One of the justifications given by today's educators for making students spend so much of their days working in groups is that it will prepare them for today's cooperative workplace environments. As in so many other ways, today's educators assume that the relevant classroom dynamics mimic those of the real world.
Real-world workplace cooperation bears little ressemblance to what happens in classrooms. Today's prefered teacher-assigned, mixed-ability classroom groupings look nothing like groupings of professionals collaborating with related professionals. In most workplace collaborations, most of the work is divvied up and done separately by individuals. And often the groups are at least somewhat hierarchical, with professionally-trained leaders with significant influence over how cooperative and productive the group is.
Here are some findings reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article:
Bosses matter a lot, according to a study of a large technology firm whose operations, closely monitored by computer, provided ready measures of productivity.
Going from a boss in the bottom 10% of quality to one in the top 10% improved productivity among the supervised employees by as much as adding another worker to a nine-member team.
Going from a boss in the bottom 10% of quality to one in the top 10% improved productivity among the supervised employees by as much as adding another worker to a nine-member team. More surprising, the boss made his or her biggest contribution not by motivating workers but by teaching more productive skills. [Boldface mine.]So much for motivational cheer leading--at least in the workplace. And, given that the closest thing classrooms have to bosses are teachers, there may be something suggestive here about how teachers can help students become more productive.