Teaching is learning is
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.
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.
Contributions to Cooperation in
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.
and psychologists in the 1930s and 40’s such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin,
and Morton Deutsh also influenced the cooperative learning theory
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).
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.
contribution to cooperative learning was positive social
interdependence, the idea that the student is responsible for
contributing to group knowledge.
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
Learning as teaching may be considered from the
perspective of how much a student can learn by teaching other students.
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.
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
Preparation for teaching as
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.
teaching as a way of accessing learning.
Ways to Change the World" produced by the Global Ideas Bank the
following idea was was suggested by Kaleigh Gerity:
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.
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.
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
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
is a cooperative act.
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.
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 not Win Lose.
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.
wisdom of cooperation.
their book "Cooperation in the Classroom" Johnson Johnson and Johnson
point out normalcy and social strength of cooperation:
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
The current need for teamwork &
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:
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
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
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
"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
"...there is a growing body
of evidence to suggest that a combination of group rewards and strategy
training produces better outcomes than either
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.
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
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."
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:
Better integration of the mentally and
"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.
more expected benefit of cooperative learning is a general improvement
in the self-esteem of those students taking part. Slavin reports as
"...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
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."
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:
Pro academic peer norms.
"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
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:
Greater feelings of autonomy and internal
locus of control.
"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
helping of others in collaboration is actually very enjoyable, because
it is satisfying a need at the highest level, what Maslow calls a meta
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:
Enjoyment of learning.
"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..."
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.
Better, faster more efficient learning.
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.
Better memory due to greater elaboration
his book "Cooperative Learning" Robert E. Slavin provides the following:
Better understanding of information due
to greater elaboration.
"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."
their book "Cooperation in the Classroom" Johnson Johnson and Johnson
declare that learning cooperatively provides greater psychological
health. They say:
Better psychological health.
"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
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."
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
A reduction in the tendency to violence
pitfalls of cooperative learning.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
In online distance learning co-teaching, could provide greater teacher
student interaction and cooperation and reduce the response time.
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
& 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
[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.
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."
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."
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
"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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
it allow students to understand what they have learned, in so far as
they could make use of it in a practical manner?
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
it help students to develop confidence that they can learn?
it provide help to students in building on and maintaining interests
that they have already developed?
it strengthen students so they can learn from failure and immunize them
against fear of failure?
it involve criticism of students in such a way that it conveys
information, especially about effort and strategy, rather than
criticism of the student?
it foster the development of new interests? Does it inspire
it probe student's understandings, confusions, misconceptions, and
ignorance so as to allow you to connect with what they know?
it allow the students to have as wide a choice as is possible, in what
it provide meta knowledge that assures that students are learning how
to learn, even as they are learning?
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
it reach out to students through as many mediums and senses as is
possible, to make the information more connectable?
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
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."
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:
...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 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.
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
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