This week I have learnt a great deal about group learning spaces, and more specifically, collaborative and cooperative learning spaces.
This all starts with the curriculum, which is one of the biggest and most important learning spaces we inhabit as teachers and students. It is the skeleton on which we build the flesh that is our smaller learning spaces in school and classrooms. It provides structure and stability that helps us move forward and keeps us all held together. I guess I can further add to the analogy by saying that, like a skeleton, it really won’t get far unless the muscles attached to it are cooperative and strong; just like in the education system…It’s all well and good to have a strong, supportive curriculum, but if the schools and learning spaces don’t cooperate with it and each other, they’re not going to get very far.
A curriculum, and in particular, the Australian curriculum, provides a common ground for all teachers and students. By clearly outlining all goals and standards, there is a strong sense of equity; that is, all students are given equal opportunities to learn and succeed. Furthermore, by introducing a national curriculum, this extends to ensure that across the country all students are given the same opportunities to access a quality education. This common ground is an integral element in the group/collaborative/cooperative learning space.
It is vital that teachers work together with other teachers in their schools and wider communities to ensure that they are adhering to the curriculum, and getting the most out of it. By planning units of work together teachers inhabit a group learning space; they are working to create a unit that reflects and satisfies the curricular requirements. I think that having a national curriculum creates an enormous and exciting collaborative learning space. By having a common curriculum, who’s to say that through using technology, classes on opposite sides of the countries can’t interact and work through a unit of work collaboratively? This could significantly broaden students’ perceptions, knowledge and learning.
Today’s learning spaces are increasingly becoming places of cooperative and collaborative learning. These types of learning require careful orchestration by the teacher, to ensure that students are equipped with the skills to work successfully in a group situations, and that no students are left behind or coasting through without contributing or benefiting from working socially and collaboratively. Co-operative and collaborative learning styles are quite successful because they allow students to see that their peers see things differently, and that each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses. In terms of learning spaces, by allowing students to sit at tables organised in a social manner (groups, facing other students, not individual), students are encouraged to discuss and collaborate with their peers while completing their work.
A group learning space, to me, is a much broader and generic term, referring to a learning space in which the whole group is required to work together to discuss or build upon knowledge. To me, collaborative and co-operative learning is more successful than mere group learning, as it is more structured and goal oriented.
I think that it’s also imperative to think about these social constructivist forms of learning (thank you Mr Vygotsky) in terms of classroom design. How do we design our classrooms to best suit the collaborative and cooperative approach?
This leads into Open Plan Learning Spaces (OPLS). While my experience in these types of learning spaces is very limited, I understand that there are many positive and negative aspects to learning in this format. Students must be very well prepared to motivate themselves and to keep themselves on track. Teachers must also set very clear behavioural expectations, and meticulously plan their lessons to ensure no child is ‘left behind’. I am also curious as to whether the noise levels in such an environment would be a cause for concern? However, it must be very beneficial to allow children to facilitate their own learning to a degree, and to openly collaborate with colleagues in the classroom.
- Slavin, R. (2010). Co-operative learning: what makes group-work work? The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD Publishing.