Teaching is learning is cooperation.

Latin Proverbs

The 6th key to learning.

What is key in learning? This is the sixth of a number of keys that are meant to bring understanding about what learning is and how leaning can be improved by understanding the message of those keys. This key is about the interchangeability of learning and teaching. This key shows how good learning must involve good teaching; how good teaching must involve good learning; and how learning and teaching are a cooperative act involving at least two people where both learn and both teach.

Cooperative learning.

All learning that involves teaching is essentially a cooperative action. So our understanding of the interchangeability of teaching and learning must begin with the study of cooperation.

Historical Contributions to Cooperation in Learning.

Social theorists such as Allport, Watson, Shaw, and Mead began establishing cooperative learning theory after finding that group work was more effective and efficient in quantity, quality, and overall productivity when compared to working alone. However, it wasn’t until 1937, when researchers May and Doob found that people who cooperate and work together to achieve shared goals, were more successful in attaining outcomes, than those who strived independently to complete the same goals, that cooperative learning theory became accepted in the scientific community. May and Doob also found that independent achievers had a greater likelihood of displaying competitive behaviors.

Philosophers and psychologists in the 1930s and 40’s such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Morton Deutsh also influenced the cooperative learning theory practiced today.

Dewey believed it was important that students develop knowledge and social skills that could be used outside of the classroom, and in the democratic society. This theory portrayed students as active recipients of knowledge by discussing information and answers in groups, engaging in the learning process together rather than being passive receivers of information (e.g. teacher talking, students listening).

Lewin’s contributions to cooperative learning were based on the ideas of establishing relationships between group members in order to successfully carry out and achieve the learning goal.

Deutsh’s contribution to cooperative learning was positive social interdependence, the idea that the student is responsible for contributing to group knowledge.

Since then, David and Roger Johnson have been actively contributing to the cooperative learning theory. In 1975, they identified that cooperative learning promoted mutual liking, better communication, high acceptance and support, as well as demonstrated an increase in a variety of thinking strategies among individuals in the group. Students who showed to be more competitive lacked in their interaction and trust with others, as well as in their emotional involvement with other students. In 1994 Johnson and Johnson published the 5 elements (positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, social skills, and processing) essential for effective group learning, achievement, and higher-order social, personal and cognitive skills (e.g., problem solving, reasoning, decision-making, planning, organizing, and reflecting).

Learning as teaching, three perspectives.

  1. Learning as teaching may be considered from the perspective of how much a student can learn by teaching other students.

  2. Learning as teaching may also be considered from the point of view that learning is a cooperative act involving simultaneously teaching others and learning back from them.

  3. Learning as teaching may also be considered from the perspective of how much a teacher can learn about how he is affecting his students, about how much they are learning because of what he is doing.

Learning as teaching.

Let us begin by considering how teaching enables learning in the one who teaches. In his essay "The Civilization of the Dialogue" Harvey Wheeler illuminates this key idea:

"One of the oldest maxims of teaching is that no one ever really understands a subject until he is faced with the necessity of teaching it to others. Now if this is true, it follows that students never understand anything. Note that we did not say learn, but rather understand. For we know that students really do learn things. They acquire information, great masses of it, and often quite readily. But it is not information as such that constitutes knowledge, much less understanding. Indeed information alone - mere facts and figures - is of little use or significance unless we know what it means, that is, until we have acquired understanding. And according to our maxim the elements of and significance are acquired most readily in the process of teaching. It follows that if we wish to produce a situation in which several people may engage in the search for understanding it must be one in which all participate as teachers, but not as teachers to others who are students, for we have already seen that this is what we must avoid if we wish to produce understanding."

Preparation for teaching as learning.

By clarifying, simplifying and making knowledge understandable for others we make that knowledge clearer, simpler and more understandable for ourselves. In order to help students enlarge their body of knowledge, we have to get into their minds,  see what they are interested in and what knowledge is already there. We have to then portray new knowledge in such a way as will be understandable to them. When we do this numerous times for large numbers of learners, each requiring that the knowledge be portrayed in a unique way, we force ourselves each time to view that knowledge from a new perspective. Knowledge viewed in this way from many different perspectives is understood better, or more completely than before, and thus is learned in an elaborated better understood and enhanced form.

Students as teachers.

It follows, that if teaching is learning, then learners should teach. This already happens to some extent in most colleges and universities, where some students get to be teaching assistants (T.A.s). It is possible, however, that student teaching could be much more widely implemented. A more extensive way of doing so, might be to provide a culture where students feel obligated to help those, who are learning more slowly or with greater difficulty than themselves. Obviously, this would involve the students being able to talk to each other in class, and also have time available in which to do it. It would not work, if it was presented as extra work they had to do. Other ways this could be encouraged, could be to create some system where students of unequal ability come together in groups or pairs. In pursuit of this, ideally, class and age boundaries would be best ignored or forgotten, and any kind of pairing or mutual group self help would best be encouraged. It is most likely, that there are many ways in which students could be provided with greater opportunities to teach while they are learning. While many of these opportunities will be discussed in the section on learning as a cooperative activity, one interesting idea for providing greater teaching opportunity for students, is presented just below. 

Student teaching as a way of accessing learning.

In "500 Ways to Change the World" produced by the Global Ideas Bank the following idea was was suggested by Kaleigh Gerity:

"Final exams are renowned for making students nervous, as they apply a great deal of pressure in a short period of time. Students usually spend a few days cramming as much information into their short-term memory as possible and then forget it as soon as the test has been taken.

A better idea might be for each student to pick one theme from each of his or her classes, and then teach that theme to a class of local junior high school students. Many teachers will tell you that to teach someone else, you have to understand every element of the material yourself. The high school students would therefore have to look at the materials in new and creative ways so they could teach them to others. They would have to break down the elements of each topic and understand how they fit together. Teaching one theme from each course will make students learn from their classes. It may not cover all the material as would a final exam, but it will allow the students to have a more complete and rounded understanding of a few topics that will stay with them a lot longer.

Grades could still be given based on how well the student presented the information; both the junior high teacher and the student's own teacher could provide input. The junior high students could even be included in the process, rating the the teacher-student on clarity and information provided.

Not only would this allow high school students to leave a class feeling like they learned some information for life, but it might inspire more people to become teachers. While it may not totally replace the need for examinations, it could provide an additional form of assessment alongside traditional testing and coursework."

Learning as cooperation, collaboration and inter-mutual teaching.

Learning is a cooperative act.

If we were not able to draw on the accumulated knowledge discovered, invented or created by others, we would still be at the knowledge level of cave men. But there is more to the heritage of knowledge than the necessity for some cooperation between those inventing knowledge and those learning it. We have to decide whether we lose or gain something by sharing our knowledge.

In the past knowledge was horded and experts kept their secrets close. How they were able to do the things others could not, was not available to be learned, and was only passed on at a deathbed or mostly lost forever. Today a different principle is in use, especially in the world of science where an understanding has been reached to share knowledge so it can be built upon. This understanding is based on the simple idea that if we share knowledge with everyone else, and everyone else shares their knowledge with us, we all will have a lot more knowledge and we will be able to build on each other's ideas.

Win Win not Win Lose.

Western societies, and indeed most societies today, are built on a win lose principle. This principle at first glance seems intuitively correct. If I win you must lose. This is the principle behind competition. People say that competition causes us to strive harder and thus do better work. But this is a fallacy. Scientific studies have shown, that struggling to defeat the other person has an adverse effect on creative activity, and indeed on performance in general. Win Win is the principle of synergy, where giving away, creates more to give away. When we give others knowledge, we are creating a knowledge commons that enables the creation of more knowledge by the joining of ideas, and the building of ideas one upon the other.

