kitchen table math, the sequel: codswallop

Sunday, May 23, 2010

codswallop

Group work can also increase engagement because individuals can be assigned roles that allow them to be "experts in something," so that they can be challenged at a level appropriate to their understanding, she says. To discuss and present various theories for why the Jamestown settlement failed or why the dinosaurs became extinct, for example, more advanced students may be "producers" charged with stopping their group periodically to summarize what is being said; those with attention deficits might be assigned to be "prop directors" to keep track of supplies needed to make a chart for the final presentation.
Unleashing the 'Brain Power' of groups in the Classroom: The neuroscience behind collaborative work
Nancy Walser
Harvard Education Letter

May/June 2010, p 2


Good thing we got rid of tracking.

31 comments:

Linda said...

I still haven't discovered the magic formula for getting the slackers (there are some in every class) to actually do meaningful work when they work in groups (and not just "keeping track of materials"- sheesh!)I also have to say that I had to do group projects for my masters and I hated them. I know as a teacher I'm supposed to be a fan of cooperative learning, but I'm not.

Katharine Beals said...

The shy, socially awkward child could play the part of the quiet guy who keeps to himself and is shunned by the rest of the community.

And the child with Asperger's could play the role of "little professor", who spends the entire time lecturing his group mates. Unless that's somehow contrary to group-centered discovery learning...

Independent George said...

Is it me, or is there not any actual neuroscience in that article?

Anonymous said...

I may be missing the point, but isn't this: "discuss and present various theories for why the Jamestown settlement failed" kinda difficult.

The Jamestown settlement was the first English North American colony that *didn't* fail, right?

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

Mark,

Yes, you're right. Jamestown was the first success, and eventually, the basis for all of the rest of the success of Virginia, right?

I was guessing she meant Roanoke, but I can't tell from the article whether it was Willis, the elementary teacher, or Walser, the author, who made that comment about Jamestown.

So Walser didn't know, and maybe Willis and Walser didn't know. Moving on, no one caught the error, so either no one in the entire publication/editorial staff of Harvard Ed Letter knew that, or no one read Walser's piece.

SteveH said...

"Frith said there was “consensus that work on the social brain does argue for expanding the group learning and cooperative learning projects” in schools."

"Consensus"

Add that to "research shows".


No. Schools are already doing these things and all of this is after-the-fact rationalization. Our schools have had full inclusion more than 10 years, but they are still trying to develop lessons that demonstrate differentiated learning (not teaching) to parents who don't see any such thing happening.

How about having one big class group with the teacher as the leader? No, the driving forces in education seems to be mixed ability classrooms with the teacher as the guide on the side. They will keep doing research until they get the justification they need.

Cranberry said...

At the high school level, powerful results from a group approach to teaching math have also been documented by former Stanford professor Jo Boaler. In a five-year longitudinal study of 700 students published in 2008, Boaler followed the attitudes and outcomes of students who were taught math through the traditional “demonstrate and practice” approach at two suburban schools with those of a diverse urban school (called “Railside”), where teachers had created a sequence of theme-based math courses featuring group work. Although Railside students scored lower on a middle school math test than students at the other two schools, they outperformed the other students by their second year of high school and enrolled in advanced math courses at a higher rate by their senior year. The achievement gaps between white, black, and Latino students closed at Riverside, but not at the other schools.

That sounded wonderful. Wow! Unfortunately, there's a reason studies should be reviewed. http://tinyurl.com/369mg5b (Opens to a critique on Where's the Math.)

Katharine Beals said...

"Frith said there was “consensus that work on the social brain does argue for expanding the group learning and cooperative learning projects” in schools."

Well, yes, if a group consensus is so powerful that it can substitute for scientific evidence, than certainly we should worship the power of the group wherever possible.

Chris Frith is the husband of renowned autism expert Uta Frith. Has he consulted her on how expanding group learning affects autistic spectrum students who are mainstreamed into regular classrooms?

"Recent research by neuroscientists points to the existence of a “social brain” that enables humans to interact with each other."

And research by Chris Frith's wife suggests that the "social brain" is highly impaired in autism.

“I certainly believe that the special feature of humans is that we can work together to achieve more than the sum of the individuals in the group. This is because we can share experiences,” he wrote in an e-mail, adding, “But we do have to learn how best to do this.”

Indeed. And what about the many humans in whom this "special feature" is impaired--and whom Chris' wife has so thoughtfully written about?

Not to mention the many others who are hesitant about groups and their consensuses?

I suggest that Chris Frith get into a group with his wife and have a conversation about this.

Anonymous said...

