Monday, February 20, 2012
Collaboration, Content and Choice (part 2)
Collaboration: Traditionally schools have been characterized by students competing against each other working at separate desks on individual tasks. However to be honest most of the international schools I've worked at have not been set up like this and there has been a great deal of collaboration among students. An American teacher I worked with in Bangkok used to have a "three before me" policy, which was that students had to ask at least 3 other students in the class before asking the teacher something. Alfie Kohn explains "learning at its best is a result of sharing information and ideas, challenging someone else's interpretation and having to rethink your own". Numerous studies have pointed to cooperative group work encouraging students to feel more positive about themselves and others in the class, as well as about the curriculum.
Content: After doing the Harvard Project Zero summer school over 10 years ago I went back to work and ditched about 70% of the tasks I'd been doing up till then, having looked at these tasks in a new light and found that they were engaging, perhaps, but in fact not really worth doing as they weren't contributing to the learning, didn't involve much creativity or critical thinking and didn't have much connection with what the students were interested in learning. Students are definitely more motivated if the work is relevant and appropriately challenging (not too easy as to make it boring, not too hard as to make the students feel anxious and helpless). Students are never "off task" if the task is interesting to them and if they are constructing their own knowledge.
Choice: Just as teachers welcome choice, students also appreciate being given alternatives. With the classes I'm supporting I'm trying to make sure that the students always have choice in their summative assignments - choices in what they do and in what tools they use to do it. If everyone in the class is working in groups that are doing different things the element of competition is likely to decrease. I'm happy if students choose NOT to use IT for these assignments if they can find better ways of showing their understanding.
Photo Credit: Cooperation by Ernst Vikne