The wisdom of cooperation.

In their book "Cooperation in the Classroom" Johnson Johnson and Johnson point out normalcy and social strength of cooperation:

"Ashly Montagu was fond of saying, 'With few exceptions, the solitary animal is, in any species an abnormal creature.' Karen Horney said, 'The neurotic individual is someone who is inappropriately competitive and, therefore, unable to cooperate with others.' Psychological health is the ability to develop, maintain, and appropriately modify interdependent relationships with others to succeed in achieving goals... To manage social interdependence, individuals must correctly perceive whether interdependence exists and whether it is positive or negative, be motivate accordingly, and act in ways consistent with normative expectations for appropriate behavior within the situation."  

The current need for teamwork & cooperation.

In today's world there is, increasingly, more need for cooperation and teamwork. Today's computer programs are so vast that a single person working all his life could not write one. Such programs are written by huge teams of people carefully supporting each other's work. Today research and even inventions are carried out by teams of people, each working on a small section of the work as a whole. Even in artistic activities cooperation has become hugely important. Today the major art form is movies, and movies are created by vast armies of people acting together to create the movie. Today, one man does not do all the work, it is done by teams working on small parts of projects. Today knowledge and technology is so vast and complex, that we can only grasp a little corner of it, and must rely on others who's work can be combined with ours to produce something worthwhile.

Why cooperation is essential or key to learning.

The obvious reason for utilizing cooperation and collaboration in learning is that it just produces better academic results. It has been shown in many studies that students (people) simply learn better and more effectively in cooperating groups. This in turn is due to the many benefits that are incidental to people working in groups and cooperating. Some of these benefits are:
  1. Accomplishment.

  2. The most obvious benefit of cooperative learning is the feelings of accomplishment that occur when accomplishing something worthwhile with others, and which in turn manifests as intrinsic motivation to learn. Individual accomplishment by contrast is difficult to to enact and likely to be much less worthwhile or important. These feelings of accomplishment, come not only from clear scholastic improvement, but also from the development of better social skills, and finding a renewed enjoyment in acquiring knowledge and the sheer pleasure of having played a part in accomplishing something important. Research has shown, that some forms of cooperation work better than others in producing these feelings of accomplishment, to thus enhance learning. The most effective methods of cooperative learning seem to involve individual accountability and group rewards. However, even without such accountability and group rewards, studies show that cooperative learning, where dissention and criticism is encouraged, produces better academic results than traditional teaching methods. In his book "Cooperative Learning" Robert E. Slavin says:

    [Damon, Murray and Wadsworth]"...argue that interactions among students on learning tasks will lead in itself to improved student achievement. Students will learn from one another because in their discussions of the content, cognitive conflicts will arise, inadequate reasoning will be exposed, and higher-quality understandings will emerge."

    Likewise he points out that students exposed to cooperative strategy training performed better that those working individually in traditional classrooms. On the other hand he also points out:

    "But when students work together toward a common goal, as they do when a cooperative reward structure is in place, their learning efforts help their groupmates succeed. Students therefore encourage one another's learning, reinforce one another's academic efforts, and express norms favoring academic achievement." He Concludes:

    "...there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that a combination of group rewards and strategy training produces better outcomes than either alone."   

  3. Motivation.

  4. Another obvious benefit of cooperative learning is that of better motivation to learn, better motivation to encourage groupmates to learn, and better motivation to help groupmates to learn. These motivations result in behaviors conducive to enhanced learning. Student tutoring student results in elaborated and individually customized explanations. These are not only a better fit with what the student already knows, but also the introduction of many different perspectives provides more and better connected recallable knowledge, and thus enhanced learning. These motivations also result in an environment where students model cooperative behavior for one another to imitate. This of course reinforces the motivations and thus enhances learning. As well as this motivations encourage the students to make an effort to see though the others perspectives, so that they can better give elaborated explanations, this incidentally produces cognitive elaboration in their own learning. All this enhances learning especially for those teaching. Also, the motivations ensure, that peer practice of performing cooperative behaviors is seen as the norm, which is itself self reinforcing, and leads to more of the same and thus enhanced learning. Then too, these motivations ensure mutual critical assessment and correction of each others work and understanding. This, of course, enhances learning too.


  5. Inter-group relations.

  6. Perhaps, a not so obvious benefit of cooperative learning, is a tendency for the group members to come to like and understand each other better. This is so much so, that it tends to break down racial barriers and and allow friendships to spring up between individuals of differing ethnicity. In his book "Cooperative Learning" Robert E. Slavin reports the following:

    "Given the many forces operating against the formation of cross-racial friendships, it would seem that if cooperative learning influences these friendships, it would create relatively weak relationships rather than strong ones. On first thought, it seems unlikely that a few weeks of cooperative learning would build strong interracial relationships between students in the classroom at the possible expense of prior same-race relationships."

    Be this as it may, Slavin then produced studies that showed, that when asked to report best friends and relationships considered close, results showed more and stronger interracial relationships than were expected. He said:

    "The results showed that the positive effects of STAD on cross-racial choices were due primarily to increases in strong friendship choices. Reciprocated and close choices both made and received, increased more in STAD than in control classes. Thus contrary to what might have been expected, this study showed positive effects of cooperative learning on close reciprocated friendship choices - the kind of friendships that should be most difficult to influence."    

  7. Better integration of the mentally and emotionally handicapped.

  8. Because inter-group positive relations tend to build in cooperative situations, it follows that we might therefore expect that relationships with mentally and emotionally handicapped individuals might improve also. Slavin explains as follows:

    "If the classroom is changed so that cooperation rather than competition is emphasized and so that academically handicapped students can make meaningful contribution to the success of a cooperative group, acceptance of such students seems likely to increase."

    Slavin goes on to report on many studies showing not only academic interaction between the academically handicapped and others in the group, but the kind inclusion that only accompanies true acceptance in the group. Some studies even showed the building of friendships between those academically handicapped and those not so handicapped. Cooperative learning obviously would beneficial in enabling gifted children to find accepted also. 

  9. Improved self-esteem.

  10. A more expected benefit of cooperative learning is a general improvement in the self-esteem of those students taking part. Slavin reports as follows:

    "...two of the most important components of student's self-esteem are the feeling they are well liked by their peers and the feeling that they are doing well academically. Cooperative learning methods effect both of these components: students typically are named as friends by more of their classmates, feel more successful in their academic work, and and in fact achieve more than they do in traditional classrooms. For these reasons, cooperative learning could in fact increase student's self-esteem.

    The evidence from the cooperative learning studies tends to bare this out, although there are many inconsistencies. In Jigsaw students are made to feel important because they have information that is indispensable to the group. [some studies] ...found positive effects of Jigsaw on student self-esteem [while others found none]. ...It should be noted though, that in eleven of the fifteen studies in which the effects of cooperative learning on self-esteem were studied, positive effects on some aspect of self-esteem were found."

  11. Pro academic peer norms.

  12. The feeling that academic achievement is acceptable to ones peers is not very likely in a traditional teaching environment. Studies do, however, show that feelings that good academic work is acceptable, normal and is even held in high esteem, are usual for students operating under cooperative methods. Slavin says:

    "Early laboratory research demonstrated that norms can be changed by the use of cooperative incentive structures. Deutch...found that the college students who discussed human relations problems under cooperative conditions felt more pressure to achieve from their groupmates, felt more of an obligation to their groupmates, and had a stronger desire to win there groupmates' respect than did students that worked under competitive conditions. These results indicate that in the cooperative groups, students wanted to achieve because their groupmates wanted them to do so. Thomas...found that individuals in cooperative groups exerted social pressures on one another to achieve. These interpersonal sanctions - 'responsibility forces' in Thomas's words - maintained behavior and helped the group to succeed. The field experimental research also supports the findings of effects of cooperative learning on peer norms supporting individual achievement."    

