Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Power of Groups to Strengthen the Indvidual

Continuing fromt the last post on the power of groups, social networking in schools is usually discussed in terms of the stuff students pass to each other via cell phone or IM.

But there's (always) more.

Groups: Do They Squelch the Individual?

Nancy White posted recently arguments for and against the potenital of groups to galvanize individual opinion and expression. She cites Konrad Glogowski whose classroom work resulted in reducing a collection of unique voices to what he calls "the lowest common denominator."

Nancy argues that within organizations, she has seen that listening within a group can be an empowering experience. I agree, and I would add the same goes for the classroom when exercises are organized to support this kind of work.

The Classroom: Why It Works

Both at Brown University and in the South Bronx with middle school kids, I found that group work offered a kind of mirrioring experience for each member. Uncertainty about competence is often more obvious with teenagers than with adults, however, in new situations, everyone could use some support.

In fact, I found that when engaged in new activities -- or in old activities never before done with others -- many students have come out of their (individual) shells to such an extent that the transformation makes them almost unrecognizable.

The key, as Nancy points out, is listening. Students who feel heard and supported, regardless of weaknesses in writing or argument that are also discussed in these situations, find a new way of seeing themselves through others.

The right kind of mirroring makes good parenting. It's not surprising that it's also excellent way to learn.

If anyone wants some tips on how to make this work, please feel free to drop a line. Designing these situations correctly is essential for success.

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