Saturday, October 13, 2007

Collaboration vs. Competition

I know my posts have been a bit more infrequent lately, but I have not given up on it. Not at all. Thursday night I woke up at 2am thinking about my next post. I suppose my subconscious mind had been turning things over for a while, and just like the oven timer, the ding that told me the idea was ready, woke me up. No matter how strong the urge, I try to resist the impulse to jump out of bed to get my thoughts out there. I just can't afford to lose the sleep with 3 young kids to chase around.

I think that there is a societal battle over the concepts of competition and collaboration in our schools. America's system of capitalism breeds the competitive individual better than any other in the world. We now have a group of people whose only thought is to get ahead at any cost. To be a winner. Forget everyone along the way, because the game of life is about self promotion, not helping everyone else to get ahead. This is having a negative impact on education.

This drive to be the best has helped America to be great, but it can also destroy us. We have many problems and no one person can solve any of them. It is going to take the cooperative work of many people to make things better. The world is very complex and many hands will be needed to fix it.

Educators should recognize the importance of collaboration, but this is not always the case. Schools are still built around competition. I mean, really, what are grades all about? Finding out which students are best so they can go to better colleges and universities. Teachers want to be recognized, too. Would they really share their super special lesson that will make them stand out for a Teacher of the Year nomination?

Certainly, it is difficult to create a collaborative environment in a classroom. You would have to change just about every aspect of the classroom to truly embrace cooperative learning among students. The concept of social learning is not new, and neither is collaboration, but it just seems to be the opposite of what a successful person would do. Successful, independent people don't need help.

We can not have students collaborate in school because we can not get teachers to collaborate in school. It is always nice to know that you are not the only person to recognize this problem, but it is also scary because it means the problem is much larger than just me, in my little part of the world.

Part of the problem is not that teachers are unwilling to work together, but they don't know how to collaborate. If they can not collaborate among their peers, how can they support that learning model with students?

There is a big push in schools to use cooperative learning and project based learning, but from what I am seeing, these ideas are not being widely adopted. Perhaps these collaborative learning models are hard to incorporate because of the demands of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). If you are required to hit 20 specific areas outlined in the standards of learning in a subject for a major end of the year test, you must teach and re-teach those topics. Three or four times in a year. You can not rely on the hit and miss proposition of project based learning. The student may have a much better understanding of the work completed in the project, but having holes in knowledge is not acceptable under NCLB.

I have not really answered any questions, and probably thought up a few more, but I think this is a real problem. We have the brain power to fix our problems, but we lack the focus to complete the task. We can only make school a better place to learn if teachers work together and show the students how to do the same. These are skills the world needs.

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