  13. Greater feelings of autonomy and internal locus of control.

  14. Elsewhere in this site we have shown that autonomy and an internal locus of control are almost essential to learning. Learning only takes place effectively if we feel we are learning for our own internal reasons and not because we are being manipulated or controlled into doing so. An internal locus of control is therefore almost essential to effective learning. This said it seems that cooperative learning increases feelings of an internal locus of control. Slavin explains:

    "Several studies have found that internal locus of control is positively influenced by cooperative learning methods. Slavin found that STAD increased students feelings that their outcomes depended on their performance rather than on luck, and DeVries [etc.] found similar effects for TGT. Gonzales...found a positive effect of Jigsaw on internal locus of control."

  15. Enjoyment of learning.

  16. The helping of others in collaboration is actually very enjoyable, because it is satisfying a need at the highest level, what Maslow calls a meta need. Although as Slavin indicates students enjoy cooperative learning more than traditional teaching, this is not completely clear from the research. Perhaps this is because the enjoyment of learning depends on so many factors and not just one such as collaborative or cooperative learning. Slavin has this to say about it:

    "The hypothesis that students would enjoy working cooperatively more than individualistically is almost obviously correct: anyone walking into a class using any of the cooperative learning methods can see that students enjoy working with each other. When the students are asked if they liked working cooperatively and would like to do so again, they enthusiastically say that they would.

    However, the research evidence on this variable is more inconsistent than on any of the other noncognitive outcomes. Some studies have found significantly liking of class or school in cooperative than control classes. ...However, other studies have found no differences in liking of class between cooperative and control classes..."

  17. Better, faster more efficient learning.

  18. The advantages of learning as a team can perhaps best be understood in terms of a group of students working on a project. Projects for learning are of course clearly ways of simulating and thus practicing for the projects that students will be working on in the world of work in their later lives. The point is that learning as a group is better faster and more efficient than learning alone. It is faster because each individual only has to take in a lesser amount of the information and process that lesser amount. It is better because many people provide many different perspectives and ways of seeing things. It is better because many people bring many more skills and attributes to the table. It is more efficient because more people can bring a more critical eye to the work and can locate the bugs, the discontinuities, the (spelling) mistakes, and the anomalies in design. It is true, in a work of art, you need an overall creator to set it in motion and bring it all together in the end, but this is just one of the skill sets needed. This kind of oversight is sometimes useful in learning groups, but is by no means essential to them.       
  19. Better memory due to greater elaboration of information.

  20. Elaboration is the somewhat anti intuitive idea that we remember things better when we have more information about them. At first glance it would seem a more difficult task to remember more information, but in actual fact the more information we have the more meaning that information has. That is to say, the more associations or connections to other information the more meaning, and thus the more easily memorized and incidentally this makes the information more understandable. When people come together in groups they automatically provide each other with more information about anything. This information comes through different senses and in the form of different perspectives of different people, all of which is conducive to better elaboration and thus better recall of that information.
  21. Better understanding of information due to greater elaboration.

  22. In his book "Cooperative Learning" Robert E. Slavin provides the following:

    "One of the most effective means of elaboration is explaining the material to somebody else. Research on peer tutoring has long found achievement benefits for the tutor as well as the tutee. ...More recently, Donald Dansereau and his colleagues found in a series of studies that college students working on structured 'cooperative scripts' can learn technical material or procedures far better than students working alone... In this method, students take roles as recaller and listener. They read a section of text, and then the recaller summarizes the information while the listener corrects any errors, fills in any omitted material and thinks of ways both students can remember the main ideas. On the next section the students switch roles. Dansereau... has found that while both recaller and listener learned more that students working alone, the recaller learned more."

  23. Better psychological health.

  24. In their book "Cooperation in the Classroom" Johnson Johnson and Johnson declare that learning cooperatively provides greater psychological health. They say:

    "Four studies have directly measured the relationship between social interdependence and psychological health. The samples studied included high-school seniors..., juvenile and adult prisoners..., step couples..., Olympic hockey players..., Chinese businessmen..., [Johnson Johnson etc.] The results indicated that (a) working cooperatively with peers and valuing cooperation result in greater psychological health than does competing with peers or working independently and (b) cooperative attitudes are highly correlated with a wide variety of indices of psychological health, competitiveness was in some cases positively and in some cases negatively related to psychologically health, and individualistic attitudes were negative related to a wide variety of indices of psychological health.

    Cooperativeness is positively related to a number of indices of psychological health, such as emotional maturity, well adjusted social relations, strong personal identity, ability to cope with adversity, social competencies, and basic trust and optimism about people. Personal ego strength, self-confidence, and autonomy are all promoted by being involved in cooperative efforts. Individualistic attitudes tend to be related to a number of indices of psychological pathology, such as emotional immaturity, social maladjustment, delinquency, self-alienation, and self-rejection. Competitiveness is related to a mixture of health and unhealthy characteristics. Whereas inappropriate competitive and individualistic attitudes and efforts have resulted in alienating individuals from others, healthy and therapeutic growth depends on increasing individuals' understanding of how to cooperate more effectively with others. Cooperative experiences are not a luxury. they are absolutely necessary for healthy development."

  25. A reduction in the tendency to violence and aggression.

  26. In his book "Nobody Left to Hate" the social psychologist Elliot Aronson reveals, that he and his students invented the Jigsaw system in an effort to to reduce the incidence of hostility and violence, resulting from the forced integration of the schools in Austin Texas. When Aronson and his students initially studied the schools in Austin Texas they discover that typically such schools encouraged an overly competitive mindset that tended to isolate and marginalize anyone who appeared different, making them outsiders. This essentially creates a large group of those who have been basically ostracized. As social scientists Aronson and his students began to realize that this over emphasis on competition could be countered by a simple change in the way in the way students were educated. The situation in which it education occurred could be cooperative rather than competitive. The system of education that they invented "The Jigsaw system" was tested in classrooms in Austin Texas and was found to be very effective in reducing bullying and acts of violence. This happened because when people cooperate they tend to like one another better and are therefore less likely to bully or act violently toward one another. This follows from all the other reasons listed above. Aronson wrote "Nobody Left to Hate" in response to the Columbine massacre in an effort to show how such violence came to be, and what could have been done to prevent it. A large part of his suggested solution involves the introduction of more cooperative educational practices.          

The pitfalls of cooperative learning.

The main problem with cooperation is the phenomenon of social loafing and the free rider. This phenomenon was discovered in 1913 by Max Ringelmann. He found that when he asked a group of men to pull on a rope, that they did not pull as hard, or put as much effort into the activity, as they did when they were pulling alone. The main reason is that the social loafer or "free-rider" believes that their personal work is not being evaluated. The main explanation for social loafing is that people feel unmotivated when working with a team, because they think that their contributions will not be evaluated or considered.

There are various ways of combating social loafing when conducting cooperative learning. In his book "Cooperative Learning" Robert E. Slavin calls this "diffusion of responsibility". He says:

"Diffusion of responsibility can be eliminated in cooperative learning in two principal ways. One is to make each group member responsible for a unique part of the group's task, as in Jigsaw, Group Investigation [styles of learning discussed below] and related methods. The danger of task specialization, however, is that students learn a great deal about a portion of the task they worked on themselves but not about the rest of the content.