I was just at Jamestown Settlement living history museum yesterday, so I should be in position to respond to the failure of Jamestown critique. The teacher probably meant that it was a financial failure, in that the investors were constantly being badgered to provide more resources, and it was a long time (if ever) before it provided any dividends. Morever, making money was the stated goal of the company--as opposed to the New England settlers, whose stated goal was to escapte the Church of England.

Glen said...

> The Jamestown settlement was the
> first English North American colony
> that *didn't* fail, right?

If I remember correctly from my 4th grade Virginia history class:

Failure is a relative term. Two-thirds of the settlers died the first year. A couple of years later, 80% of the survivors and the new arrivals died in The Starving Time. The place was a disease-ridden swamp. The tides mixed the James River water with seawater, making it brackish. If you got your water from the land surface, it was not salty, but it was often infested with diseases, which often didn't matter because when the local Indians were angry, they would kill anyone emerging from the fort for food or water. The settlers dug a well inside the fort, but once again got brackish James River water to wash down the boot leather they were often reduced to eating. If you didn't starve or get killed by an Indian arrow, you'd get malaria or some water-borne disease.

Still, there were always a few survivors to watch the place burn to the ground, which it did twice. The first time, they rebuilt it. The second time, they said, Nuts to it, and essentially abandoned it.

Less than a hundred years after it was created, it was no longer a town, just farmland and swamp. I may be mistaken about some of these details (it's been a while since 4th grade), but when I was a kid in Virginia, you couldn't even visit Jamestown, because nobody knew for sure where it had been. It wasn't rediscovered until the 1990's. How long do you have to stay before you can declare a settlement "successful" and abandon it?

So, when that teacher asked about the reasons for Jamestown's failure, was she really so far out in left field?

SteveH said...

The thread says 10 comments, but only 6 appear? Mine was one that went missing. Actually, I thought I saw it briefly in the pop-up box view.

Allison said...

What?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamestown_Settlement

The Jamestown Settlement Colony was the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America.[1] Named for King James I of England, Jamestown was founded in the Virginia Colony on May 14, 1607. In modern times, "Jamestown Settlement" is also a promotional name used by the Commonwealth of Virginia's portion of the historical attractions at Jamestown. It is adjacent and complementary to the Historic Jamestowne on Jamestown Island which is the actual historic site where the first settlers landed and lived that is run by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia.
...
Despite the leadership of John Smith, chaplain Robert Hunt and others, starvation, hostile relations with the natives, and lack of profitable exports all threatened the survival of the Colony in the early years as the settlers and the Virginia Company of London each struggled. However, colonist John Rolfe introduced a strain of tobacco which was successfully exported in 1612, and the financial outlook for the colony soon became much more favorable as colonists developed a profitable tobacco monoculture. Two years later, Rolfe married the young Indian woman Pocahontas, daughter of Wahunsenacawh, Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, and a period of relative peace with the Natives followed. In 1616, the Rolfes made a public relations trip to England, where Pocahontas was received as visiting royalty. Changes by the Virginia Company which became effective in 1619 attracted additional investments, also sowing the first seeds of democracy in the process with a locally-elected body which became the House of Burgesses, the first such representative legislative body in the New World.

Throughout the 17th century, Jamestown was the capital of the Virginia Colony. Several times during emergencies, the seat of government for the colony was shifted temporarily to nearby Middle Plantation, a fortified location on the high ridge approximately equidistant from the James and York Rivers on the Virginia Peninsula. Shortly after the Colony was finally granted a long-desired charter and established the new College of William and Mary at Middle Plantation, the capital of the Colony was permanently relocated nearby. In 1699, the new capital town was renamed Williamsburg, in honor of the current British king, William III.
...
For the 350th anniversary in 1957, Jamestown itself was the site of renewed interest and a huge celebration. The National Park Service provided new access with the completion of the Colonial Parkway which led to Williamsburg, home of the restored capital of Colonial Williamsburg, and then on to Yorktown, the other two portions of Colonial Virginia's Historic Triangle. Major projects such as the Jamestown Festival Park were developed by non-profit, state and federal agencies. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Prince Philip attended. The 1957 event was a great success. Tourism became continuous with attractions regularly updated and enhanced.
The two major attractions at Jamestown are separate, but complementary to each other. The state-sponsored Jamestown Settlement near the entrance to Jamestown Island includes a recreated English Fort and Native American Village, extensive indoor and outdoor displays, and features the three popular replica ships. On Jamestown Island itself, the National Park Service operates Historic Jamestowne. ...

lgm said...

>>more advanced students may be "producers" charged with stopping their group periodically to summarize what is being said

Summary is still only level 2 in Bloom's taxonomy. Will there ever come a day when advanced students go to level 3, 4, or 5...or even 6?

