Sunday, June 28, 2015

Competition in the Classroom: Yes? No? Maybe so...

...preparing our students to succeed in a complex, interconnected, ever-changing world...

an excerpt from my school district's mission statement.

From Mara Sapon-Shevin's Widening the Circle:  The Power of Inclusive Classrooms regarding traditional criteria for mainstreaming students:  "it assumes that the regular classroom will inevitably be structured competitively and that the child with disabilities will therefore be expected to behave competitively to be successful."

Alfie Cohn is unwavering in his opinion that there is no value whatsoever in competition in the classroom.  He goes so far as to suggest that teachers who walk the middle of the road on this issue do so out of a misguided fear to take a stand.

In my classroom, I find many students drawn to competitive activities.  They clamor for them.  Many of these students are competitive athletes, for whom competition is already a big part of their lives.  Others are students who I find much more willing to engage in competition than any other type of classroom activity -- even though they may not be as successful, due to their habitual disengagement.

My favorite competitive classroom activity is one I borrowed from Lauri Clarcq & Karen Moretti years ago, at the start of my career, and have since twisted into something more suited to my own personality.  It is a team game, so is competitive in a cooperative manner.  There is some measure of competency in the content required to continue to the "luck" portion of the game, but from there, team balance is irrelevant (since students tend to be regularly sent back and forth between teams at random) because point values fluctuate wildly based purely on luck.  Clear as mud?  I use it very sparingly, as unit review, but the anticipation is part of its effectiveness.

Two things I fear the "competition abolitionists" are overlooking are the following:  the nation of which we are preparing our students to be productive citizens is one driven by a capitalist economy.  We cannot deny them the experience of competition and then expect them to be equipped to handle it upon graduation, any more than we can expect them to magically be able to collaborate without having been taught those skills.  As in all things, balance is key.

The second thing, is that each of our students is an individual, and deserves to have that fact respected in their educational experience.  Just as many students benefit from group learning, and all students need to be taught the skills necessary to succeed working in a group, there are students who thrive in competition.  Those students deserve to have that learning style honored, even if it isn't currently en vogue.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

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