The second means of eliminating diffusion of responsibility is to have students be individually accountable for their learning. For example, in Student team learning methods...groups are rewarded based on the sum of their members' individual quiz scores or other individual performances. In this way, the group's task is to make sure that everyone has learned the content. No one can be a free rider, and it would be foolish for a group to ignore any of its members.

Another argument against cooperative learning.

Following from the above there is an argument against cooperative or collaborative learning that supposes it causes learning to be lopsided. It assumes that although learning may be far better when a student teaches, it has the drawback, as in the case of many cooperative methods, that the student teacher will only be able to cover some of the curriculum content. However, they ignore the fact that cooperative learners still have the same opportunity to learn the rest of the material, as they would have in a competitive or individualistically oriented class. Also, this is what has to happen in the end anyway. We cannot learn all the same things to the same degree. We always learn some things better than others. Cooperative learning of this sort simply ensures that some of the content will be learned very well, while other material may only be learned as well as in a traditional class.  

Individual rewards and group rewards.

Elsewhere in this site, we have shown that rewarding individuals can be counter productive to learning. One might be tempted to think therefore, that group rewards might also be detrimental. However, from the research done so far, this does not appear to be the case. Perhaps this is because group rewards are not perceived as being controlling or interfering with personal autonomy, in the way individual rewards are.

Individuals, groups and networks.

There are three sorts of social set ups that inform how we learn. There is the situation of individuals working alone and independently and competing with everyone else, there is the situation of teams working together but competing with other teams, and there is the sharing of knowledge where all participants try to help and encourage one another to learn.  

Individual learning.

Individual learning requires no contact and gets no help. This social construct for learning is very familiar, because is the most common, and is certainly the most recognized. It has the advantage of allowing complete mental focus, where one is not disturbed by others. Despite this, it has many disadvantages. Much of this is because it can never be pure. We always need help and encouragement to learn, and when we do not get them we tend to perform badly. Also individual learning automatically leads to competition, which in turn develops a disincentive to help and encourage others.

Collaborative learning.

In collaborative learning you have a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link. Individual effort becomes less and less important as the group is only judged as a team. We have long known that it is difficult to collaborate in or cooperate in large physical groups. A team, that is to work in this way, should never be larger than seven, and it seems that research has found the optimum number for those who wish to work closely together face to face, is about four. In such teams it becomes the responsibility of each member of the team to make sure that all the others in the team have learned whatever each member has learned. Members of the team become mutually inter-dependant while at the same time the teams become competitive with each other. Instead of me against all others, it's us against them. Team learning is just like team sports. Within the team everyone acts to help and support everyone else, but outside the team it's vicious struggle to annihilate the enemy.  

Cooperative learning.

Although cooperative learning can be any form of learning that involves some cooperation, the term 'cooperative learning' has recently taken on the meaning of that learning which involves the best aspects of both individual and collaborative learning. This kind of learning, is not restricted by the kind of formal rules associated with collaborative learning and is therefore much more likely to attract free riders. On the other hand, this kind of learning leaves individuals free to give and take as much information as they desire, especially in the cooperative learning that takes place on the web. There are of course still rules, but such rules are only concerned with dealing with destructive elements, while allowing as much freedom as possible. Despite the lack of organized fairness oversight in web networks, a kind of fairness still develops out of individuals mutually policing each other. Cooperative learning is most effective in discovery type learning where answers are either unknown, complex or subject to opinion and where fixed pat regurgitation is not required. It is now clear that the internet provides a way for large groups of people to cooperate, without the limits of physical face to face communication. Cooperative Learning works well with the creation of new knowledge and where knowledge is in a state of uncertainty or change.      

The Theory of Cooperative Freedom.

This new meaning of cooperative learning is exemplified by the new 'Theory of Cooperative Freedom'. This theory was created by Morten Flate Paulsen to adapt distance learning for use on the web. It can be classified as a theory of autonomy and independence. It was influenced by Knowles’s (1970) theory of andragogy, which asserts that adult learners perceive themselves as self-directing human beings and define themselves in terms of their personal achievements and experiences. The theory of cooperative freedom perceives both adult and juvenile distance learners as motivated, self-directing students with a desire to control their learning outcomes. The theory of cooperative freedom is concerned with freedom from restraints rather than freedom from oppression. It professes that students should have a high level of freedom to choose rather than be restrained by a rigid distance education program. This kind of learning then is outside compulsory learning requirements of traditional education and is for those students who are interested and motivated to learn. With the freedom implied this kind of learning is ultimately student directed.

This theory (Cooperative Freedom Theory) has been implemented in distance education by NKI Distance Education, a non-governmental educational institution based in Norway: the learning partner. This kind of learning has at its core what they call 'learning partners'. Learning partners are online students who help and motivate each other. These partners can communicate online, by phone, email, text messages and they can also meet in person if they like. The idea is that if a student wants cooperation, it should be given to him/her. It has been verified that it will improve students' satisfaction and motivation and make the learning process more appealing and attractive.

The advent of learning partners in online education indicates that online students look for and perhaps need mutually communicating peers in order to supplement their enrollment in a course of learning. In a typical classroom education: we look for peers to share experiences and to learn with. Online students, need some individual freedom in order to respect their own learning pace and to achieve their own goals, but for some students, that will only be possible if they have a partner or partners who are going through the same process, and who are at the same level. This is not an innovative idea in terms of how human beings work, but it is an innovation in terms of online education, one very much appreciated by the students who have tried it.

The six areas of freedom.

This theory asserts that distance learning on the web should include six areas of individual freedom in a balance with inter-group cooperation. They are time, space, pace, medium, access, and content.

Freedom of time and cooperation. In distance education, communication should be both asynchronous and synchronous. In asynchronous communication, the message is stored in the communication medium until the receivers find it convenient to retrieve it. Synchronous communication, on the other hand, allows people to communicate in real time, as they do face-to-face or on the telephone or videoconferencing. Making available a high level of freedom allows students to communicate whenever it is convenient for them. Students may prefer to study during the weekends, after their children have gone to bed, during regular work hours, or whenever they have time available. Ideally, online educational content should be completely independent of time. It should be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This gives instantaneous access to information whenever it is convenient for the user. In addition systems should also provide synchronous communication as well, both between teacher and student, and more importantly between mutually cooperating students (partners). Cooperation between students in a synchronous mode using videoconferencing, cell phone or texting means finding times when they can cooperate to find source material, to tutor one another, to inspire one another, and to obtain serendipitous data correlations in the formation of new and creative ideas.

Freedom of space and cooperation. Distance education may include occasional face-to-face meetings; nevertheless, too many institutions require online students to physically attend exams in a classroom. Distance education programs with a high level of freedom lets students choose where they want to study. Some may want to meet in a classroom with their peers while others prefer to study at home, at work, or wherever a busy life situates them. Online education can be accessed worldwide, wherever there is an Internet connection. For some people and regions, communication costs though are a limiting factor. Although computers tend to be smaller and more mobile as time goes by, textbooks are still more convenient to use on many locations. Cooperation between student partners on the web means they don't need to be in the same place to help each other find source material, tutor one another, inspire one another, or to inadvertently provide each other with serendipitous idea correlations.