I already know the answer. NOPE. That would be elitist; this is public school. ..Must close that acheivement gap...

cranberry said...

My comment was one of those dropped. This is a link to a critique of the Riverside study cited in the article. The critique's found on "Where's the Math," http://preview.tinyurl.com/369mg5b.

Cranberry said...

Now it's back. Mysterious days...

Cranberry said...

Now it's back. Mysterious days...

Glen said...

@Allison,

Yes, and from the same article you quote:

"However, the island was swampy, isolated, offered limited space and was plagued by mosquitoes and brackish tidal river water unsuitable for drinking. In addition to the malarial swamp the settlers arrived too late in the year to get crops planted. ... In a few months, fifty-one of the party were dead; some of the survivors were deserting to the Indians whose land they had invaded. In the "starving time" of 1609 - 1610,the Jamestown settlers were in even worse straits. Only 61 of the 500 colonists survived the period." [So, all but abt. 12% died!]
...
"During what became known as the "Starving Time" in 1609–1610, over 80% of the colonists perished, and the island was briefly abandoned that spring.
...
"After several years of strained coexistence, Chief Opchanacanough and his Powhatan Confederacy attempted to eliminate the English colony once and for all. On the morning of March 22, 1622, they attacked outlying plantations and communities up and down the James River in what became known as the Indian Massacre of 1622. The attack killed over 300 settlers, about a third of the English-speaking population.
...
"Despite such setbacks, the colony continued to grow. Of 6000 people that came to the settlement between 1608-1624, only 3400 survived."

[So, massive death rate, the few survivors joined by newbies, who mostly die in the next massive die off, survivors joined by a few more, a high percentage of whom also die... year after year. By 1624, nearly half of all Jamestown settlers had lost their lives, and this doesn't count severe illnesses, injuries from Indian attacks, and those who, not wanting to die, just gave up and left.]
...

"By the early 18th century, Jamestown was in decline, eventually reverting to a few scattered farms, the period of occupied settlement essentially over."

At the start of the 17th century, Jamestown didn't yet exist. By "early 18th century," it was finished. In between, starvation, disease, Indian attacks, massive death toll...until the place was abandoned about a century after it was founded. The Wikipedia article pretty much matches my memory from 4th grade. It may be a "glass half empty" interpretation, but if this is the definition of success....

I did misremember that it was the State House, not Jamestown itself, that burned down (more than once) and eventually wasn't rebuilt.

But every Virginia kid thinks of Jamestown, not as the island, or as a few farms scattered along the James River, but as "Jamestown": the triangle-shaped fort in all the pictures on the cover of all the Virginia history textbooks. When I was a kid, no one knew where "Jamestown" was. It had been abandoned and forgotten long before the American Revolution. From the same Wikipedia article:

"The actual location of the 1607 fort was thought to be underwater (until it was found through archaeology in 1994), so officials built this attraction near the entrance to Jamestown Island. It includes a recreated English Fort and Powhatan Indian Village."

Yes, there was sort of a theme park on the island, but you couldn't go see the "real Jamestown." That Jamestown had been such a miserable place to live that it had been abandoned centuries earlier for Williamsburg, is not such an unreasonable interpretation. Williamsburg has been a thriving metropolis with a major university for centuries while Jamestown had reverted to swampland and "a few scattered farms" before the Founding Fathers were ever born.

Under the circumstances, it hardly seems unreasonable for a teacher to ask for the reasons for the failure of Jamestown. In fact, I think the reason I've remembered it so well over these many decades is because our Virginia History teachers asked that very question.

Allison said...

You're claiming VA history teachers teach that Jamestown was a failure? For real?

Jamestown, the first successful English settlement in North America, is taught as a failure?

Do they teach that town London failed, too? Do they spend time debating the reasons for the failure of that Italian Columbus? After all, he didn't find that route to India.

What on earth is the value of teaching the interpretation that Jamestown "failed"?

Talk about codswallop.

Allison said...

Perhaps I can say it a different way:

It is an overwhelming arrogance and idiotic bias toward modernity that leads a person *speaking English* in the state that still has a republican form of government, when said state had the first elected representative body in the New World, a body in which several of our nation's Founding Fathers began their political careers, in a nation which were English colonies before a revolution brought them to create a constitutional republic, and to tell others that the first successful settlement in that state was a "failure".

Is this some trick teachers play with words? "in 1610, Jamestown was a failure. Explain why changes made in the subsequent years led to Jamestown being the successful capital of the successful royal colony of Virginia."

To really talk about the failure of Jamestown as anything other than a rhetorical flourish or a scene setting for the story of the birth of the USA is beyond me.

kcab said...

groupwork ... eyeroll...

