For years, I thought I was doing my best, getting students to work together on projects, in class, and during activities. What I thought was collaboration, fostering better engagement, was actually ‘group work’ where students were allowed to slip through the cracks within their groups. As mentioned in previous posts, I attended the GLACIE conference last year in Toronto and Dr. Vern Minor from Kagan opened my eyes in the Advanced Cooperative Learning session. Engagement looks and sounds so different then students simply working in groups or sitting in rows with their eyes at the front (Though there is a place and time for these). Structure ends up being the most important aspect of your classroom activities.
So what does structure really mean?
Structure refers to many things. Examples include, assigning roles for every member of the group, timing activities, setting individual tasks where sharing is required with others around them, setting specific goals and expectations. By following intentional structuring of lessons and activities, engagement increases, and therefore overall achievement follows.
Kagan, refers to 4 major categories to ensure engagement in your class, referred hereon as PIES
- Positive Interdependence – Students depend on each other, in a positive manner, to complete a task.
- Individual Accountability – Probably the most important aspect of engagement. This requires students to carry out specific roles, and due to the interdependence mentioned above, holds them accountable to produce and be engaged.
- Equal Participation – time spent interacting is congruent across the group. Students share the load.
- Simultaneous Interaction – Students are all ‘doing’ something. This does not mean, all talking, but rather taking turns listening, recording, talking, or analyzing.
More recently, I am in a co-teaching role at my school. Together, we try to plan our units to incorporate the engagement philosophy of PIES and have been seeing some success in the co-operative and collaborative learning models. In the grade 9 ecosystems unit, we used a UBD (Understanding By Design) format to encourage collaboration and engagement in the unit. The students built and monitored terrariums for the course of the unit. Each pair tested a human impact variable (such as road salt) and the other pair tested the same type of variable but in different concentrations (such as organic road salt). Students were accountable daily to observe and record changes in their terrarium. They all had a role, were accountable, and therefore engaged in science in a meaningful and enthusiastic way.
Whenever I need to remind myself about bettering my teaching I often think of the TED Talk by Ken Robinson. In particular the part where he discusses the difference between learning and achieving, “You can be engaged in the activity of something, but not really be achieving it. It’s like dieting…the role of a teacher is to facilitate learning, that’s it.”
I have worked collaboratively with two separate groups of people this past year. One, on a professional development front to share learning from GLACIE (GLACIE Prezi) and the other during my Honours Specialist in Biology this past summer on Cooperative Learning in Biology. Follow the links, if you are interested, to see the research and presentations (via the online presentation software, Prezi) that we put together regarding cooperative, collaborative, and engaged learning.
Remember, if something seems like more work, it could mean that you are innovating. But….never forget the old saying, work smarter not harder.