adult to be better prepared for “real life” in USA.  I say this because, as a society/country, we strive for completion, independence, and honor the individual accomplishment; hence, the students who become so used to relying on a group to get through mathematical {or other} activities in school will be double burdened when confronted with assessments that they must complete completely by themselves and in a society that demands/expects each person to be rational and to be able to “stand on their own two feet”.

In summation, a powerful balance must be struck between the current trend in all education for “collaborative efforts” and the “traditional” individual work done in academics.  This balance can be found in the form of a compromise where each individual student has the choice to either have more group work available to them or each student can work independently while still having equal access  to teacher support regardless of being in a group or working solo.  The desired outcome of this compromise should be to create students who are more able to express their choices and be aware of the cost/loss of each choice they make while being more ready to deal with a reality that promotes the individual and independence over collaboration and reliance.

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