“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”
This African proverb can perfectly applies to the learning process, as shown on the learning pyramid developed by the National Training Laboratory, whose studies suggest that most students remember 10% of what they read from textbooks, but retain nearly 90% of what they learn through teaching others!
In Collaborative Learning, from Cornell University, we have the confirmation that students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems will lead to deeper learning, and to higher-level thinking, better oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
Promoting this kind of learning in the classroom, and encouraging the active interaction, and not only between students, but also between students and the teacher, who then becomes facilitator, collaborator and co-learner, is absolutely necessary. The old-fashioned ex-cathedra professor model needs to fly through the window. And fast.
Project Zero from Harvard University is a research center founded in 1967 that explores topics in education such as deep thinking, understanding, intelligence, creativity, and ethics. They designed Thinking Routines that have the great advantage to be practical and easy to remember. These routines will also support collaborative thinking.
Facilitating a structured learning activity
I decided to work with a grade 7 class, the youngest of our Middle Schoolers, as these students are either new to the school or to this building, as a nice way for me to start working with this group. Their science’s current unit is about the Scientific Method, and I was able to work with one of the teachers to develop an activity linked to their course content.
SCIENCE Grade 7 – How to reinforce the thought process and vocabulary of the experimental design
As students had already been exposed to the concepts of Independent Variables (IV), Dependent Variables (DV), and Constants, the objective was for them to think on how the experiment presented to them on paper would develop, and after identifying the IV, DV, and Constants, how to write precisely the hypothesis and the experiment title.
Working in groups, the goal was to brainstorm and test solutions together, in order to obtain the most precise result, using specific vocabulary.
After being introduced to the activity, and its topic, students were divided into four groups, spreading outside the classroom to be able to work together while social distancing.
In each group, one student was identified as the recorder **. The science teacher and I went from group to group, listening to the conversations, asking a question to help them be more specific, if needed.
** Looking at the picture, something strikes me now: on the 3rd picture, the recorder should have turned his desk. It is so obvious, but it didn’t click then. A lesson to be learned for me, for sure.
The last step of this activity was to look together at the four different results, and discuss them; for example, one group had a unique and creative answer for the constants (pesticides). When everyone agreed, the final document was completed.
The students will be exposed to a few more similar scenarios during the next ten days, in preparation for a unit test. Being able to process together the thinking sequence and helping each other to find the most appropriate words definitely help them.