Individual or Group Think

Individual or Group Think

Public education is a schizophrenic system.  On one hand we talk about differentiating instruction and personalizing learning and on the other we group and target our non-readers, poor math students, those at risk for not passing the state tests.  We speak of individualism but act on collectivism. These words carry a variety of meanings, but I want to use them in terms of education.

We, for the most part, agree that people have different skills and talents and learn at different rates.  Educators at one point or another have studied Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  We believe it takes “all kinds” to have a rich functioning society.  We are distinctly aware our classes are made up of individuals. Yet in schools we focus primarily on two intelligences math and language and expect all students to learn a set of skills in a set amount of time to be prepared for a test.  Many accept that not everyone can be a skilled artist, musician or athlete but expect all to be talented in math and language. We group students due to the economy of scale; it is practical to manage many people this way. Likewise we collect information into subjects and grade levels. It is our nature to categorize and group things to help us make understanding and meaning of the word. We instruct groups of students in groups of standards arranged in classes.

Learning is not something done to an individual but takes place within an individual; it is a very personal active process. Never before has an individual had such access to information and the tools to support learning then the technologies of today have brought us.  Those individuals who have accepted responsibly for their own learning have no limits on what they can learn or which talents and desires to pursue.  They are no longer bound by the constraints of a school’s curriculum or the ability of their classmates.  Many parents have sought a more individualized approach to their children’s education and have sought private or charter school alternatives including homeschooling.  The rise of homeschooling may be a reflection of the increased access to information at the ability to connect with other learners. Parents no longer need schools to provide access to information and learning opportunities for their children, they can find what they need elsewhere.

Schools too have access to these same tools and resources that can allow for the individualization and personalization of learning. But schools are large, bureaucratic, political institutions where change is slow and had to come by. Where by necessity the focus in on groups and when the focus does shift to an individual it usually boils down to which sub-group (program) we can assign them too.  The learning landscape is changing rapidly while the educational landscape is changing from one set of standards and tests to another set.

10 thoughts on “Individual or Group Think

  1. The whole object of education is…to develop the mind. The mind should be a thing that works.Everyone who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done,

  2. I became an alternate route science teacher 3 years ago. Of course, the only school system that would hire me was a very poor urban school district. I have now taught in two different schools in the same district. I have seen some very different issues between the two schools. However, what is the same is the constant need to “do more with less”. We are forced to live in a world of standardized testing (in my 30 years in the corporate world, I was NEVER tested against another person, only against myself!) without an equal playing ground. I just got off the phone with a fellow teacher in a weathy school district. She is going to donate the books they were going to throw away (they purchased the upgraded version, 5 years newer) to my school so we will have enough of the old books for each student. Last week I took a professional development course held in a private school inPhiladelphia. They had better equipment than the lab I worked in after college! So, how can we call this “standardized” testing a standard judge of abilities? What we can call it is a judge of learned experiences. Some of my students use their mornings to feed their babies before leaving for school…try that before taking a 10th grade “stadardized” test!

  3. It is interesting to note that as educators we are expected to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners. However, most of the instructional time is spent working with our lowest groups of students. Although work is differentiated for the higher achieving students, there is an expectation that these students will be able to complete work on their own.

    It is amazing how there is so much more that can be accomplished in education with the amount of technolgy available. It is sad to note that we are at the limitations of board of educations and the amount of money used on technology within the school system. Also, there is such a push for students to do well on state testing that often little time is available to spend on technolgy rich activities.

    Everything in our society is changing rapidly. However, the school systems tend to be much slower in their changes. I believe the school systems need to take time to look at the whole picture as well as the whole child in order to make informed decisions regarding children and their education. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.

  4. Students learn differently, and teachers attempt to differentiate to the best of their abilities to reach all learners. Students also get grouped according to ability levels in some areas to ensure they are reaching maximum potential and being challenged, but not frustrated. However, standardized testing says that everyone should be the same for a week out of the year.

    I work in an In Class Support setting with students who have special needs and have been differentiating since my first day on the job. I just don’t understand why the students who recieve extra time, texts on their level or a bit beyond, along with other modifications, are instantly required to read on grade level and write multiple responses on the same day while struggling to stay focused.
    I am glad to see that there is some accountability being put in place, but the reasonableness is not there. If a subgroup of students does not perform well, including special education or other challenged groups, the district, school, and teachers are ultimately viewed as incompetent. Education may be on its way to reform, but far from perfect.

  5. Beth you highlight some very critical points. As educators we constantly wanting our students to learn individually, but we use collaborative and group methods to teach them. This can be a confusing learning process for the learner, especially adult learners. We have become so excited about incorporating technology in the learning process that we tend to forget the individual needs of the learners.


  6. Beth, you make an excellent point about the mobility of education due to increased technology. Everything cannot be standardized because of the different ways students and adults approach learning and who is to say what is right or wrong. I think we need wider variation’s when it comes to accessing learning.

  7. Beth, I work in a primary school and teach first grade. Most of the activities are group activities. Students of all different ability levels and backgrounds are able to learn from one another. Sometimes we as teachers overthink how to deliver information to students, but they are able to learn from each other. The ability to teach others shows that students have achieved a good understanding. I am currently in a postition where I am not directly affected by state testing, but wonder when that day will come.

    Some students enter first grade without going to kindergarten. Although increased technology can allow parents to expose children to a number of learning experiences and prepare them for school, parents should make sure they educate their children socially as well. Parents who homeschool have a tremendous amount of resources at their fingertips. They must also be sure to nurture the entire student, and not just the facets that will be tested

  8. I agree with technology being in the classroom, it is one the most effective resources that a teacher and student can have in the classroom. Technology in the classroom provides a plethora of information to students who learn visually or auditory. I agree with the above blog that homeschooling is on the rise. Parents can access information from the website given by the teacher that day or previous day if the student is out. Another advantage to homeschooling, students are able to have a flexible schedule that reflects their daily lives.

  9. I have enjoyed reading this post and all the comments, there are a lot of good thoughts to consider. My two cents worth goes something like this: By nature, individuals will learn individually according to their own constructs they have developed up to the point where they are sitting in your classroom. The trick is not to try and reach each student individually (though you should differentiate) it is to get each student to realize and understand their responsibility in knowing their own processes of learning and then to do something with the information coming in that makes sense to them. And when they are not sure how to do this, then you swoop in and give them the ideas and tools to make it their own. Further, I agree that if we are going to have schools it is impossible to avoid the kind of grouping many of you have mentioned, but teaching students to realize that individuality can exist within groups is key. The world is made up of all kinds of different groups in order to help it all make sense, right or wrong. As far as standardized testing goes, I do not believe it is the intention to make everyone standardized or assume they are the same because we give them the same test. It is simply the measuring stick that enables our society to “see” where our schoolchildren are collectively and how we can improve the lot of them all. I will end my musings here as I could ramble on for quite some time. Thank you all for making me think!


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