Building Group Cohesion - Does Competition in the Classroom Work?
Nov 7, 2011 Teaching Methodology 3944 Views
We live in an age of increasing competition for just about everything. There are those who firmly believe people everywhere love to compete. Then there are those who claim competition benefits only the winners, leaving behind a group of demoralized losers drowning in the wake of the successful.
With an increasing emphasis on group activities in learning environments, it is not surprising some teachers and instructors look for ways to build some kind of cross-group competition into their structured learning environments. One of the supposed benefits is increased group cohesion and morale.
Competition in educational settings is nothing new. Science fairs, spelling bees, and inter scholastic debates have been around for a long time. Most of these competitions have been aimed more at the individual level than the group level. However, creative teachers and instructors find different methods for injecting group competition.
In settings where a reporting of findings to the entire class follows a group discussion, it is a simple matter to have everyone vote on the best presentation, measured against some criteria the teacher provides.
It is hard to argue that cross-group competition increases the morale and cohesion of the victors, but what of the vanquished? What happens to the cohesion within groups that "lose" time after time?
Proponents of competition in the classroom may acknowledge that losing in the short-term is detrimental to a group, but point out competition is a real-world phenomenon. Why not, they argue, expose them to competition in the classroom, where they can better learn to compete and win.
Opponents argue that group competition in the classroom actually inhibits rather than enhances the learning of some individual learners. In addition, they believe this downside to be true even within winning groups.
If winning some form of class competition becomes a more important goal than learning, groups quickly learn to rely on the most productive individuals, ignoring the less capable. In effect, competition can inject a reduced level of individual participation in the group discussion.
In practical terms, what shy or unsure individual will speak up, for fear their input will lead the group to lose or waste the group's time? Classroom competition can stifle the very active involvement group discussion is meant to create.
While education and training and development as a whole has successfully made the transition from a primarily individualized approach to a greater emphasis on group involvement, there now is increasing emphasis on moving toward a new level - the cooperative learning environment.
In this kind of learning environment, cooperation replaces competition as a means of building group cohesion. Ideally, the methodology here seeks to create a learning setting where the success of one learner depends on the success of all learners.
In practice, this may not be as difficult as it sounds. First, consider adding pair work to your repertoire of discussion activities, where the more skilled member is responsible for teaching the pair partner.
Second, look to create competition against a standard level for all participants, rather than pitting one group against the others. It is not easy, but it is possible to create reward structures where the only way to "win" is to have everyone succeed at some pre-defined level.