The Group Learning Space

I would like to preface this space by alerting you to a few definitions as found in the table below. While the terms cooperative and collaborative are not always easily distinguishable there are some key differences to note. Simberg (2017) describes the distinction as ‘active’ versus ‘inactive’ participants. That being that it is possible for a member to be inactive but still be cooperating. Yet when members are engaging in collaborative learning each member is an ‘active’ participant.

Transforming a space to be conducive to group learning was discussed previously, yet what are the benefits for both teachers and students in learning in this way?

Teachers are able to differentiate learning based upon individual students needs, preferences and interests and facilitate like-minded students to work together. This allows teachers to provide their students with more directed and meaningful guidance as they are only receiving information that is relevant to them.

For students the benefits are manyfold. The group learning space allows students to collaborate and learn from each other, sharing their own knowledge, and seeking the knowledge of others. This gives every student the opportunity to be both the student and the teacher. Strategies such as the ‘Peer-Assisted Learning’ strategy (which can be found in more detail here mirror this sentiment.

Maria Montessori believed that allowing students to interact in this way established a caring community of active learners, building independence and confidence among all individuals who belong to it. Students are suddenly not solely reliant on their teacher and are instead given opportunities to lead their own learning based on what interests them.

I found this video of a Montessori teacher speaking about the benefits of group learning in a mixed age group very interesting. Although in a traditional mainstream setting we teach children of similar ages I believe what she is saying is easily transferred to the group learning environment where the more capable and confident students are able to guide and assist those who are still progressing.

Group learning, specifically collaborative learning, has also been found to emphasise thinking skills and increase higher ordered thinking as students are presented with the need to solve problems for themselves and interact and work with a variety of different people.

However, as with all learning spaces there are challenges. As well as the noise factor that was raised in the previous learning space some students prefer to work independently. By not providing opportunities for students to do this we are not meeting their individual needs. Therefore it is essential that the group learning environment also accommodates students who, at times, may wish to work independently. Cooperative learning may also be more suitable for these students as they are able to take on more of an observer role.

For teachers, developing groups the work efficiently together can be challenging. When learning in this way, where the teacher may spend time talking to a small group, we need to feel confident that the remainder of the students are keeping on task and working well together. While it might be nice to clone yourself and have one of you working with each group at any given time, the reality is that effective groups and ground rules for working in this way need to be established from the beginning to ensure that meaningful learning can take place. And, as I’m sure you are all aware, this is not as easy as simply putting like abilities in groups. It is important to mix not only ability but work ethic too.

Therefore, it is essential that pedagogy focuses on building the individual confidence and strength of every learner so that their role within the group in clearly understood.

References

Slavin, R. (2010). Co-operative learning: what makes group-work work? (pp. 161 – 178). The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD Publishing.

Sargent, V. (2017). Is there a distinction??? [LEO post]. Retrieved from: https://leo.acu.edu.au/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=541638

Clare, J. (2015). The difference in cooperative learning & collaborative learning in teacherswithapps [Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.teacherswithapps.com/the-differences-in-cooperative-learning-collaborative-learning/

Bunny, S., Patadis, D. Raine, E., Sargent, V. & Stretton, A. (2017). Is there a distinction??? [LEO post]. Retrieved from: https://leo.acu.edu.au/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=541638

Simberg, M. (2017). Cooperation vs Collaboration in MontessoriSeeds. [Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://montessoriseeds.blogspot.com.au/2017/04/cooperation-vs-collaboration.html

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