Tuesday, 26 January 2016

There's no "I" in "Team"

Finally I have found a spare moment to jot down the endless sea of words in my head- it's been a busy few months and writing has had to take a back seat. However despite little slowing down of the rollercoaster of life, sanity preservation has now kicked in and claimed "shotgun" position, asserting itself to gain my attention as only a teenager on a mission to get "one up" over his older brother can do.

It will hardly have eluded any parent of a school age child today that group work has been elevated to an alarmingly superior place in the curriculum. Initially a buzzword(s) in the business world to encourage team work amongst disparate members focussed on a single goal,  "working together" has infiltrated education and our schools. The need to achieve a joint outcome, share experiences and "work together" may seem entirely admirable, but it is letting down large groups of individuals in the process. 

I believe the intentions of educators are good, the natural Darwinian tendency of young humans to self-focus does indeed need taming and children must learn to share, take turns and collaborate. But when "working together" means relying on the loudest/most confident/most able group member to complete the work then few are benefitting. I have lost count of the number of times my eldest has taken the lion's share of a "group project", whilst lazier individuals contribute little. Unwilling to forfeit the high mark he could obtain as an individual he shoulders the burden of the entire project. Similarly, my daughter often comes home to tell me she's not sure what the work they covered in Maths today was all about, "but it's all right as our group finished, I didn't have to do anything."

Then there are the other two boys, one possibly on the spectrum and one very definitely there. Both hugely able and utterly mystified why they cannot complete work alone- after all, they would make a significantly better job of it. A was distraught that in Art, a hugely individual subject he is passionate about he was forced to collaborate. In H's high school this is misinterpreted as arrogance, when in actual fact it's the truth. He could do a significantly better job on his own. Why on *earth* should he sit there bored rigid discussing maths three levels below his own? Unless it's so he can teach the others this is absurd and he gains nothing. Apart from the blindingly obvious point that those with Autism work better alone (since the diagnosis involves developmental delays in communication and social interaction) unless all members of a group stand to benefit from collaboration it is pointless exercise.

I never enjoyed group work, although I benefitted from limited collaborative efforts. Group work has its place, but currently it has been artificially elevated out of it. Working together can be derived from multiple sources, such as sports teams, drama or choir groups. Of course, its natural place on the sports field has been largely beaten out of existence with the artificial suppression of competition. (Perhaps that's the understated intention of heralding group interaction in the classroom as the ideal modus operandi?) But there is little need to ram group work into every subject on the curriculum.

There is indeed no "I" in team. Team work invariably stifles the individual and for many it is an exercise in descrimination- however well intentioned. It reduces linear progress and permits some to overly rely on others. The most able almost never stand to gain and it is yet another example of our education system focussing on the less able at the expense of others. It should never be used as a blunt instrument- a check box for every subject that needs ticking to gain OFSTED credit, and recognition should be given that it has limited use.

So to the (several) teachers who wrote on H's report that he finds group work challenging, can be obstructive and reluctant- I'm not surprised. Working together is of occasional benefit and should always take the individual needs of all members of the group into consideration. Judging a child with ASD by a "one size fits all" theory of collaboration is inappropriate and discriminatory. 

There is no "I" in any team, and there's no "you" either. But there are three in "Individual". And he's definitely that. Unique, entertaining, exhausting, inspiring, and a real individual... 

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