As educators, we are encouraged to structure group break-outs and discussions into our lessons and lectures. From a pedagogical standpoint, group discussions and projects assist students in deepening understanding of the topic at hand while fostering teamwork, a valued skill that proves beneficial throughout innumerable facets of life. So why, when I am asked to simply “turn to the person to your left”, do I shudder and hold my breath in anticipation of the next 2 minutes?
Let it be known that I am not an introverted person. Throughout high school and college, I would be in the second or third row (God forbid anyone sit in front), and I would take an active part in dare I say every lecture. I moved to Chicago to pursue improvisational and sketch comedy. I clearly take pleasure in sharing my opinions and maybe like the sound of my own voice a little bit too much. Self-deprecation aside, let us return to the point of this piece. Why did I so dread these miniature think-pair-share moments?
Honestly? Because I did not think I would get anything out of it. I have my opinion on or understanding of the topic. Either this arbitrary person has a similar or different understanding, we will share and either go “yep!” or “oh, well I thought this”, and then it will be over. My opinion or understanding would most likely not make a ground-breaking shift, and I knew that Cassie A. would write a paper either similar to or different than mine. Case closed.
Fast-forward to present day. I have been living in Chicago for approximately 22 months, studying at the renowned Second City Training Center and the iO Theater. Talk about teamwork. This is the home of “you’re only as strong as your weakest link”. But while many think the weakest link would be the one who isn’t quite as fast on their feet, as bright, or as witty, that is not the case. The weakest link is the one who refuses to listen, accept new ideas, and respond in a way that builds upon them.
Your partner offers an idea. Take a beat. Consider it. Respond to it. And build upon it. Make an even greater idea together. It is remarkable how differently two minds can approach a question, consider a fact, analyze a set of data.
Maybe there should be a third component to think-pair-share. Perhaps, think-pair-share-expand. Once we embrace the concept of embracing others’ ideas, we can progress beyond the scope of a single mind. Create alternate paths to a solution. Remove no from our educational vocabulary. Eliminate fear of failure and encourage discovery of new and improvement upon former methods, analyses, and ways of thinking.
College is about learning previously established facts, of course, but it is also about training the minds of tomorrow. We don’t want our machine to keep running. We want our machine to run better. There are no stupid questions, and more importantly there are no stupid answers. Group-work should not be about deciding which of the two, three, fifty ideas are stronger; rather, group-work should allow a team to arrive at a thesis that no one mind could reach alone.
Think-pair-share is not an activity because there are five minutes of class time that needs to be filled. A group project is not so that one struggling student can ride on another student’s coattails. If we can adopt the concept of “yes, and…” and bring it to the classroom, we will allow our students (and ourselves) to nurture new ideas and become rounded thinkers.