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Monday, March 25, 2013

Whoever does the most talking...

I was trained as a cooperative learning trainer.  One saying that has always stuck with me that I heard in my training was:  “Whoever does the most talking does the most learning.”   Whenever I walk into a classroom where the teacher stands in front of the students and lectures, this saying immediately pops into my head.  Now that there is all this attention to the Common Core and getting students to think more deeply and analytically, that saying is especially relevant. 

  As learners we all need to process and understand any experience we have.  We have to put that experience into our own words and also hear from others how they interpret that same experience.  Sharing our thoughts and ideas and trying to reconcile them to other’s thoughts and ideas makes the individual think more deeply.  This intellectual process of going deeper individually is dynamically linked to the social interaction of listening and responding.  This integration of the social and academic is at the heart of cooperative learning.

Cooperative learning is one of the most researched instructional strategies and it is an  evidence based proven method to improve academic learning and social skills and attitudes.  Why isn’t it more prevalent in our schools today?  Look at the major concerns in education and the different initiatives designed to address them-cooperative learning holds the potential to address them in an integrative way rather than the separate silos approach now used. 

There are four main reasons, in my opinion,  why cooperative learning isn’t more prevalent in schools:
  • ·      It is misunderstood as group learning and most people’s experience of group learning is negative.  People have nightmare stories of how they were in a group of students and they ended up doing all the work while the other group members coasted along.
  • ·      It requires ongoing professional development through daily practice in an environment where all professionals are using it consistently.
  • ·      It is based on the underlying assumption that instruction and pedagogy are the key elements for school improvement.  This is not the guiding assumption underlying policy and practice on the federal, state and local level.
  • ·      It is not trendy-it has been around for too long.  It is easier for education to latch on to new approaches or methods that promise something new and different.

If I had the power to recommend one practice that would have the greatest positive  impact on  bullying in schools, cooperative learning would far and away surpass any other program or approach.  To illustrate this I show a brief movie clip from October Sky- a movie about a high school student in West Virginia who later went on to be a rocket scientist.  The movie is about his passion for rockets and outer space.  As he went about trying to learn about rockets he found that his school’s library did not have the resources he needed.  He found out that the nerdy kid that no one liked or wanted to be associated with knew a lot about science including rockets etc.  He decided that if he was going to learn more he needed this student to help him.  The movie depicts the whole process of how a small group of diverse students worked interdependently on a science fair project constructing a rocket.  They became friends through the process of learning together. 

As discussed previously one of the main reasons that bystanders fail to intervene or report bullying is because they view the victim as different and often want to avoid association with the victim.  Too many schools create and sustain environments that promote this social distancing.  You would think that given that the great majority of time in schools is devoted to learning academic subjects that there would be ample opportunities for kids to discover commonalities with all their peers in the classroom.  When kids work together on academic tasks in cooperative groups they can discover how they are truly interdependent and move beyond the surface judgments that they can too easily make about others.

 Getting to know others and appreciating and valuing differences are the best antidotes to bullying.  When the social and academic are integrated on a daily basis by using the tool of cooperative learning, kids experience how social and academic enhance each other-they see how learning is interactive rather than just an individual experience.  When kids do more talking and thinking with each other they will also do less and less bullying.  It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

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