A few years-ish ago, I was a member of year-long ‘cohort’ that studied with / attended professional development with an education professor from OISE named Barrie Bennett. It was through these sessions that I was introduced to and became a convert of cooperative learning. Bennett, however, provided a caveat: group work can be one of the most powerful forms of learning if done properly but group work done ineffectively can be almost destructive in a classroom.
It was this caveat that bubbled to the surface of my brain the other day when thinking about Learning Clocks over the last few semesters. Just to provide a little bit of context, I now engage in:
- a lot of community building so students can become more familiar with each other,
- my ‘standard teaching practice’, so to speak, involves a lot cooperative learning and student interaction,
- I try to vary my teaching practices so that I am addressing V.A.K. on a daily basis when possible,
- and I strive to incorporate ‘not-sitting-down’ activities to address
the different multiple intelligences of students, particularly kinesthetic.
But there is something about Learning Clocks that puts in that same column of ‘complex group work’ that can be ‘destructive’ as Bennett described. And I’m not completely sure why.
I suspect that it appears like such a simple pair work structure but, like an activity such as Jigsaw or Academic Controversy, etc., it requires planning and forethought by the teacher — lest it go awry, as it has done for me. Here are some things I think I might change for the future:
- The 5 Elements of Effective Group Work by the Johnson brothers
would appear to be necessary here. (Positive Interdependence, Face-to-face interaction, Individual Accountability, Interpersonal & Small Group Skills, and Group Processing).
- But perhaps more importantly: A sensitivity to the social currents in the classroom. That is to say, I have discovered in current / recent classes that I have had ‘mortal enemies’ in my class and I / we have worked hard to get those enemies to a place where they are civilized and keeping their snide comments to themselves. To then ask these students to participate in the set up of Learning Clocks which asks them to find anywhere from 3 to 12 learning partners means that there is a high likelihood that the enemies will be paired together or with friends / allies. But then worse than that, Learning Clocks are potentially long-term partnerships, and I think that it is this part of the structure that has the potential to be the most destructive, because these ‘enemies’ sense “I have to be her / him for how long?” and the activity is dead before it begins.
*** Note: I am not suggesting that I allow bullying or ugly behaviour to exist in my classroom. I am, however, a realist and perhaps a pragmatist, as I feel a high school teacher has to be: to again quote Barrie Bennett regarding classroom management “Hope for the best but plan ahead for the worst.”
To think about next: Am I being too pessimistic or too quickly pulling the proverbial parachute escape cord? Because when it has worked, Learning Clocks can be very powerful… I should also be mindful of the Implementation Dip, learned again from Barrie Bennett.