Freedom of pace and cooperation. Pacing can be individual or collective. It implies meeting deadlines for starting a course, for examinations, and for assignments. Deadlines, however, can be flexible or rigid. They are flexible when students can set the deadlines, or select one of several deadlines. Some correspondence courses allow individual students to start and finish at any time. Alternatively a course may have multiple starting dates. A high level of freedom allows students to choose the pacing they prefer. If they resent rigid pacing, they should be allowed to spend the time they require to complete a course. Other people would like to choose when to start a course and how fast to progress in it. Wells identifies three pacing techniques. The first is group assignments that urge coherent pacing within groups. The second is gating, a technique that denies students access to information before they have completed all prerequisite assignments. The third technique is limited time access to services such as conferences, databases, and guest speakers. Mixing group communications, between paced and unpaced groups via web communication, may, however, be a pedagogical challenge when students with partners of different levels have to sit exams.

Freedom of medium and cooperation. There are three generations of distance learning. The first generation uses correspondence teaching based on printed and written material. The second is based on broadcast media, such as television and radio, as well as on distribution of video and audiocassettes. The third generation uses computer conferencing systems. Each generation utilizes the media devised in earlier generations. Programs with a high level of freedom provide students with access to several media or sources of information: print, video, face-to-face meetings, computer conferencing, etc. This approach will support different learning styles and prevent exclusion of students lacking access to or knowledge of high technology media. Online education can easily and favorably be supplemented by or be integrated with textbooks, audio and video-conferences, computer-aided instruction, etc. Although online student partner cooperation would normally be provided by audio and video-conferences, computer texting, telephone etc. this can also be augmented by the mutual suggestion of books and video and audio recorded material.

Freedom of access and cooperation. Online distance learning with freedom of access is open learning. This means providing part-time learning opportunities for learners, who operate with a degree of autonomy and self-direction. Such learning can be less restricted, exclusive, and privileged than traditional learning. It can also be flexibly paced, encouraging new relationships between professors and students, and can be willing to credit the value of students' life experiences. In online education, there is no need to restrict enrollment because of physical limitations such as the number of available seats in a classroom. A flexible system can enroll all students who want to study. So, programs that aspire to a high level of freedom must eliminate discrimination on the basis of social class, entry qualifications, gender, age, ethnicity, or occupation. Online education should also be made available to people with disabilities. Students should decide for themselves whether they are capable of pursuing the course of study. Access should be available to students with limited monetary resources. Such learning be provided for a price and also provided free but with without conventional prerequisites for acceptance or accreditation. A major concern for online education is its image as an exclusive medium closed to prospective students lacking access to necessary equipment or knowledge about how to use it. Fortunately, this problem is alleviated year by year as more people learn to use computers at home, school, or work.

It is also fortunate that students a gaining an ever widening access to support groups on the web. These networks such as Facebook, Myspace, newsgroups, forums, Twitter, the virtual worlds of games and blogs all provide data or information that can be converted into knowledge. Exploding onto the world scene these networks provide support for online learning in the form of dialogues including mutually developing interests, mutual help, mutual coaching and serendipitous snippets of ideas. In this way students gain access to an ever widening support group with which they can cooperate in their learning endeavors. Of course most of this mutual learning, one would expect to take place within the group of students studying in the online course, but one would also expect a fair amount of support to be coming from external groups. 

Freedom of content and cooperation. This facet reflects the theories of autonomy and independence. One early example of such freedom was provided by the Electronic University Network, which in 1988 promoted transfer of credits among all its member colleges. A high level of freedom allows students to choose among a range of courses and to transfer credits between programs and universities. The ongoing international harmonization of educational policies supports this freedom on the global level. On the institutional level, freedom of content implies opportunities for individual studies, learning contracts, internships, etc. Online education has the potential to further increase inter-college collaboration. Several programs, perhaps from different colleges, could favorably be offered through a common system. It is to be hoped that such collaboration and systems will provide students with additional course options and easier transfer of credits. It could imply a free flow of virtual mobile students in Europe and across the globe. Student cooperation should likewise be interchangeable between courses so that students from different courses would have an opportunity to communicate, cooperate and mutually support each other in their online learning.

Teacher cooperation.

In online distance learning co-teaching, could provide greater teacher student interaction and cooperation and reduce the response time.

Student cooperation.

Videoconferencing and all the other forms of networks and instant communication of today's world should intermittently connect students of distance learning. This should afford a stream of communication in the form of developing interests, mutual help, mutual coaching and the accumulation of serendipitous correlations and ideas that would be otherwise missed. The world wide web provides a proliferation networks though which this could be accomplished. We now have friendship networks such as Facebook, self advertising networks like Myspace, niche interest newsgroups, more general information forums, text based fast communication as with Twitter, exchanges in the the virtual worlds of games, and the hugely popular online diaries called blogs, all of which are used in the communication of information much of which is relevant to the building of knowledge. This information is at present in a form that is often difficult for determining its validity and importance, but in supporting course work this should not prove to be a problem.

Teamwork & cooperation are skills that need to be practiced.

In school we supposedly learn the skills we need to work and exist in the world beyond school. Does it not stand to reason, that if we are going to need to know how to work as a team in our work life, if we are going to need to know how to cooperate with others in our life outside school, should we not be learning the skills of synergy collaboration and cooperation in the schools? Should we not be learning the skills we are going to have to use in life after school?

Practice is widely misunderstood to mean doing the same thing over and over again, but it is not. By practice we should mean that every time a skill is performed, it is performed a little differently. Sometimes this means it is performed a little worse but often it is performed better, a little more perfectly than before. Each time we are able to see a little more of what we should not do, and a little more of what we should do. We do not perform the same action over and over. Each time we perform a different action, and from those actions we choose better actions. Students should therefore be practicing cooperation and synergy while they are at school. They should be learning how to improve their efforts to cooperate, so that when they arrive in the cooperative teams of work life, they will be prepared and able to function well in those teams.

The human advantage.

Children always understand instinctively that they are stronger in a group than they are alone. Indeed mans mastery of the other animals, from the beginning of time, has been about how he has come together with others of his kind to overcome the other animals. Cooperation, like intelligence has always been our strong point our advantage. If kids do not understand something they will ask the person sitting next to them, or a friend, when they get out in the play yard. When they are preparing for exams, or just studying, they do it in groups. They do this because they can use, and transfer what the others have learned, to be better themselves. Why then do we require children to sit alone? The answer is that we should not require children to sit alone. We should require them to work together. How to do this? The answer is by developing synergic interdependence or cooperative learning.

Instead of competition.

When we stop competing with others we can do some things that are impossible when we are competing. Suddenly we can start to think about how to build on the work of others. We can begin to coordinate our efforts with the efforts of others. We can support the work others are doing. We can stop worrying about how good our work is and concentrate on how good the the work of the group is. We can stop worrying about how well we are doing, and start to think about how to make the others we are working with, look good.

Types of cooperative, collaborative or synergic learning.

There several ways in which students can cooperate in learning. This has been in the past restricted by actual physical space complexity needed needed for face to face communication while cooperating. In the age of the internet and the world wide web all this has changed.
  1. Discovering and sharing. Elsewhere this site has discussed how children could be asked to each learn a part of something and the convey what they have learned to all the other students. In this kind of learning the student is learning how to discover where information is hidden, they are learning the information thoroughly themselves, they are learning to understand the information enough to be able to convey it to others, and the are learning how to communicate it to others in such a way as it will be both interesting and understandable to them. This is another form of learning by teaching. The result is that everybody learns everything and yet the official teacher has very little of what we would normally call teaching to do. This kind of cooperative learning is typified by the original 'Jigsaw' method discussed below.

