Rolling Stones: Collaborative Group Work

As school librarians, we value collaboration in the work we do with teachers and other community members.  We also recognize that our students will need the skills of teamwork and collaboration in their continuing education and employment.  One of the Common Beliefs espoused in our Standards for the 21st Century Learner is that “Learning has a social context” and that “Students need to develop skills in sharing knowledge and learning with others, both in face-to-face situations and through technology” (AASL, 2007).

In the online courses I teach, I have worked to include opportunities for students to collaborate with each other through partner and group projects.  It’s not unusual for me to have a student ask to work alone and I respond that as the school librarian, you won’t work alone but will need to develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to work with others: to be a member of a team.

This semester, I added an exercise at the beginning of a group project to encourage students to think about teamwork and their contribution and commitment to the group.  The first reading was a very brief story about Steve Jobs (Elmer-Dewitt, 2011) taken from an older recorded interview.  Jobs relays a story about a neighbor who showed him what happens when a bunch of ordinary, rough looking rocks were tossed in a rock tumbler.  After some noise and time, and through the friction of those rocks rubbing together, they were transformed into something polished and beautiful.   Jobs talks about how the work of a team resembles that rock tumbler as ideas are shaken up and transformed through the friction of group work.  I think it’s important that it’s the ideas that are given such rough treatment, not the egos or feelings of group members.

The second resources I asked students to view was a short video

Teamwork: Birds or People

In this video a group of people, carefully choreographed and well-practiced, transform themselves into a variety of shapes.  It looks like magic.  Jobs also commented on the magical transformation that results from a group of people working together to design a new product:


Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic (Jobs cited by Elmer-Dewitt, 2011


But of course, we know that it’s not magic.  It’s hard work that shakes us up.  But through practice and commitment and perhaps some noise and friction, we find the rough edges of our individual ideas become polished and take a shape we are unable to create by ourselves.

American Association of School Librarians (2007).  Standards for the 21st Century Learner.  Chicago: American Library Association.

Elmer-Dewitt, P. (2011).  Steve Jobs:  The parable of the stones.  CNN Money (November 11, 2011).

Itchelielie (2007).  Teamwork: Birds or People.  Online


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