I'd agree that it's very useful to learn how to work effectively in a group, and that a group that works well together can be engaging...BUT...

people need to be taught how to work effectively in a group, just doing it ad hoc will be useless and worse. I doubt very many teachers know how to teach people to work in groups. I know none of mine did, right on through college and grad school. It isn't something I learned until I was in industry and had an incredible mentor who is alarmingly skilled at managing team efforts.

And honestly, how could anyone think that managing the supplies would increase engagement? Why would that even be good for someone with ADD and what does it have to do with learning?

California Teacher said...

I agree that "groupwork" is frustrating and over-rated, but I think there is some splitting of hairs going on here. The article's reference to Jamestown is miniscule. How do we know the students hadn't already studied its emergence?

And whether Jamestown eventually met its demise sooner or later, why not conjecture the reasons?

Even though Jamestown was the first successful settlement, since it was eventually abandoned, why not ask why? It seems all the more interesting considering its formative success.

Don't Historians consider both the rise (and fall) of various governments, empires, dynasties, settlements, etc? Aren't these questions worth asking, regardless of the instructional format?

Glen said...

Jamestown led to the successful colonization of Virginia, which itself led to the successful birth of the United States. Jamestown itself was abandoned long before there was a United States and has remained abandoned for 300 years. Jamestown's legacy (most notably nearby Williamsburg) flourished, while Jamestown itself was abandoned.

"Why did Williamsburg succeed while Jamestown didn't?" is a common, and reasonable, question, but it's about Jamestown itself, especially compared to Williamsburg, not about Jamestown's legacy, which Virginians (like me) consider a success and source of some pride. The expected answer is about location, location, location--specifically, mosquitos, brackish water, water-borne disease, etc., not some "European arrogance" political diatribe.

"It is an overwhelming arrogance and idiotic bias...to tell others that the first successful settlement in that state was a "failure"... To really talk about the failure of Jamestown as anything other than a rhetorical flourish or a scene setting for the story of the birth of the USA is beyond me."

Maybe so.

Allison said...

--Even though Jamestown was the first successful settlement, since it was eventually abandoned, why not ask why? It seems all the more interesting considering its formative success.


Yes, and the above is a far cry from teaching that Jamestown "failed". Now, the above question you asked has subtlety and nuance. Was that just cut out of the article? Perhaps. A decent editing would have phrased it differently, no? You seem to credit that the teacher meant what you did. I see no such evidence, and I am not inclined to think someone who uses such a lazy shorthand in an article is likely to be more sophisticated in the classroom.

But regardless, if you spend your time creating prop directors and producers, then the chance that they will see the difference between "despite the heavy losses, this original settlement was the foundation for the future of Virginia" and "Jamestown failed" is minimized.

SteveH said...

"...22 tenth graders in U.S. History I start their day by jotting down their opinions on how much progress has been made toward gender equity in the U.S. since women agitated for and won the right to vote."

We don't know if these are opinions based on a knowledge of history or based on a brief introduction and their own modern interpretation. If these kids have been properly prepared to discuss this topic on their own, how was that done? If they are determined to have a group discussion, what's wrong with having just one group (the entire class), with the teacher in charge to keep the discussion on task?


“When the group’s task is to ensure that every group member learns something, it is in the interests of every group member to spend time explaining concepts to his or her group mates,” Slavin wrote,...

"learns something"

That's a pretty low standard. Process trumps content every time.

My view is that there are only two guiding principles of ed school thought: mixed-ability classrooms and the teacher as the guide on the side. Everything else follows to justify those assumptions. Even discovery doesn't make this list. They never value individual discovery with homework or discovery with a teacher as the sage on the stage. Full inclusion comes first, not differentiated learning.

SteveH said...

Speaking of groups, nobody (in the real world) works in groups. They might work in a group or as a team, but that's different. With all of this group work in school, perhaps the future workday will just be a string of meetings. Isn't that a delightful thought?

Catherine Johnson said...

Haven't read the thread yet, so somebody may have beat me to the punch, but my other reaction (besides 'good thing we got rid of tracking') was: 'prop director'?????

Catherine Johnson said...

A kid with an attention deficit is going to keep track of supplies needed sometime in the distant future?

**Other** people's supplies?

Catherine Johnson said...

C's English teacher at his Jesuit high school told them: "Collaborative learning is just an excuse for collaborative cheating."

Catherine Johnson said...

He told her, "My mom will like that."

Catherine Johnson said...

I see kcab has preceded me.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe the attention deficit kid can just keep track of his own things. That would be plenty of challenge.

SusanS