This comment appeared in my email inbox the other day, submitted by a teacher I work with in regards to my Attention, Engagement, Learning post from ASCD :
I really liked your “transfer of responsibility” model. But to a degree I disagree with the idea that students speaking/ interacting is a panacea for learning. I remember in my teaching classes we were drilled with the mantra “leanring is social”. But I think that’s just a new myth. I think instruction has to be differentiated. SOME kids are social learners and some are not. I frequently do partner assignments in Russian at the high school, and one of the consistent comments I got back on my survey was “less partner work”. My other class there ( I have two sections) seems to love it. I’ve also seen partner/ group work devolve into BS sessions or one person giving the answers to the other and the other kid not learning a thing.So: not a panacea, just another tool to use appropriately.
Thanks for checking it out; it was a great weekend where I was able to really get into excellent discussions about things that matter. Here’s my take on your reaction.
Yes, some kids are social learners, some are not. Some kids draw pictures, some are like me and cannot even begin to attempt that. What the GRR model advocates is not “all social all the time,” but rather a mix of various types of collaborative and cooperative work. Some of that will involve talking, some may not.
Plus, when you take a close look at what Kagan believes about the brain and what he believes about how we learn, the structures make a ton of sense. In the model you gave me for your classes, how do you hold each student responsible for what goes on in the discussion? If, as you say, it devolves into a BS session, what can be done to deter that? The structures Kagan created all are built with a combination of group and individual accountability whereby, if done right, there is equal responsibility on the part of all cooperative partners.
From my perspective, we as teachers work very hard. Can we begin to look at what we do not from the standpoint of teachers, but from the standpoint of learners? If we did, I think we would agree that there is a lot of responsibility that can be transferred to the learner. This is not just a tweak here or there I am talking about, but a whole paradigm shift in practice.
My observations and criticism were directed more toward the PET scan and the concept that “the person doing the talking is the one doing the learning”. For me to buy into that model I would need to see more context for what specific events were occurring during the PET scan. For example, I”m sure that parts of the brain involved in registering the facial expressions and emotional reactions of the person one is speaking to are lighting up in that scan. But does that necessarily mean that that person is “learning” more of a particular content? What if we took two individuals and asked one to write a summary of Romeo and Juliet and asked the other to retell it? Which brain would light up more? And what needs to be lighting up to demonstrate learning? To be mildly flip: I bet my brain would light up pretty brightly if I was about to be in a car accident. What am I learning (except that I”m screwed …:)My point simply is this: I need more evidence to buy the notion that the “one doing the talking” is the one who is learning. This may be true for some social learners in some contexts but not necessarily in others (again, returning to what we both agree is the need for differentiating instruction).I like and accept in principle the GRR model, especially in the broad principal/ thesis of moving the student from dependency to independence. I think that some of the failures I’ve seen of cooperative learning was that it kept students stuck in being dependent on other students for the answer/ learning, rather than using it as a means to wean them to a level where they can demonstrate/ perform a skill independently. So I think the concept if I do it-we do it-you (plural) do it-you (singular) do it is a good one. (Although not all kids will need to do the you plural one all the time in all situations…