Discussion Starter: Does Anyone Like Cooperative Learning?

I’ve begun to wonder if anyone likes cooperative learning. I certainly don’t. In high school, few activities bothered me more than having to work in groups. I felt the same way in college and eventually graduate school, cringing whenever a professor assigned any kind of group work. Annoyance turned to resentment if this group work represented even a small portion of my grade. Have I been alone in this?

Recently, my curiosity prompted me to ask the undergraduates I was teaching. My polling methods weren’t exactly scientific. I simply asked, by show of hands, how many students enjoyed cooperative learning, either in high school or college. Out of the six sections I asked across two semesters—over 200 students—almost none raised their hands. During the first semester, not a single hand went up.

When I pressed, they offered a long list of grievances. Many disliked having to work with less capable or motivated students. A few added to this, saying they felt absences and aptitudes made group work feel imbalanced. Several complained about having their grades tied to the performance of others. As many as half of them indicated a preference for working independently, which might be surprising considering these students were preparing to be teachers. Some rather candid students mentioned specifically disliking having to interact at all.

This sampling isn’t enough to damn cooperative learning. Remember, I only spoke with around 200 students. Peer pressure might have dissuaded some from raising their hands. Furthermore, students dislike all sorts of otherwise effective methodology and programming. Working in teams has some merit and shouldn’t be tossed out because a few dozen undergraduates take exception with it. Justifications for its use include fostering inclusion (one of the original motivations for it), modeling 21st Century work environments (although this alignment might be shifting), and promoting engagement through active learning (which works so long as all members truly are active; it might backfire for students who struggle with interaction).

What do you think of it? I’m mostly interested in your perspective as a student. If you have thoughts on using cooperative learning as a teacher, share those instead. As a teacher, I used cooperative learning models because such strategies were expected to be present in lesson plans. I’m guessing other teachers use it at least in some part to secure positive ratings from administrators. No, I don’t think this is the only reason teachers use it. Plenty of teachers are skilled at doing so, choosing arrangements that atone for potential inequities while fostering effective learning. Students can benefit when it’s wisely implemented. Some students might even enjoy it. These students must be out there somewhere. Share your thoughts in the comments, whether or not you’re one of them, or ever were one of them.

Discussion Starter: Does Anyone Like Cooperative Learning?

Discussion Starter: How Are Charters Doing Where You Live?

I recently asked about issues that will impact education in 2017. As a follow up, I’m dedicating a post to the status of charter schools. Specifically, I’d like readers to share the relative success of charters in their area. If any readers have insights regarding how their local charters are responding to the needs of students with disabilities, these would be especially relevant on this blog.

I’m expecting what others report to be similar to what I’ve found where I live. Philadelphia’s charters get results that are as mixed as what the city’s publics get. Some charters seem to be exceeding the outcomes publics with similar populations are managing, although a few crucial variables might be skewing results in favor of the charters. Other charters are disasters and should be chained shut, but the same could be said for many of the city’s publics (which is part of how Philadelphia has ended up with so many charters). My city might not be the best litmus, as too many of the issues impacting school performance are beyond what any school could address.

What is happening with the charters in your community? Are they improving upon what the local publics offer? Are they worsening anything? If you respond, sharing the composition of your community (rural, suburban, urban) might be helpful.

 

 

Discussion Starter: How Are Charters Doing Where You Live?

Discussion Starter: Education Issues for 2017

A fitting way to end 2016 is to look forward to what the most pressing educational issues of 2017 will be. What can we expect to be on the minds of educators as the year unfolds? Will federal-level initiatives meant to further the propagation of charter schools dominate education news? Could changes in funding create additional staffing shortages as early as fall 2017? Will wrangling over the Common Core remain a principle concern? What will the coming spring look like for parents seeking to opt out of state tests?

While something unanticipated could emerge to become a focus for educators and others on the periphery of the field, chances are the most significant issues will be a continuation of those in place at the end of 2016. We’ll likely see more discussion of classroom concerns such as the nature and purpose of grading and homework. Schools will wrestle with how to address intolerance and violence on and off campus. Districts, state departments of education, and lawmakers will examine the strain of pensions on budgets. Issues such as these aren’t approaching resolution. Some aren’t going to have clear resolutions.

I have my suspicions regarding what will on the minds of those in the field in 2017. Have I missed anything? What do you think will be most critical to education over the next twelve months? What will be solved? What will get worse? Share in the comments and best wishes for the new year.

Discussion Starter: Education Issues for 2017

Discussion Starter: Do Teachers Get Paid Enough?

This post will be the first in a series I’m calling “Discussion Starters.” I’m going to present topics in education with the intention of encouraging conversation amongst readers in the comments. I’ll share some of my thoughts in each post. Readers can take over the conversation from there.

For the first Discussion Starter, I’m going with teacher salary. Specifically, I’m asking if readers feel teachers get paid enough.

Speaking from my experience, I can say I got paid plenty. My salary as a teacher was beyond what I needed. Admittedly, lived a different lifestyle than most of my colleagues lived. I had no car, no mortgage, and no children. With so few expenses, I didn’t long for any more than I earned. Living and working where I did helped, being in a city and state known for relatively high teacher salaries. I’ll acknowledge that my experience might have been atypical, which sets up my overall feelings about the matter.

The fairness of salary is somewhat relative. Within a given district, individual teachers will vary in how they can make what they earn work for them. Additionally, earnings at different steps range dramatically in many districts. Both of these factors are true of other fields. Salaries vary significantly from district to district and state to state. Some are better matched to proportionate costs of living then others. Again, this range is true of other fields, but the range is especially great in education.

So salaries are relative. Are they fair per the level of education and responsibilities teachers have? One must remember most teachers are paid for ten months of work and for shorter work days than most have in other professions. Their gross pay should be considered per the number of hours they work. Even if their gross seems low compared with other fields, they tend to receive extraordinary and low-cost benefits. Despite a ten month calendar, most also enjoy generous paid leave. These factors start to make teacher earnings look appropriate.

I’ve not included some intangibles, such as the complexity of what teachers face each day, or the absurd hours some choose (and “choose” is crucial here) to spend outside regular work hours planning, preparing, and grading. I’m not about to say teachers don’t put in a difficult slog. I do think the value of their salaries depends on where they teach and how they decide to live their lives in relation to their salaries. Considering their actual contractual responsibilities, their salaries be justified.

What do you think? Chime in via the comments section.

Discussion Starter: Do Teachers Get Paid Enough?