Have you ever heard a someone say something like this?
“Learning in a group is important for each child. It teaches them to collaborate and to share space with others. They will have the opportunity to learn from classmates and experience what it’s like to work with an authority figure other than their parents. Understanding how to navigate the classroom will help my child live a healthy, connected life as an adult.”
I have many times. In fact, before I started working with neurodivergent children, I might have thought like this too. After all, when described like it is above, group learning sounds great! The statements are hopeful, filled with positive wishes for young people. They’re also loaded with assumptions.
Let’s unpack those assumptions a bit.
Learning in a group is important for each child. What if the child is very different from the other children in the group? What if they are an introvert (meaning they need time alone to recharge their brains and bodies) like so many neurodivergent children are? In that case, learning in a group could be draining. If a student is highly sensitive, they may end up overly focused on the feelings and needs of those in the group. Group learning could be overwhelming to a very sensitive child until they learn to regulate their thoughts and feelings.
They will have an opportunity to learn from classmates. What if the child’s outlook, learning style, and ability level is far beyond or behind their classmates? If your child is advanced, he or she might end up teaching more than learning. I speak more about this in my post, The Subtle Exploitation of Gifted Children.
Understanding how to navigate the classroom will help my child live a healthy, connected life as an adult. How can we best prepare children for an unpredictable future? Is it by expecting a child to work within a structure from the past? That doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t resonate with what I know to be true either. With so many people doing jobs that didn’t exist fifty years ago, and the increasing prevalence of working from home, it is difficult to know if learning in a classroom with other children will prepare kids to become healthy adults.
Most of us have learned in a group setting in a traditional classroom. And for a lot of people, the system worked. It gave them the right amount of structure within which to find themselves. However, my guidance is for neurodivergent children and their caregivers. Too often, instead of building neurodivergent children up, the traditional model breaks them down.
When we find what works best for a particular child, we can mine the benefits of group learning. For example, one useful aspect of learning in a group is accountability. Accountability can be a great motivator for gettings things done. In order to open ourselves up to the process of accountability, we must first feel seen, heard, understood, and respected. This is particularly true for neurodivergent children, who have likely felt alienated and misunderstood in previous group learning experiences.
There is a continuum between group learning and solo learning. There are small groups that meet part-time, like micro-schools and co-ops. There are online classes that children experience together, separately in their own spaces. When we challenge our assumptions regarding how a child should learn, we open the door to creating a model for how a child learns best.
Ultimately, there is nothing inherently wrong with group learning. What is wrong is the assumption that group learning is the best choice for every child.
Still on the fence as to if group learning is best for your child? Click here to take a short quiz to find out more.
I grew up dancing and continue to take dance classes as an adult. I love the small, supportive nature of my classes and tend to thrive with teachers who are unwaveringly positive yet real. I also love to move with others in sync to a new choreography and problem solve how to best express ourselves through music. I’d like to hear from people who have had positive group learning experiences. What did you like about them? What worked?