Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Talk (and make) and Learn

Social learning, we all do it all the time. I belong to a quilt guild. I have often attended classes about quilting with others in the guild. Let me tell you, we are not silent. We talk about what we are doing, what we are confused about and often quite loudly about what we finally understand. This is social learning, and in particular social constructionism. One of the statements made by Michael Orey in his discussion of social learning theories is that as a Math teacher he understood much better what he was teaching after he taught it (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). I remember vividly teaching eighth grade students about number systems other than base ten and having an epiphany. I finally understood clearly what one-zero means in base two , and it was so obvious. I learned because I talked about it. I had to think about it so I could talk about it; elaborative learning right there in the classroom. Unfortunately at the time, the students were not allowed to talk to each other about what the understood, or try to figure out together what new concepts meant. 

Cooperative learning strategies not only allow students to talk about what they are learning, they require students to talk and work together. Strategies that group students for longer projects so they can develop trusting relationships are powerful ways to learn and can increase student achievement. Students ideally will become accountable to each other and will be held accountable individually. They will work long enough together that they will develop a "sink or swim together" (positive interdependence) attitude (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012) and so succeed together. Giving assignments that require more than one person to complete, that are complex enough to need multiple roles and multiple days to finish all provide the students the opportunity to learn and produce cooperatively so they can succeed in the work world once they are finished with school (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn). 

The social aspect of Edmodo, which allows students to communicate outside of school hours about assignments or work, supports social learning. Blogging when it becomes a conversation rather than a journal and is truly interactive, can be a social learning tool. Polleverywhere can also be used as a social learning tool when the questions are open ended rather than multiple choice or true false. If used in a classroom setting where students can see real time what their classmates are saying it can allow introverted students the time they need to process before sharing. It also can lead to discussions where students ask questions, agree or disagree and tell why. A class discussion can be a social learning strategy, as long as it requires students to think deeply about the topic under discussion. These discussion can take place in person, or online using technology such as VoiceThread and an evocative picture or topic. If we can get students to connect to each other and develop serious learning communities, and can provide rich educational environments that encourage deep learning, then our schools will again be the finest in the world.

I created a sample VoiceThread that I could use with a class to introduce a project. I used American Sign Language (ASL) to make my comments, as well as written English. This would support student comprehension of the task as well as provide practice in reading English. The first two slides are meant to get the students thinking about the problem before the problem itself is introduced. I would require students to make comments, either in written English or ASL on the first two slides, and if they wanted to on the last slide. If you want to see the VoiceThread you can click here


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. 2nd edition Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your statement that there needs to be purpose for the group work, by giving the students something that they actually need other people to complete the task. All too often, it seems that teachers just put students in groups and call it "Cooperative Learning". There is value in students doing an individual task side-by-side (mostly because they can help each other), but creating activities that are truly inter-dependent can be so much more powerful. The problem, of course, is that these types of activities are difficult to create.