Don’t tell me what I need

They tell you, practically from the cradle, that Man is a social animal, loneliness is a truly terrible thing, and humans can only really be happy in the company of their fellow creatures.  Shocking, the way they’re allowed to lie to you like that.

(Tom Holt [2009] May contain traces of magic. London: Orbit)

(Incidentally, I recently suggested someone insert a “link ” to a quote from a book.   It does feel strange to cite a work correctly in a blog, which may be why I said”link”.)

Is the Social CLassroom what everone needs?

The Social Constructivists are confident in asserting that social connections are essential for deep learning,   but beyond learning social conventions (like language) I am not sure that that is completely true.

In fact, I am completely sure that is not true.

In fact, I am completely sure that, for some people, the presence of other people inhibits learning.  I am also sure that some people can inhibit others’ learning.

It’s not just the autistic spectrum I am considering here.  There are also

  • those who are too sensitive to others,  whose emotions are rubbed raw by group work;
  • those too socially distracted by others;
  • those whose internal world is so different from the average that the normal “side conversations” are painful and the explanation of their opinions in “accountable talk” is a burden;
  • those who think so deeply that the usual level of “accountable talk” leads them to feel truly alienated;
  • those who think so quickly that they see where the whole thing is going three minutes into a one-hour class, and have to mark time while the others catch up;
  • those who think so slowly that they are spending time trying to understand others’ comments on the work without yet  understanding the work;
  • those who hate the whole (usually school)  social situation and are blocked by emotion from learning what they may later learn easily.
  • Those who enjoy learning but hate having others see their learner-errors.  “My angle grinder taught me a lot about metalwork!” said  one.

For many of these, the current claim that “humans can only be truly happy in the company of their fellow creatures”  leaves a feeling that they are officially diseased, or non-human.  If we add those who struggle with making sentences in the language, understanding the language, or putting complex thoughts into words,  there are many who would detest a social constructivist monoculture, particularly if it denies (as I fear some do) that books are people too.

And yet ….

We do need to develop social skills, and test our understandings against the greater society understandings,  and have the skills to defend our positions if the greater society is wrong.

Sometimes, careful selection of groups can remove the blocks to learning.

Things like wikis can give relief from real-time interaction demands.

Conclusion: Eclectic teaching is better

I would like every teacher to remember that some students find the whole thing as irritating as a “Workplace Bonding Outdoor Challenge”.

Differentiating instruction may lead one to give them some group tasks explicitly to demonstrate group / communication skills, but allow them to pursue other topics on their own while others do group activities.


2 Responses to “Don’t tell me what I need”

  1. meredithgreen Says:

    I think the metaphor of the “Workplace Bonding Outdoor Challenge” to illustrate the dread of social constructivist learning is wonderful. I would want students in my class to be engaged, but not necessarily with each other or with me, just with something, whether it be a book, a drawing, a dream, or an idea in their head. However, I think the common desire of engagement often leads to social constructivist group learning. Like you said I think students also need to learn social skills, but these need to be made explicit and broken down, just like PE skills, and not expected to emerge through social constructivist learning.

  2. Mary Says:

    I liked your point that “books are people too” – although it seems such an obvious point, I never considered them from that perspective before. I would argue that you can extend this view to include wikis as well (except wikis would be ‘live’ texts), which make them all the more useful/valuable within the classroom context, especially for those students who do not enjoy group work. Wikis may be the compromise beween engaging in purely individual learning and co-operating in group activities – incorporating a social constructivist approach in a less threatening environment, where much of the pressure is taken off the contributer (but still enabling them to develop social skills) onto the activity itself. From the teacher’s perspective, wikis offer greater monitoring and assessment potential that may not have been present in live situations.

    I came across a couple of cartoons which I think apply here, but I can only give a link to them due to copyright reasons. As you were saying, some people aren’t that compatible with group work (excuse the political incorrectness!):

    …but think about the possibilities if we do engage in it at least occasionally:

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