The Nature of Group Work and Introversion


As group work has become increasingly integrated into our education system, a sort of decentralized student focused initiative, the effects of it can be clearly seen. The goal on the surface seems to virtuous: to get students to become more involved in their education, increase socializing based around academic matters, and boost overall confidence and independence. The question is, is that really the case, especially in the case of introverted students?

Introversion is defined as people who are drained mentally from social interactions, and need time to recover in quiet or alone. The intent of group work is to have everyone involved and discuss the topic at hand. This means that you have to talk, as being quiet is a sign of not doing the work, or having the group dominated by an extrovert, whose sheer sociability overwhelms introverts, intentionally or accidentally. The teacher cannot simply allow some students so to be more reserved, as it looks bad for them, especially if they are being observed by more, by-the-book observers. So the nature of the group work of requiring students to actively participate in group discussions, drains introverts while providing an excellent source of energy for extroverts. This serves to create tension. Introverts are resentful at their precious energy being taken by extroverts and the nature of group work. Extroverts are resentful that they have to take part in a system that discomforts others. Teachers are resentful that they bring that system on their students, and that it doesn’t provide educational benefit, instead providing educational detriment.

Group work tends to be dominated by extroverts since introverts, if put constantly in group work, have no energy to contend. Work is not divided evenly, and the only thing introverts receive from group work is discomfort. In response, several teachers and schools have tried to institute introvert friendly actions. According to the United Federation of Teachers article, Quiet Wisdom, teachers have done the following actions: only letting introverts talk during certain sections of presentations and group discussion, think-pair-share method, quiet lunch periods, and even having no talking at all, just relaying messages through writing them on cards. Again, this is virtuous in intent, to combat a failed system.

Only letting introverts talk is the core of the issue of the whole system: students are not able to excel at their strengths. While the reverse is probably more damaging, having only introverts talk creates animosity. Extroverts will feel limited, and drained even, as they require social interaction for fuel. They would start blaming introverts, for having themselves limited in potential to accommodate for others. Same thing goes for only allowing discussion through cards being written on. It is not that all introverts are shy and incapable of talking, rather, it is that they are limited in duration of talking, preferring more individual work. Writing on cards again limits those who are good at talking, and creating animosity. It also is condescending and inefficient to have all your thoughts having to be written down. Think-pair-share is when students have to first think about what they have to share, pair up, and then share. This depends on how it is implemented. Having fully thought out ideas for discussion would reduce the likeliness for one idea being dominant due to the sheer energy behind it, and of course thinking before speaking is a skill that is good to be taught. However, this again can limit those that excel at reaching conclusion cooperatively through verbal, active discussion. The whole approach with Quiet Wisdom reeks of the same core issue of standard, extrovert-focused group work: it lacks nuance. One set of skill is being worked on, while other either not allowed to succeed, or actively suppressed so other skills can excel. The issue with group work is group work. It is given arbitrarily for all, and is not an opt-in opt-out method.

This is not to say that there is no benefit to collaborative methods; that is the very nature of peer review. A weakness of many people is that they cannot yet find their own mistakes easily, but can find weaknesses in others. Having peer review can allow for students to see where mistakes are made, and having it pointed out where they themselves made mistakes, will over all boost self review. This is also not to say that being dictated knowledge is good either, student involvement in the education process is needed. The core issue is its implementation. Group work tends to be done to meet a quota. There is no effort put into it, since most of the time non-group work is done in class, until observation occur. Group that is given, especially ones not directly by the teachers, are done in a way for the sake of group work, not education. Group work should not be geared to make group work, but allow for collaborative discussion of the matter at hand. That is not what happens. Again, nuance is needed for a more personalized education. Students that wish to work in groups as they feel that they’ll be more productive should be allowed to. Students that wish to work as they will feel that they need a more focused method, should be allowed to. There should not be a requirement one way or the other, as in the current state of things, the requirement simply require too much energy that is being spent in rather unproductive manners, with pointless struggling. Shy people should be encouraged to open up, the manner it is done now is to make their shell covering them thicker, or more painful.

Group work themed standards, such as Accountable Talk, that have become increasingly implemented, feel forced. A degree of formality in class discussion is needed, but Accountable Talk serves to modify the nature progression of language into a rigid manner. Saying “I disagree with”, “I agree with”, “In addition to _, I would like to add”, “I understand what you are trying to say”, etc, should not be required. If the student feels that they would like to speak in such a manner, more power to them. Forcing it is just rigid nonsense, often requiring pointless qualifiers and pronouns, when the subject is clearly implied. It tries to enforce a certain way of speaking, which just reduces creativity of using words, having to fit in a certain structure. Language and discussion should be fluid and flexible, Accountable Talk and group work seeks to undermine that.

Quiet Lunch however, is good. There should be a quiet space available for those who want/need it, and it shouldn’t just be the library. Implementation with limited school funds would, unsurprisingly, most likely lead to all lunch being quiet, again having a blanket solution to a complex problem, and making the issue worse. The solution is not to bring everyone down to a level, but raise them up to a level they are comfortable. This of course means more individualized learning, something not inherent in Common Core and No Child Left Behind, that place arbitrary standards, most of which are low to increase numbers of students “succeeding,” so that the Department of Education can self congratulate itself for a job well done; while overall the US falls behind in education compared to the rest of the developed world and students learn less. Students do learn something to be fair, and that is to take standardized tests, and have their education based on taking tests, not actually learning content. Group work is just a symptom of the lack of nuance the whole system has, and a clear example of intent versus what actually happens.