A neglected skill: How to work together


I have an idea for a new test for K-12 students. I know what you’re thinking. There are already too many damn tests as it is. This test could be a replacement for any number of the endless tests that kids have to take year after year. In fact, it could probably serve as the number one indicator of whether students are ready to go on to adulthood.

The test would measure how well students work in a group. They’d have some kind of project to put together, but the test wouldn’t be about the actual content of the project. It would be about how well they collaborated with the other students. Did they listen to each other? Did they allow all of the members of the group to contribute? Did they come up with a set of goals, and develop a plan for making it happen? Did they divvy up the work well so that everyone was pulling their weight? Did they resolve conflicts? Did they compromise? 

Learning how to collaborate is the most essential skill that you can have to be a productive member of society. It’s something that reaches every aspect of our lives — from our careers, to our families, to our churches and other social groups, to basic interactions of our lives such as talking to a banker or interacting with a sales representative. If you can’t interact with people in a calm, respectful manner where you recognize that more than one person must work together to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all parties, you are contributing to the slow deterioration of society.

Just look at the state legislature, or the U.S. Congress for that matter. Wouldn’t we all be better off if our leaders were taught at some point how to play nice with others?

I’m an after school acting teacher. Pretty much my main job is getting kids to work together (and restraining myself from shouting instructions from the peanut gallery instead of letting them figure it out themselves). Sometimes, it just astounds me how little exposure kids in school today have had to the idea of collaboration. It’s a skill that in today’s environment of teaching to the test is almost completely neglected.

So maybe we can get rid of just one math test, and make sure kids learn along the way how to work together.