  2. Team Projects. The simplest type of cooperative learning is, in setting something to be learned as a project, and letting the students each learn the parts of it that they wish to, or do the bits of it they wish to, or which are proscribed by the teacher. If the finished project needs to result in some finished product, such as a painting or an essay, then it may need someone to understand the various parts and how they fit together, and to bring the final product together in a unified style. The ancient frescos were mostly painted by whole schools of artists, who each drew or painted a part of the whole work. But the master would block out the the whole painting, and at the end he would bring the bits together by overlaying a consistent style. In movies, the director performs much the same job, but with considerably more people. In learning for a project, there may have to be someone to block out the project, and there may have to be someone to bring it together into a unified work that flows together and makes sense.

    This allows for much more diverse and useful learning where the students are learning quite different things. Some students might be learning very specific and specialist information. Some may be learning how to learn. Some others may be learning how to hold large theoretical frameworks together in their heads. Some others might be learning how to fit the various bits together so they flow and make sense. Some others might be learning about the aesthetics of design and how the work feels as a whole. Still others might be learning the best way to express what is needed for it to be understandable to others beyond the group. This is type of cooperative learning is typified by the 'group investigation' method discussed below.

  3. Cross pollination. Ideally it would be better for students to be following their own interests, while at the same time trying to interest others in what they are doing or learning. Here the idea is for students to be there to help each other with what they need to do or find out and yet be each working on different projects or trains of discovery. These days R&D groups in big companies and think tanks are often made up of people from very diverse backgrounds and from very different fields of knowledge.

    The idea is, that people from different disciplines have different perspectives, work habits and knowledge that may be useful to each other, if only they could be exposed to it. In other words, the chaos formed from bringing very divergent ideas together can be very creative, and can bring about very big changes in a field of study, or even the creation of a new field of study. Most advances are made where one field of study interfaces with another, and usually the more ludicrous the interface the better. In his book "The Medici Effect" Frans Johansson gives many great examples of this, where for instance, a chance meeting between an engineer designing truck routs and an ecologist studying social insect behavior resulted in the new science of called swarm intelligence. While this sort of individuality of learning is not currently possible in a school situation, cooperation methods used in schools do emphasize creating a good balanced mix of girls and boys and various ethnic groups.

Specific types of cooperative methods that have been found to work well in classrooms.

Cooperative/collaborative learning is an approach to organizing classroom activities into academic and social learning experiences. Students should work in groups to accomplish two goals collectively. These two goals are personal success in learning and group success in learning. These learning experiences are structured so that each student succeeds when the group succeeds. While there are other types of cooperative programs, the ones below are the main methods currently accepted in schools in the USA. The descriptions of these programs are mostly taken from "Cooperative Learning" by Robert Slavin:
  1. Student Teams-Achievement Divisions. "In STAD, students are assigned to four-member learning teams that are mixed in performance level, gender, and ethnicity. The teacher presents a lesson, and then students work within the teams to make sure all team members have mastered the lesson. Then all students take individual quizzes on the material, at which time they may not help one another. Students' quiz scores are compared to their own past averages, and points are awarded to each team based on the degree to which students meet or exceed their own earlier performances. These points are then are then added to form team scores, and teams that meet certain criteria may earn certificates or other rewards. The whole cycle of activities, including teacher presentation, team practice, and quiz, usually takes 3-5 class periods."

  2. Teams-Games-Tournaments. "Teams-Games-Tournaments, ...uses the same teacher presentations and team work as in STAD, but replaces the quizzes with weekly tournaments, in which the students play academic games with members of the other teams to contribute points to their team scores. Students play the games at three-person 'tournament tables' with others with similar past records in mathematics. A 'bumping' procedure keeps the games fair. The top scorer at each tournament table brings sixty points to his or her team, regardless of which table it is; this means that low achievers (playing with other low achievers) and high achievers (playing with other high achievers) have equal opportunities for success. As in STAD high-performing teams earn certificates or other forms of team rewards. ...Teammates help one another prepare for the the games by studying worksheets and explaining problems to one another, but when students are playing the games their teammates cannot help them, ensuring individual accountability."  

  3. Jigsaw I & II. "Jigsaw [II] technique... In it students work in the same four-member, heterogeneous teams as in STAD and TGT. The students are assigned chapters, short books, or other materials to read, usually social studies, biographies, or other expository material. Each team member is randomly assigned to become an 'expert' in some aspect of the reading assignment. For example in a unit on Mexico, one student on each team might become an expert on history, another on economics, a third on geography, and a fourth on culture. After reading the material, experts from different teams meet to discuss their common topics, and then they return to teach their topics to their teammates. Finally there is a quiz or other assessment on all topics. Scoring and team recognition based on improvement are the same as in STAD.

    In the original jigsaw, students read sections different from those read by their teammates. This has the benefit of making the experts possessors of unique information, and thus makes the teams value each member's contribution more highly. For example, in the unit on Chile, one student might have information on Chile's economy, another on its geography, a third its history, and so forth. To know all about Chile, students must rely on their teammates. Original Jigsaw also takes less time than jigsaw II; its readings are shorter, only part of the total unit to be studied. The most difficult part of original Jigsaw is that each section must be written so it is comprehensible by itself. Existing materials cannot be used, in contrast to Jigsaw II: books can rarely be divided neatly into sections that make sense without the other sections."

  4. Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC). "CIRC is a comprehensive program for teaching reading and writing in the upper elementary and middle grades... In CIRC teachers use novels or basal readers. They may or may not use reading groups, as in traditional reading classes. Students are assigned to teams composed of pairs of students from two or more different reading levels. Students work in pairs within their teams on a series of cognitively engaging activities, including reading to one another making predictions about how about how narrative stories will be resolved, summarizing stories to one another, writing responses to stories, and practicing spelling, decoding and vocabulary. Students also work in their teams to master main idea and other comprehension skills. During language arts periods, students engage in a writer's workshop, writing drafts, revising and editing one another's work, and preparing for publication of team or class books.

    In most CIRC activities, students follow a sequence of teacher instruction, team practice, team per-assessments, and quiz. Students do not take the quiz until their teammates have determined they are ready. Team rewards and certificates are given to teams based on the average performance of all team members on all reading and writing activities. Because students work on materials appropriate to their reading levels, they have equal opportunities for success. Students' contributions to their teams are based on their quiz scores and independently written compositions, which ensures individual accountability.         

  5. Learning Together. [The Learning together] "...methods are similar to STAD in that they use heterogeneous learning groups and emphasize positive interdependence and individual accountability. However, they also highlight team building and group self-assessment, and recommend team grades rather than certificates or other recognition. [They] have also developed and researched methods for engaging students in 'cooperative controversy.' Students in four-member groups are given study materials on a controversial issue, such as whether the hunting of wolves should be permitted in northern Minnesota. Two group members take one side of an issue and two take the other. Then they switch roles and argue the opposite side. Finally the whole group comes to a consensus."  

  6. Team Accelerated Instruction. "Team Accelerated Instruction...shares with STAD and TGT the use of four member mixed ability learning teams and certificates for high-performance teams. However, STAD and TGT use a single pace of instruction for the class, where TAI combines cooperative learning with individual instruction. Also, STAD and TGT apply to most subjects and grade levels, but TAI is specifically designed to teach mathematics to students in grades 3-6 ( or older students not ready for a full algebra course). In TAI, students enter an individualized sequence according to a placement test and then proceed at their own rates. In general, members of a team work on different units. Teammates check each other's work using answer sheets and help one another with any problems. Final unit tests are taken without teammate help and are scored by student monitors. Each week, teachers total the number of units completed by all team members and give certificates or other team rewards to teams that exceed a criterion score based on the number of of final tests passed, with extra points for perfect papers and completed homework."

