7. Learning From Others - Learning in a Social Context
Linda Darling-Hammond: We humans are essentially social creatures. We laugh, we play, and we learn with and from each other. Schools can take advantage of the fact that students learn from each other as well as their teachers. But what kind of guidance must a teacher provide to ensure that this learning is productive?
I'm Linda Darling Hammond and that's our challenge for this session of The Learning Classroom.
Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist and schoolteacher, expanded on Piaget's ideas to include the notion that learning is basically social and that both the teacher and the peers can assist in the learning process.
Roland Tharp, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz: All human development is social, beginning from probably even before birth and all the way to the end of our lives. We continue always to develop. Our individual capacities develop first and is something that happens between people. And of course, for students the most important social transaction is what happens between a teacher and a student. So, the, what happens, this social process, the interactive process, the processes of assistance, the processes of conversation, that happen between teacher and student, that is what forms the mind and the capacity of those students.
Linda Darling-Hammond: Yvonne Scott has built a community of learners among her fifth graders at the San Francisco Community School. We visited her and her students over a period of several weeks during which they researched, designed and constructed a butterfly garden.
Notice how Yvonne guides her students through modeling, coaching, and providing feedback, and by creating a social system in which students assist one another while she assists them.
Yvonne Scott: We're doing a butterfly garden this semester. The school has written a grant so that we can have an outdoor learning environment and there're parts of it, there're different sections of it. There's a climbing area. There's a, a garden area which we started already with a garden - two small patches. And so one of the things we wanted in there was a butterfly garden.
Yvonne Scott: The students posed questions that they had about butterflies. That's how we approached it, you know. What, what do you know about butterflies? What do you wanna know about butterflies? And instead of writing down what they already learning to about butterflies, I wrote down what their questions were, or if they had any "I wonder" or "I think," because I felt that when you ask them what they know sometimes, what they know is true, but sometimes what they know is not true. So we just set out just trying to find out the answers to the questions that we already had, and we made a very long list of those, and we started out trying to learn about them.
Yvonne Scott: In the beginning of the project they chose what part they want. Did they want to be on the research department, and they had a garden department.
So they did all the planning, and each stage of the planning they brought it back to the classes and asked them their opinion. And wrote down their suggestions and asked them for drawings if they needed them, and then they sorted through them, and they came back with their final plan.
Yvonne Scott: When you're beginning a project you should always keep in mind that you have a group of children who are very eager to learn, and that they don't know the answers, and that you don't have to know the answers. That you can discover together and you can create together. And that you have a range of abilities, and you have a range of people who like different things. In other words, some of them are very artistic, and they love to do things. They want to do it artistically all the time. Other people want to learn from just the books. But if you take in account all these different ways, and you, in the beginning, try to find out who likes what, who learns which way, and then you give them a challenge to teach each other, to bring the rest of the group up to where they are in this particular field, then that will help them.
David Elkind, Ph.D., Tufts University: Another concept people are dealing with is the so called integrated curriculum which is really a new term for Dewey's old project method. Which means that you teach things in an integrated way that instead of teaching science, and art, and music, and so on, you try and bring those together. So you try and teach you're trying to teach zoology for example. You might also teach arts so that the kids will draw birds, for example. Then you might do math, you might do the size of different birds and so on, and measure them. So that would be another approach, which is to try to tie different disciplines in together in so that you're not teaching them in separate domains, but all put together.
Yvonne Scott: What we want from the project is for them to understand what they need to learn. What math, what social studies, what science, what reading that they need to learn to make a challenge work.
And when they start to really study something in depth where they can have hands-on, where they can do art, where they can do science, and they can do all kind of investigation, that makes it real.
Yvonne Scott: We learned about butterflies in a lot of different ways. We did the research. We have lots of books around here about butterflies. I encourage them to, to find books at home and in the library and then also we just started to observe. And we observed in the garden and we figured out what was going to actually attract butterflies.
Yvonne Scott: And we've been keeping a journal, an observation journal about how things have been progressing.
Yvonne Scott: We're making reports, not in the traditional way, but we're making them as plaques to go out in the garden so that there'll be information for the, our K through eighth grade students to learn about what we've already learned. And each of the reports has a picture, a brightly colored picture of butterfly and the information, the name of the butterfly, the wing span and special features, and then any other interesting facts that they've learned about it.
