Academic journal article Middle School Journal

What Students Need to Know about Good Talk: Be BRAVE

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

What Students Need to Know about Good Talk: Be BRAVE

Article excerpt

This We Believe characteristics:

* Students and teachers are engaged in active, purposeful learning

* Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches

In this article, we describe a framework and accompanying workshop designed to help middle school students become successful participants in collaborative learning groups. First, we explain what distinguishes collaboration from other forms of group work and why, especially at the middle school level, collaboration is an important feature of a successful learning environment. Next, we focus on student discourse as the central feature of group work. Not all discourse is equal and we present distinctions that have important consequences for teaching and learning. Finally, we concentrate on helping students become more knowledgeable and effective contributors to a group's discourse.

Collaboration among middle school students

Group work is universal. From preschool through advanced graduate education, students working in groups is a standard feature of the learning environment. An observer of middle schools would be surprised not to see students working together during literature, science, social studies, and mathematics classes. Reasons offered in support of group work fall into three categories (O'Donnell, 2006). One category, based on the premise that it is beneficial to change things up now and then, focuses on group work as a way to add variety to the learning environment. Another set of reasons for group work stems from the belief that students need to learn to work with others in order to develop the important life skills of cooperation and collaboration. This is closely aligned with cooperative learning (Johnson, 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 2009), which is largely concerned with developing the skills of cooperation, including responsibility, accountability, and interpersonal skills. A third rationale for group work is based on the premise that working with others has a powerful, positive, and perhaps even unique impact on thinking and learning. This reason centers on the contribution collaborative work has on helping students develop deep understanding of the content they are learning. Collaborative learning recognizes the importance of participants' skills but is distinct from cooperative learning in its additional and equal emphasis on deeper understanding of content.

There is considerable evidence and theory in support of collaboration's important contributions to learning. Social constructivist ideas about the role of interaction provide theoretical support for the design of learning environments that feature collaboration (Bakhtin, 1981; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2006; Mercer, 2004; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006; Vygotsky, 1992; Wells, 2001). In a recent synthesis of ideas about learning, Chi and Wylie (2014) offered a framework (ICAP) for understanding student engagement and the learning outcomes likely to result from different forms of engagement. They described a hierarchy of learner engagement: Interactive > Constructive > Active > Passive. Lower levels of learner engagement do not disappear but rather are subsumed in the engagement of higher levels, e.g., constructive engagement incorporates aspects of both the active and passive levels. Chi and Wylie (2014) offered evidence that the interactive mode, which features collaboration, results in the deepest understanding. The importance of interactive engagement is reflected by its prominent role in various theoretical models of instruction, such as Fostering Communities of Learners, Knowledge Building, Project-Based Learning, Reciprocal Teaching, Cognitive Tools and Intellectual Roles, Dialogic Teaching, Thinking Together, and Project Zero (to name a few prominent examples).

The middle grades are an opportune time and period of development to build the capacities and habits ofmind most closely associated with collaborative group work. …

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