Enhancing Student Thinking through Collaborative Learning
Karen Yeok-Hwa Ngeow
Critical Attributes of Group Learning
There are some principles that are common to any group learning approach:
There are also some practices in group learning that may vary among group-learning approaches. These include:
The list above provides guidelines for planning collaborative learning instruction. What is often overlooked, however, is a consideration of the rationale for students working together in groups in the first place. Duffy and Cunningham (1996) lament that supporters of collaborative learning have previously concentrated only on instructional design issues that deal with structural and management factors such as strategies that ensure fair participatory opportunities. They encourage using group learning to promote dialogical interchange and reflexivity among learners (p.186). This involves having learners share alternative viewpoints, support each other's inquiry processes, and develop critical thinking skills that include the ability to reflect and improve on their own learning.
Instructional Phases of Collaborative Learning
In the Collaborative Learning Model described by Reid et al. (1989), there are five phases for designing instruction for collaborative learning: engagement, exploration, transformation, presentation, and reflection.
In the "engagement" phase, the teacher sets the stage by providing the class with a collaborative activity. It is important that this task be designed in such a way that it not only provides the basis for ensuing necessary group activities, but also brings home a sense of ownership to its learners. An example of an authentic collaborative activity for a reading classroom is one where students examine the type of persuasive language found in authentic sales literature such as brochures, advertisements, and labels. They can then analyze the kinds of strategies advertisers use to influence potential buyers.
In the "exploration" phase, students work on the initial exploration of ideas and information. Teachers have to decide how much input should be given for the learning task, and how much should be left to the resourcefulness of the students. To encourage group interdependence at this stage, teachers can ask students in teams to demonstrate their learning using different response modes. K-W-H-L-S is one of many strategies that can be used with students of all ages and levels to help insure that every student pursues goals that are individually beneficial and yet congruent with the group's common goal in the learning activity. The basic components of the K-W-H-L-S strategy are:
The third phase has to do with the "transformation" of knowledge. This is where students in their learning groups engage in activities to "reshape" the information by organizing, clarifying, elaborating, or synthesizing learning concepts. It is crucial for this stage of learning that tasks require discussion and contribution from all group members. It is too easy to let a situation turn into one where the most vocal or linguistically proficient member of the group takes over the tasks of clarifying and elaborating on learning concepts, and not have other group members benefit from the collaborative activity. The learning activity designed should therefore be complex enough that there can be many opportunities for knowledge transformation at different levels or in various sub-tasks, thereby involving as many group members as possible. For instance, students take turns categorizing information, looking for examples to support their opinions, and discussing the implications of an advertising strategy on their own and their families' purchasing behaviors.
In the "presentation" phase, student groups have the opportunity to present their findings to an interested and critical audience. It is possible to structure the main activity in a way that would entail having different student groups contribute their findings to make up a bigger learning outcome (e.g., different sections of a proposal). A significant consideration at this stage is to ensure that the audience for the presentation is authentic and can provide responsive feedback to the information generated by the groups' efforts. This can be done with critical peer groups or with expert groups that have a genuine interest in the findings of the presentation. In the above example, the reading group that reviews sales literature and analyzes advertising strategies can now write an article for a consumer awareness magazine on what they have collaboratively learned about the influence of advertising on public buying.
The last phase of the group learning activity is "reflection." Here, students analyze what they have learned, identify strengths and weaknesses in the learning processes they went through, and offer constructive ideas on how their learning can be improved. Student reflection should be done both individually and collaboratively, and they need to analyze individual as well as group learning processes. For that purpose, teachers may construct individual and group guidelines. Some questions for reflection are:
Dewey (1938) said that one of the philosophies of education is not to learn merely to acquire information but rather to bring that learning to bear upon our everyday actions and behaviors. Consistent with this goal, we would argue that collaborative learning in the classroom should prepare learners for the kind of team work and critical interchange that they will need to be effective participants in their communities and workplaces in the future.
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