Jan 222013

Ever wish you had a clone because you had more students to help than you time to help them?  Since cloning technology for the average teacher is still a while away, and you are unlike to have a class size of 12, you need another way to put more instructional resources in your classroom.  The best way to do that is to activate your students as Instructional Resources for one another.

Why does Activating Students as Resources for one another work?

At its heart, activation of students as learning resources for other students is Cooperative Learning. Cooperative Learning is one of the greatest successes in the history of educational research (Slavin, Hurley and Chamberlain, 2003) for 4 main reasons according to Wiliam (2011):

  1. Motivation: The teacher structures the process so it is in a student’s interest to help others.
  2. Social Capital: Students help their peers because they care about them.  They also care about their perceived value to others.
  3. Personalizing the learning: Students learn more because their peers see the specific difficulty they are having and try to help.
  4. Better Understanding: When you want to teach others, you have to understand an idea clearly. The stronger students improve by having to teach and the less competent improve because they have a second teacher.

What is Cooperative Learning?

It is the opportunity to work with a variety of different people on a task or problem. Specific group skills (like setting goals or giving feedback) are directly taught by the teacher, and the group is accountable to each other for learning.  Assessment is individual so that there is individual accountability .The only exception is where the power of the group processes is being assessed or students are reflecting together.

What are the techniques?

There are many great techniques, but here is a sampling of some powerful ones:

  • Peer Feedback (not grading) based on co-constructed criteria, prior to students handing in to the teacher.  If how to give good feedback is taught, and the criteria are clear, students helping other students hand in much stronger products and learn more, according to Anne Davies. Read more about good feedback in this blog post.
  • Checking for understanding is best done in groups.  Instead of asking the class if there are any questions (a few people will ask and most will wait until you can come by their desks), ask groups to meet and quickly generate a question. The groups will answer most questions internally if anyone knows the answer and the hardest questions will surface for you.
  • Error analysis is the most powerful way to improve student understanding of a concept. Have your students work in groups to fix errors in a solution, piece of writing or any other final product. Because they are working together, they will find more of the errors and understand them better. Read this blog post to learn more about how finding errors helps the brain learn more effectively.
  • Get questions answered more quickly.  When a student doesn’t know something and waits for the teacher to have time to provide help, valuable learning time is lost and students start going off task.  Asking students to check with others (sometimes called 3 before me because they need to check with three other students) ensures questions are answered more quickly and that students feel safer admitting when they don’t know, because others are also asking questions. Read a post on Guided Reciproc0l Questions.
  • Assign specific roles.  Most good cooperative learning structures have different roles for different group members.  This helps to ensure each group member has an equal job and something specific they are responsible for.  In addition, it means all students don’t spend time on the same routine task, giving everyone time for new learning.
  • Set goals and identify issues.  In learning groups, students often complain about three things: the time it takes, when some people don’t do the work, and that everyone gets the same mark.  We have already discussed why everyone should not get the same mark.  Students goal setting and identifying issues address the other two. When students plan backwards from the deadline and set specific, measurable goals for each work period, they understand how much they need to get done each day.  If they report to the teacher about progress at the end of the day, the teacher has time to intervene if the group had lost direction or some members are not doing their share. When students are also rewarded for either outright success or finding and solving problems, the group also has the opportunity to learn from its mistakes.

Activating learners as instructional resources for each other clearly helps learning in the short terms because it resolves questions more quickly and provides more feedback, both of which help learning right now.  It also teaches a variety of soft skills for collaboration, goal setting and conflict resolution that employers are clamoring for. When a teacher builds good cooperative strategies into her classroom she helps herself and her students now, and better prepares students for post-secondary and the world of work.

Want to learn more?

Read related posts

  1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success
  2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning
  3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward
  4. Activating learners as owners of their own learning


  2 Responses to “Activating Learners as Instructional Resources for one another”

  1. […] For all three methods of checking to see what you should teach next, you can increase the power by having students compare their responses and try to agree on the most correct response. This allows students to think about their own thinking (metacognition), increases the likelihood of a correct understanding, and harness the power of cooperative learning. […]

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