Monday, March 22, 2010

The surprising preferences of many children

...and not just the left-brainers, perhaps:

How often have we heard professional educators claim that children are bored by drills, prefer projects to tests, prefer working with classmates to working on their own, and prefer sitting in groups with classmates to sitting in rows facing their teachers?

One reminder of how questionable such claims are comes from an anecdote recently shared on kitchentablemath.

Perhaps this boy is an outlier. But his words echo those of the children I interviewed for my book.

Well, perhaps it's only the hard-core left-brainers who feel this way. But even this I question. When I did after-school math enrichment with 1/6 of our school's 2nd and 3rd graders, I always let them to choose between working on their own and working in groups, and a surprising number (at least half, as I recall) would opt for the former. They also loved our rapid-fire, teacher-directed multiplication drills.

Of course educators shouldn't let children's preferences be the only thing that guides their teaching. But they should avoid making faulty assumptions about these preferences, and ensure that when they avoid the things that children prefer, they are doing so for a good reason.


Barry Garelick said...

I have never liked working in groups and still don't. It often puts you in the position of being passive observer 9when in the company of those who know more than you) or the one who does al the work (when in the company of those who know less). I can work together with someone to come up with a solution when I've had time to work with the problem myself and generate my own questions and assess what constraints the problem contains.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I'm completely capable of working in groups, but for MANY learning tasks it's much more productive to work alone. The whole "life involves working cooperatively with others" mantra is true as far as it goes, but what it leaves out is that in life, you work in groups only when that's the best way to get something done. During my entire K-16 school experience, only once did a group project add much to the experience: Model UN, in high school. The "working in groups" enthusiasts also forget that children have plenty of opportunities outside school to learn those skills.

kcab said...

My middle school daughter is one non-left-brainer who would rather work alone. She does well with the group work, but on many projects it wouldn't be her choice. One big exception is very long class presentations, such that they are supposed to take the entire class period. (She's had two of these in English so far this year.)