Thursday’s Tip: Structure Is Still Important

Ecuadoran Students
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New teaching methods and progressive pedagogy is constantly being promoted to teachers. eMINTS is no different in that we encourage cooperative learning, community building, and inquiry. Teachers who have grown up in “traditional” school settings and continue to teach that way are often wary of such new approaches when they feel comfortable with traditional teacher and content-centered methods of instruction.

The biggest concern is that these new and different ways of teaching are free of structure. Noisy classrooms of students working groups suggest chaos. Cooperative learning makes it hard to insure that each student is being held accountable. Community-building activities are seen as “warm fuzzies” that just take up time that could be otherwise dedicated toward teaching content.

However, I would argue that – like traditional methodology – there is structure. For example, cooperative learning only works if there is a specific structure to insure that it works. Take the very popular Jigsaw structure. In this approach, students are divided into home groups with a common task. Then, the groups are divided into expert groups where each member will be responsible for learning a portion of the content to teach or about which to inform his home group. With this very structured cooperative learning strategy, students are accountable for doing their part. There simply is no room for chaos.

None of the approaches I’ve mentioned work without structure. The thing to remember is that the structure is different from traditional teaching practices, not absent. To try cooperative learning or inquiry does not mean that we should simply set our students loose with groups of other students and hope for the best. Progressive instructional techniques still require a certain amount of structure that should be learned and applied.

What are some lessons you have learned about the structures of non-traditional teaching methods? What are some ways in which non-traditional teaching strategies have improved learning in your classroom? What was the ah-ha moment that caused you to break from a traditional instructional approach?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.