James

The Cart Before the Cooperative Learning Horse?

In Change, Learning on July 30, 2007 at 1:52 am

My 8 yr. old son has his 9 yr. old cousin visiting for a few weeks. Yesterday that sat down together to play Lego StarWars on our computer. My son has enjoyed playing the game over the past year, but his interest has steadily decreased as he was not able to progress to successive levels. I think his increased frustration led to decreased motivation. Sound familiar? Does this happen in the classroom? Anyway, he and his cousin sat down to play it together – 4 hands on the keyboard, each controlling a different character. Well,… in a few minutes there were choruses of vicory and pure joy as they had progressed one, then two levels. By the end of their alotted time they had progressed 3 levels beyond what my son alone has been able to complete. The problem-solving and negotiation going on between the two was amazing. This morning they wanted to get right back into the game, but I held them back and made them wait until later in the day, as I do think that children need help and guidance into leading a balanced and healthy life. The point is that what they were able to achieve collaboratively was way beyond what they could achieve individually. It makes me think of all of the contrived cooperative learning that I have seen (and sometimes initiated myself). We sometimes structure these cooperative learning activities that are “forced” and collaboration is not the natural socially mediated learning experience that it could be. As in this example that I share here, how richer and more motivating learning can be when collaboration rises out of the need to progress, to move on to the next level, to feel success, to break that learning barrier… Authentic learning opportunities often have this element and are certainly required in the workplace. I don’t think that new technologies make this concept any more relevant, but they do offer a ton of new ways to collaborate and to solve problems. Our challenge I think is to first help teachers value authentic cooperative/collaborative learning and give them the tools that they need to set up those types of learning experiences. Then we can share with them the many new tools that they can use to make it happen successfully and in a relevant manner for their students. My fear is that the continual onslaught of new tools that seemingly come out each day may distract us from building/maintaining such firm instructional foundations. How much do we need to “keep up” when it comes to technology? How much “keeping up” are we doing with learning theory and pedagogy? How do we keep that balance.So many questions… Any answers?

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