When I started this teaching program, I thought I would be the teacher that lectured and simply told my students the information while they took notes and repeated it back. I suppose this is because that’s all I knew from my childhood: teachers spoon-feeding the information to us so we could pass a test and never use the information again. Now, I believe that a more constructivist approach can lead to improved learning, and even more so when done in a cooperative learning setting.
Constructivism is defined as a theory of learning asserting that knowledge is not passively received, but actively received; and cognition functions to organize the experiential world. It is important to understand that when a student is given authority in the classroom to come up with their own ideas, hypothesis, and categories for information, they will learn and remember better than if the teacher had simply given them all the answers in the beginning.
One way to incorporate this constructivist approach is to use group learning as a tool to promote social abilities and skills. Students today need to possess not only intellectual skills, but also social skills in order to work efficiently and effectively with others (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012). Allowing students to follow their own curiosities while in a group setting can be an exciting thing. Cooperative learning has many benefits including increased academic engagement, higher self-esteem, better attitudes about school and peers, and an increased desire to work with others (Dean et. al., 2012).
I don’t have fond memories of my group projects and cooperative learning when I was in school. I was always the one that did the majority of the work while the other students in my group took the credit just the same. I realize now that my teachers may not have implemented the group projects in the best way possible. The following elements are essential to a successful cooperative learning environment (see Figure 1).
Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) describe the classroom as a miniature democracy where students works together to inquire and solve problems and become more effective as a group. Constructivism in this case involves students being presented with a problem and they think about possible solutions while the teacher plays the role of counselor, consultant, and friendly critic (Joyce et. al., 2015). “Inquiry is stimulated by confrontation with a problem, and knowledge results from the inquiry. The social process enhances inquiry and is itself studied and improved. The heart of group investigation lies in its concept of inquiring groups” (Joyce, et. al., 2015, p.250). Figure 2 describes the phases of the group investigation model.
In my future classroom, I hope I can follow these ideas and suggestions in order to create an environment conducive to students constructing their own knowledge and in turn improving their academic success through positive social interactions with peers.
Dean, C., Hubbell, E., Pitler, H., Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. 2nd Ed. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.