Building a Learning Community in the Primary Classroom

Building a Learning Community in the Primary Classroom

Building a Learning Community in the Primary Classroom

Building a Learning Community in the Primary Classroom

Synopsis

The introduction of co-operative learning creates the environment for the development of a learning community in the classroom. This approach demands a reappraisal of the way teaching and learning is organized, with a shift in the relations between teachers and pupils. Co-operative learning is a well researched instructional strategy with a long history in the US, Canada, and Europe. Major benefits have been identified in relation to higher achievement and greater productivity, more positive relationships and greater psychological health, and social competence and self-esteem. Interest in this approach to organizing learning and teaching has begun to build in Scotland in recent years, with a number of local authorities interested in exploring its possibilities. The introduction of Scotland's A Curriculum for Excellence has provided a focus on innovative approaches to learning, enabling young people to develop their capacities as confident individuals, successful learners, responsible citizens, and effective contributors to society. Equally important has been the introduction of high profile support for formative assessment practices, through the Scottish Assessment is for Learning program, which highlights the changing role of the teacher and the teacher's relationship with the children in the classroom. However the transformation required to build a real learning community in the classroom is more than just a change in instructional strategies. For many teachers, it is a change of philosophy. This book explores that crucial personal dimension of putting policy into practice.

Excerpt

In this book I argue that the most effective way to organise learning in the primary classroom is through the creation of a learning community. Cooperative learning is proposed as the best vehicle for creating this collaborative environment and, therefore, should be at the core of a teacher’s repertoire of teaching skills. A learning community does not just ‘happen’: it has to be consciously and consistently developed and nurtured by the teacher, through the use of specific strategies to promote collaboration and participation.

In Chapter 2, the case is made for co-operative, interactive learning using the sound theoretical and research base to be found in the literature. For some teachers, this will be the chapter they find least attractive. Much has been written about teachers and their relationship with theory: I want to lay my cards on the table. I believe my own practice over the past five years has improved considerably as result of research into co-operative learning and formative assessment. The evidence is very persuasive and has provided me with an informed rationale for my practice. Practical training and ongoing discussion and reflection with colleagues has also been influential. In our work with postgraduate student teachers at the University of Glasgow, we need to persuade students that the approaches we are advocating are valid: the research provides that rationale. Teachers may also want to be in a position to justify their choice of teaching methods and there is no better source than the literature in the field. I urge teachers to read this chapter, even if they come back to it after they have read the other chapters.

Chapter 3 addresses the crucial importance of the teacher’s mindset in determining commitment to a particular way of teaching. Teachers need to be convinced of its value and its benefits for learners, so, in addition to examining the political and theoretical context, and the technical expertise required, the role of personal and professional values and beliefs in the choices teachers make about organising learning will also be examined. Many of these choices are based upon unexamined assumptions and ‘commonsense’ views of teaching and learning. I am challenging teachers to identify and explore the personal stance that informs their practice in the classroom. The personal dimension of teaching cannot be ignored if . . .

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