Cooperative Learning as a Means of Socially Constructing Knowledge

What is meant by “knowledge is socially constructed”?

As teachers, we cannot control all the outside factors that influence students and their learning.  However, we can control what happens within the walls of our classrooms.  Educators have the power to cultivate a safe learning environment and foster a positive community of learners.  They can ensure their classroom is characterized by respect and compassion, and that everyone is comfortable sharing ideas.

Incorporating cooperative learning into your lesson plans may seem daunting, but can be done in a number of ways.  Some differences between a typical classroom and one with cooperative learning is illustrated in figure one.

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Figure 1

This may result in a significant culture change in your classroom, but with the certain gains in student learning it is worth the effort.  One of the goals of education is to facilitate the growth of students who ideally will someday become active contributing members of society.  Dewey argues that school experiences should more accurately reflect real life.  “In the layers of a complex world, the students of today need to possess not only intellectual capabilities but also the ability to function effectively in an environment that requires working with others to accomplish a variety of tasks” (Dean).  It is important for kids to learn how to work and play well with others because when they enter the real world as working adults they will be expected to collaborate and problem-solve with others.  This is why there was been a push in recent years to include non general education students (such as English language learners and students receiving special education services) within the classrooms alongside their peers.  Students who are not a part of the general education population often experience feelings of isolation and alienation as a result of being seperated from the rest of the school.  It is also a disservice to the general education students because as an adult they will need to posses the knowledge and skills to have fruitful and constructive interactions with others regardless of their differing development or abilities.  It is mutually beneficial for all students to work with others who are different and to build positive relationships with them.  Having everyone together as much as possible, in the least restrictive environment, increases the sense of community among the students.  Figure two shows some concrete ways in which instruction changes in this type of learning process.

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Figure 2

Studies have found that cooperative learning techniques consistently cause great gains in student achievement.  Cooperative learning is a practice backed by data.

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Figure 3

Figure three shows the difference in achievement in a traditional classroom compared to a cooperative learning classroom structure.  It leads to gains in both white and African American students.  The gains are even more substantial for African American students.  Utilizing cooperative learning can be one way of working towards closing the achievement gap among students.

Cooperative learning allows students to learn from and help one another.  Working as part of team in the classroom setting helps kids develop problem-solving and social skills that are fundamental to their futures.  Tasks that are completed cooperatively tend to motivate students more than solo assignments, while still holding all group members accountable. “Interacting with one another produces cognitive as well as social complexity, creating more intellectual activity that increases learning when contrasted with solitary study” (Joyce, p. 234).  This shows that cooperative learning results in higher-quality learning.  Figure four shows some  additional aspects of the cooperative learning model.

Cooperative Learning

Figure 4

The statement that knowledge is socially constructed is connected to this idea of cooperative learning.  Learning is a very social process, which is why cooperative learning can be a great tool for educators.  Social progress has roots in schools where social order is maintained.  Learning relies heavily on social interaction with others.  Students are a culmination of many outside influences inside and outside their schools.  They have ideas and thoughts of value to contribute.  Students can have useful insights that the teacher did not consider.  When the focus shifts from the teacher to the students, everyone, including the educator, learns together.

Sources:

Dean, C. B., Pitler, H., Stone, B., & Hubbell, E. R. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, Dean, Ceri B.; Hubbell, Elizabeth Ross; Pitler, Howard; Stone, Bj (2012-01-05). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). McREL.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of teaching (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Kagan, S., & Kagan, M. (2009). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing

Social Constructivism. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/learning-theory-research/social-constructivism/

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