  7. Complex Instruction. The most widely used form of this approach is a program called Finding Out/Descubrimiento, a discovery-oriented elementary school science program... This method used particularly in bilingual classes, involves students in small groups, hands-on science activities directed toward the discovery of important scientific principals. Students may work together on experiments to derive principles of magnetism, sound light, and so on. Materials for Finding Out/Descubrimiento are available in English and Spanish, so that monolinguals and bilingual students can work together cooperatively. In addition to learning science, students in Finding Out/Descubrimiento apply mathematical skills in real life situations and engage in focused discussions that help develop English skills for limited-English-speaking children. ...Projects in Complex Instruction require a wide variety of roles and skills, and teachers point out how every student is good at something that helps the group succeed." 

  8. Group Investigation. "Group Investigation is appropriate for integrated study projects that deal with the acquisition, analysis, and synthesis of information in order to solve a multi-faceted problem. Group Investigation...is a general classroom organizational plan in which students work in small groups using cooperative inquiry, group discussion, cooperative planning and projects... In this method, students form their own two-to-six-member groups. The groups choose topics from a unit being studied by the entire class, break these topics into individual tasks and carry out the activities necessary to prepare group reports. Each group then presents or displays its findings to the entire class.

    ...As part of the investigation the students seek information from a variety of sources inside and outside of the classroom. Such sources (books, institutions, people) offer a range of ideas, opinions, data, solutions, or positions regarding the problem being studied. The students then evaluate and synthesize the information contributed by each group member in order to produce a group product. ...Central to Group Investigation is students' cooperative planning of their inquiry. Group members take part in planning the various dimensions and requirements of their project. Together they determine what they want to investigate in order to 'solve' their problem; which resources they require; who will do what; and how they will present the project to the class. Usually there is division of labor in the group that enhances positive interdependence among members."

  9. Structured Dyads, Reciprocal Peer Tutoring, Class Wide Peer Tutoring (RPT) (CWPT). "While most cooperative learning methods involve groups of about four members who have considerable freedom in deciding how they will work together, there is an increasing body of research on highly structured methods in which pairs of students teach each other. There is a long tradition of laboratory research showing how scripted pair learning, in which students take turns as teacher and learner to learn procedures or extract information from text, can be very effective in increasing student learning... Pair learning strategies have also been used over longer time periods in classrooms.

    One method, called Class Wide Peer Tutoring..., has peer tutors follow a simple study procedure. Tutors present problems to their tutees. If they respond correctly the tutees earn points. If not the tutors provide the the answer and the tutee must write the answer three times, reread a sentence correctly, or otherwise correct their error. Every ten minutes the tutees switch roles. Dyads earning the most points are recognized in class each day. A similar method, Reciprocal Peer Tutoring...also alternates tutor and tutee roles within the dyads, but gives tutors specific prompts and alternative problems if tutees make errors."

Better methods. We can see from this, that different methods have been adapted to take advantage of different aspects of group cooperation. Some work better than others, but all work better than traditional teaching methods. They provide better feelings of accomplishment, better motivation, better enjoyment, better recall, better understanding and overall better academic achievement.

Teaching as learning.

Teaching as unfinished learning.

Teachers should not go into the business of teaching thinking they know how to teach. There are so many things they could learn, but probably do not, as they get their teaching degree. For the most part they seem only to learn that they have to read or interpret information in books, which they impart in the form of lectures. The students are supposed to listen understand and transcribe. The end. However, it is fairly likely that teachers could be be taught as part of their teaching degree how to do many of the things that would impact favorably on their ability to teach when they begin. They could learn how to praise effort and criticize effort instead of praising and criticizing people. They could learn about informational feedback as opposed to non informational praise and criticism. They could learn about how to create and sustain interest. They could learn how to instill confidence in the student's ability to learn. They could learn how to encourage logic, reasoning and and a critical eye in their students.

Regardless of how much or how little teachers learn about how to truly teach while obtaining their teaching degree, this is only the beginning, of what should be a career of continually improving how they teach. Everything that subsequently happens to their students is feedback about how good their teaching has been. In order to assess how effective they are being in fostering learning, teachers should be willing to look at this feedback and consider how they may change their strategies in order to be more effective in this regard. A teaching degree however informative is nothing but the first step.

The obstacles that prevent self evaluation of teaching effectiveness.

What obstacles stand in the way of such activity?


The first obstacle is the idea that what is learned in obtaining a teaching degree is somehow all that one needs to know in order to teach and that no improvement can or should be made to supplement this. This kind of teaching craft usually embraces the idea that knowledge is transmitted as if teaching were simply telling, and that understanding was simply memorizing.


The second obstacle is the idea of the magic wand. Many teachers think that if they could only learn the secret, they would become a good teacher. Ken Bain puts it like this: "Perhaps the second biggest obstacle is the simplistic notion that good teaching is is just a matter of technique. People who entertain that idea have expected this book to provide them with a few simple tricks that they can apply in their own classrooms."


The third and biggest obstacle is the idea held by many that great teachers are born not made. In his book "What the Best College Teachers do" Ken Bain has a lot to say about this as follows:

"Perhaps the biggest obstacle we face is the notion that teaching ability is somehow implanted at birth and there is little we can do to change whether we have it or not. Our subjects struggled to learn how to create the best learning environments. When they failed to reach students, they used those failures to gain additional insights. Most important, because they subscribed to the learning rather than the transmission model of teaching, they realized that they had to think about ways to understand students' learning. That might include attention to how they explained something, but it always focused more broadly on a rich internal conversation: What do I mean by learning? How can I foster it? How can my students and I best understand and recognize its progress (and setbacks)?

Carol Dweck's work can apply here. Remember that she found that people who believe intelligence is fixed often develop a sense of helplessness, while those that believe that it is expandable with hard work are more likely to succeed. Professors who believe that teaching is primarily transmitting knowledge may think that success depends on fixed personality traits over which they have little control ('some people are born good lecturers, but I'm not'). Because others - like the people we studied - conceive of teaching as fostering learning, they believe that if they understand their students and the nature and processes of learning better, they can create more successful environments."

Perhaps it would be a good idea, if only those who have some of the attributes of a growth mindset were able to be teachers, or at least only those others who are struggling towards an incremental self-theory. It can safely be said, that such people, would be better teachers.

Teacher eminence.

Elsewhere in this site it is pointed out that any kind of eminence in any field of study be it sporting, writing code, or let us say teaching, only appears to be produced after 10,000 hours of incremental improvement. Now this does not mean quite the same as, what is meant when we say a person has practiced teaching for 10,000 hours. The word 'practiced' can simply mean that the person has taught for 10,000 hours. What this site would require of teachers is that they actively try to improve how they teach, every time they teach, in much the same way a professional athlete, or a professional chess player, would try to improve their game.    

Teacher evaluation by administrative bodies. Administrative bodies that run districts and schools, of course, evaluate teachers on very simple criteria, such as their student's exam passes, or how many of their students manage to be in the top percentages. This is rather limited feedback, which while it certainly might indicate what teachers are doing right, but tells very little about what they are doing wrong. Teachers that come to rely on such feedback, will never become great teachers.  Remember, there are always three other places you can go for feedback. These are self criticism, peer criticism, most importantly student criticism.

How teachers could evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching.

There is a yard stick that teachers could use to evaluate their own effectiveness. What is provided below, is not an exhaustive list of what teachers should ask themselves about their teaching, but it is a good start.
  1. Does the teaching I am doing harm the students ability to learn? If so how can I change my method of teaching so that it does no harm?

  2. Does it allow students to understand what they have learned, in so far as they could make use of it in a practical manner?

