Making Time for Promotive Interaction Development

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A key component of cooperative learning involves promotive interaction. David Johnson and Robert Johnson of the University of Minnesota describe when promotive interaction happens:

Promotive interaction occurs when members share resources and help, support, encourage, and praise each other’s efforts to learn.

For cooperative learning to work, promotive interaction must be developed. Cooperative learning depends on students sharing information, helping each other with difficult tasks and content, as well as supporting each other as they work toward common goals. It’s imperative that skills in these interactions are developed and supported.

The reason many teachers don’t use cooperative learning strategies is that their students often don’t understand how to interact with one another positively. Like reading or math, students rarely have training in how to interact socially, especially when trying to complete a task collaboratively. Instead of helping students achieve more and take their learning to the next level, teachers are left putting out fires that have very little to do with the content trying to be conveyed.

Who has time for that? Who has time to develop promotive interactions with students?

With the myriad of state and district standards to meet, teachers must choose what to cut from their lesson plans. Unfortunately, things like team building and social skill development are the first to be cut. One can understand why there’s little room for character education as these are not part of state standards or will be addressed on standardized tests. So, it is hard for teachers to see value in teaching promotive interaction.

Consider the time spent in the average class period putting out those aforementioned fires. There are arguments among group members to sort out. Students continually turn to teachers for guidance instead of group members. The students are essentially working on their own as they feel little or no support from teammates. This sounds rather inefficient itself.

Consider all this wasted time and how it breaks the momentum of learning as interruption upon interruption disrupt the learning cycle. What would happen if we spent that time teaching to the interactive skills needed for students to successfully complete collaborative projects? Instead of all the time lost to corrective and reactionary measures for each student conflict, why not teach the skills students need to deal with these issues on their own?

Promotive interaction skills have to be taught and developed as much as any skills or content in order for students to be successful. This means that they should be prioritized in such a way that we are committing time to their development. It’s better to use the time helping students develop some positive behaviors instead of losing that same time (or more) to negative behaviors.

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

Thursday’s Tip: Let the Students Lead

Student presentation

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Teachers have a lot on their plates. The stress of the job is often compounded with the pressure to simply deliver an enormous amount of content. However, teachers shouldn’t feel alone in this endeavor. There is a classroom full of students who can help.

What I’m talking about is actually allowing students to deliver and teach content. We know that today’s student is particularly social, more than capable of creating their own assessments (with the right amount of guidance), and often knows more than we give them credit. Of course, structure is still important. We can’t just set them loose with the curriculum, but we can certainly share the work of delivering content.

There are various ways to structure students teaching content. Consider the following ideas:

  • Students can make instructional or informational videos that explain processes similar to this video

  • A cooperative learning strategy such as the Jigsaw cooperative learning strategy (yes, we love Jigsaw at eMINTS) provides a structure where students become experts in one area to provide perspective to a collaborative project. Sometimes, this strategy can be used to simply divide and conquer content, requiring students to teach one another their portion.
  • For those of you who are SMART Board users, the SMART Recorder that is part of the SMART Tech suite can record audio while a student demonstrates a process on a SMART Board. It’s ideal for math problem solving.

  • Peer tutoring can work well, but training must take place. Teach the process for delivering content to a small group of students who will turn around and teach that content to another group of students who will teach it to the next group and so on. The repetition provided by teaching the content over and over will strengthen the students’ knowledge.
  • Other approaches to delivering content may also include student-centered methodology such as problem-based or inquiry-based learning. These strategies provide students an opportunity to determine the direction of lessons and units, involving them in the planning and implementation process.

What are some other ways you have involved students in teaching content? How do you feel about giving up some control in order for students to teach one another? How is peer-to-peer learning addressed or not addressed through cooperative learning?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Let Them Talk

Students talking

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I’ve spent a lot of time in seventh and eighth grade classrooms lately. One characteristic that I’ve noticed to prevalent in these students is that they like to talk. They comment on everything and are constantly turning to their peers to gossip or just fill that silence with their voices.

Teachers handle this in various ways. Some teachers challenge their students with a high level of rigor, allowing for no time to talk. Other teachers play along and engage these conversations, no matter the topic. Then, there are those who just keep trudging along, ignoring the talking so that they can concentrate on delivering content. Of course, there are various combinations of all three in most classrooms.

In all these instances, the students’ need to talk and be social is either ignored or left underdeveloped. What these teachers could do is take advantage of middle school students’ ability and willingness to talk and be social in order to develop the level of discourse in the classroom. These students learn through social means no matter how much we fight it. Why not use what they do best?

Here are a few ways to get your students talking in ways that are productive and that recognize their need to be social:

  • “Think-Pair-Share” is an excellent cooperative learning strategy that gets students to organize and focus their thoughts, allows them to talk to a partner, and requires them to share with the whole class.
  • “Wagon Wheel” is a community-building activity that gets students to get up and talk to their peers. An inner-circle faces out toward an inward-facing circle. The teacher or facilitator opens up discussion by asking a fun question like “What are your plans for the weekend?” or “What did you do this summer?” After turns are taken to talk, students rotate to new discussion partners. With each following question, the topics move closer and closer to the day’s topic.
  • Have students do the teaching. Either through using the Jigsaw cooperative learning strategy or other cooperative groupings, teachers can have their students present content to their peers. Small group or whole group discussions can create opportunities for students to speak.
  • Sentence and/or question stems can help students focus their discussion and force them to use language that is appropriate and effective in a discussion.
  • A technological alternative might be to allow certain forms of chatting during class. Of course, one would want to utilize a controlled environment so that discussions are kept on topic for the most part. A possibility might be to use Twitter with a specific hashtag or the chat feature in Google Presentation.
  • Create a Facebook group for your class (13 years and older). Pose questions relating to what was discussed in class. Post due dates in the form of events. Post resources that relate classroom topics and real world events. Students love their social networks. Why can’t they be educational as well as social?

Of course, there are endless cooperative learning, community-building possibilities, and technological  to build on students’ social natures. These are just a few ways we can harness that energy for the purposes of advancing student thought and discourse.

How do you encourage students to speak in your classroom? What are the benefits of having students talk in class? What are the best technological tools to take advantage of a student’s social focus?

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