Why should children have to collaborate?

Collaboration, in more and more of what I read online, is a pre-requisite of good “21st century” learning environments. I can see why it is important, but as with a lot of online discussions, it seems needlessly binary. One has the sense you either subscribe to the “we should all be collaborating model” or you are a reactionary dolt who just doesn’t get it. I’m not sure it’s a simple a good as people make out, though.

There are various points I’m unclear about. The first is political. As this report comments,

“Working in groups can have considerable drawbacks for learning as well. Many students do not know how to work together and must have good models and instruction for the process. The status of individuals within a group can make some students consistent leaders and others always followers. The person whose ideas are respected in general may not be the person with the best understanding of the problem to be solved. Collaborative learning must also be organized in ways that tap diversity as a positive resource and counteract classroom stereotypes”

In other words, yes collaboration is important but it needs some quite serious social training and/or engineering for children to get the most out of it. How often does this actually happen in class compared to the herd them into groups and see how they get on approach?

The second is character. Not everyone is an extrovert. Yes group work is useful: if nothing else it adds energy to classrooms and gets children engaged. Any introvert, though, who has sat through a seminar with an extrovert full of their own ideas knows how painful group work can be. Susan Cain puts it far better than I can.

It would be a great shame if the quiet of contemplation lost out to the noise of collaboration in schools.

The third is interest. Collaboration seems to trump co-operation. These are different things, though, and I am not sure why one is better than the other. The group approach implicit in collaboration helps foster a group ethos and all the good that comes from shared goals. However, if it is important to personalise learning, then perhaps we need to be careful when we insist on collaboration that the child’s own goals are not too frequently sacrificed to those of the team? Personalisation and collaboration are not wonderfully easy bedfellows.