  3. Does it provide an opportunity to understand the creation of knowledge? Does it allow the student to get into the head of those who invented what is being taught? Does it allow them to understand how knowledge comes into being, as a response to problems or anomalies in current theory or thinking? Does it allow them to grapple with those problem themselves, to look at alternative theories, to think through the logic? Does it allow them to understand that the people who thought these things up where mere humans like them, and not gods writing in letters of fire? 

  4. Does it help students to develop confidence that they can learn?

  5. Does it provide help to students in building on and maintaining interests that they have already developed?

  6. Does it strengthen students so they can learn from failure and immunize them against fear of failure?

  7. Does it involve criticism of students in such a way that it conveys information, especially about effort and strategy, rather than criticism of the student?  

  8. Does it foster the development of new interests? Does it inspire intellectual contagion?

  9. Does it probe student's understandings, confusions, misconceptions, and ignorance so as to allow you to connect with what they know?

  10. Does it allow the students to have as wide a choice as is possible, in what they learn?

  11. Does it provide meta knowledge that assures that students are learning how to learn, even as they are learning?

  12. Does it allow students to be immersed in the possibilities of the future, so they may become prepared for how their knowledge might be applied in the future?

  13. Does it reach out to students through as many mediums and senses as is possible, to make the information more connectable?

  14. Does it allow students to get their hands dirty? Does it allow them to do as much as possible and so make the information connectable in their brains?

The good teacher is an unfinished learner.

The good teacher never considers him or herself a good teacher, and this is sort of true. They realize that, what they have learned, is how to reach a particular kind of student, the ones they are currently dealing with, or have been dealing with up to the present. If you gave them a different group of students they might not be able to reach them at all. However, the really good teachers are very adaptable, and never consider that they have finished learning how to teach. They are always finding ways to reach that extra student that didn't quite make the effort necessary. Bain puts it like this: "Part of being a good teacher (not all) is knowing that you always have something new to learn - not so much about teaching techniques but about these particular students at this particular time and their particular sets of aspirations, confusions, misconceptions, and ignorance." 

Teaching while seeing through the eyes of the student.

While our inner models of reality can be similar they are never the same, so teaching must firstly be about trying to simulate the students perception of what is being exposed, and trying to see those theories through their eyes. To do this the teacher must become a learner. He must put himself in the learner's shoes. In this way the teacher learns about how the student thinks and understands the world. When a teacher does this well, he/she is able to view the world from the point of view of the student. When a teacher does this he/she also learns about himself/herself by being able to see himself/herself from another point of view, and strangely enough, he/she will also gain a better understanding of what he/she is teaching. By finding how to make connections to ideas for others, the teacher will incidentally find new inner connections and greater integration of the theories in his own personal map of reality. These will become richer and more prolific. These ideas become better understood, better organized, and more easily brought to mind, as time goes bye. Teachers who do not learn as they teach are not really teaching. They are assuming something which is completely untrue, that the student's personal maps of reality, are a perfect duplicate of their own.

The evaluation of teachers by their students.

Nobody is better placed to rate teachers than students. You might even say students are there to teach their teachers how best to teach them. In his book "What the Best College Teachers do" Ken Bain has a lot to say about this as follows:

"Student ratings.

...if you ask students the right questions, their answers can help you evaluate the quality of teaching. We reached that conclusion after looking both at the research on and our subjects' use of student ratings. From this research we know, for example, that if you ask students something like, 'Rate your learning in this course,' their responses usually have a high correlation with with independent measures of their learning. Behind that finding, however, there has always lurked the possibility that students might not have acceptable notions of what counts as good learning. What would happen, for example, if students expected simply to memorize a lot of facts, while the professor wanted them to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate? Would they give the teacher low scores, and if they did, what value would such ratings have? Conversely couldn't they theoretically give superior marks to instructors who demanded only recall? Noel Entwistle and Hillary Tait, two Scottish researchers, became interested in those questions and found that different kinds of learners might give the same experience conflicting ratings. Deep learners said they liked courses that pushed them to explore conceptual meanings and implications, [challenged them] whereas their classmates who were surface learners hated such experiences. Students who thought learning meant memorization praised courses that valued recall while those who expected to reason on a higher level reported that they didn't learn much.

Some teachers believe that those findings discredit student ratings, but in general our subjects saw it differently. One professor put it this way, 'If my students are satisfied with learning trivia and they tell the world I do a good job helping them learn, that's a compliment I'd just as soon forgo.' Yet he and others could not dismiss the opposite results. 'I have some students,' he reported, 'who come into my class thinking that all they have to do is memorize and regurgitate. The class frustrates them at first because I'm asking them to understand and reason. In the end if they give me low marks, it's because I've failed to affect their concepts of what it means to learn my discipline.' The ratings point to a real weakness in the course - the failure to reach students educationally and help them understand the nature of the learning expected of them - not just the capricious nature of student's opinions.

Other kinds of questions also mattered to these teachers. 'If I' want to know whether I've challenged my students intellectually or stimulated their interest,' one professor told us, 'what better way than to ask them.' What mattered most, however, was not the class averages but what percentage of the class these teachers reached 'educationally'. Did they score an average of 3.8 on a 6 point scale because most of the responses clustered in the middle, or because most students gave them high marks while a few others put them at the bottom? Why didn't they reach those disgruntled students? How could they improve their efforts? Could they be satisfied with reaching most students while displeasing others?"

Peer ratings.

Peer ratings of teaches' teaching methods can likewise be invaluable in improving any teacher's teaching method. Like student ratings, however, the ratings of other teachers cannot be taken at face value, but rather must be seen as tools one can use in your efforts to self evaluate. Obviously, if teachers were to evaluate other teacher's work using the criteria or the yardstick proposed above, they would likely provide ratings that would be immediately useful as an assessment of a teacher's method of teaching. This unfortunately is not likely to be the case. Thus, information about the teacher making the assessment would be necessary in evaluating such an assessment's value and prejudices. Obviously, ratings of other teachers who's judgment you trust to use good criteria could be more useful immediately, as would the ratings of teachers, who although unknown to you, nevertheless consider much of our yardstick in making such evaluations.

Students teaching teachers.

In the new world of the internet, it is the students that are masters of the medium. If teachers are to become fluent in the use of computers and the internet (so they do not become technologically out of touch) they will have to be willing to ask students for help and instruction. The cartoon below points out how funny it would be if students taught teachers, the way teachers in traditional schools still teach them.

Teach while you learn.

Teaching and learning are not mutually exclusive acts. They are in fact a symbiotic relationship that is reversible at any moment. While you are learning, be it at school or elsewhere, you should also be teaching what you learn. You should do this, not only because it serves a higher purpose if you do, but also because you will learn better and more fully if you do.

Mutual teaching and learning.

Teaching and learning may be performed simultaneously as a mutually cooperative act. There is a great deal of research that points to the possibility that this may be the the most efficient and pleasant way to learn.

Learn while you teach. It is physically impossible for teachers to become great teachers, if they are unwilling to continue learning while they are teaching. Indeed, becoming great at anything requires constant improvement, which by definition requires constant learning. 

Life long learning.

A life of teaching can also be a life of learning, if you allow the one to fertilize the other. Learning throughout your life, also implies an obligation to pass that information on. Part of the importance of lifelong learning, is not just that you are continually gaining more knowledge. Perhaps the most important aspect of learning throughout life, is that you acting as a conduit to either pass on that information or use that information to help humanity in some way. Every person can be a part of a vast network that creates knowledge, uses knowledge and passes that knowledge on to others. If the knowledge stops at you, you are but a parasite on this network.

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