We want our information to go out into the garden and we want it accessible for all our students.
During the, during the course of this ten weeks I've seen the culture change quite a bit. They've all worked together, and the tables have all been mixed, and so they've been working together to get their projects done, and they've emerged experts in different things. There's a couple of people who have been helping everybody on the computer, and some people have been helping them, to help with their wording on their reports and their art projects. And so they've been collaborating, and different people have taken the lead and everything. And so, I see the class coming together.
Linda Darling-Hammond: Yvonne provides just the right mix of whole class leadership, individual and group coaching, and independent learning.
Student learning depends to a great extent on the opportunities kids have to talk about what they're thinking. Teachers can deliberately support these skills through managed dialogue.
Roland Tharp: The basic structure of assistance is best supported through dialogue dialogue with a purpose. And managed dialogue means several things. It means dialogue that is managed for an academic purpose, for providing intellectual, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. But it also means real dialogue. And that means that what one participant says has something to do with what just happened in the minute before, so that there is a real exchange. And during that kind of exchange, the teacher is able to hear in this dialogue on the subject at hand what it is the student can say, can do, and what it needs to say next and to do, and can provide the kinds of responses and questions that will provide the assistance in the zone of proximal development. So dialogue, whether it's ad hoc, whether it is small group, whether it is large group, becomes a necessity in classrooms, both for assessment and for assistance.
Linda Darling-Hammond: Urban Academy teacher Avram Barlowe has created a discussion-based classroom. Let's take a look at how he helps his students move beyond off-the-cuff opinions toward deeper understanding and the use of evidence through Socratic dialogue, in which he manages discourse.
Avram Barlowe: The way that we are opening up a look at Reconstruction is we are looking the kids had read through a series of laws that were passed by seven state legislatures shortly after the end of the Civil War called the Black Codes which, in which Sou south the former Confederates, who then controlled southern state governments were sort of attempting to reassert control over the black population in the South. But what they, what I asked them to do was to look at that material, and to actually look at the text of these laws, and read through, through some of them and, and decide for themselves why they thought, what they thought the laws were, were designed to do, why they thought they were created, what the people who would have defended those laws would have felt about, how, how they would have been defended by the people who wrote them And you'll see, you saw in the class there were multiple interpretations of that.
Avram Barlowe: The culture of the classroom is many things. But one of the important things it is, is, is an attitude towards what the learning process in the classroom is, and attitudes that the, that the kids have, and that the teacher has. And that, if you feel like the, the, the, the discussion has value, if you feel that your voice, and what you think, and your interpretation of the material is important, and is being developed in that discussion. If you're learning something by putting out your ideas, hearing them responded to, being forced to defend them, or if you're sitting and listening to two people who have different ideas and try, and you you're trying to make up your mind what two people or four people or six other people are saying, that if, if you think that has value to you, there's a level of respect you're going to bring to the, to, to what ha to the exchange that's gonna be very high. So that there's a list, for example, in the discussion, people are raising their hands all the time to speak. I'm trying to keep a list.
So I'm trying to keep track of the ideas and the comments.
Avram Barlowe: One of the very important things in the management of discussion is being able to hold up the kids' ideas to them so they can see them and reflect on them, and being able to sort of tease out what the disagreements are and what the questions are that are percolating in their discussion, so that they can really maintain a focus in it. So, sometimes you will raise a question, there'll be disagreement or exchange on that question and some of the comments and some of the disagreements will really be begging another question. It's very important in that setting to say, "It seems to me that what Matt and, and Stephanie are arguing about is also this question" and then you, you state that question so the kids can hear it. So that you're constantly holding up their ideas to them in a way that they can look at them and think and, and think about them, so the discussion is not, and you're helping to structure the discussion in that way, even though it's very much them exchanging their ideas.
James P. Comer, M.D., Yale University: The social interactions in a classroom, if everybody gets to participate and everybody feels belonging, feels that they have something to contribute, motivates the desire to learn more and to learn everything. Anything that's brought out in the classroom is something that the child will want to learn, in part because what happens in a good social climate is that the child makes an emotional attachment to the adult leader and also an emotional attachment to the other children.
Avram Barlowe: Now, there may be times when they raise a question which is not one of the questions that I thought would be crit, a critical question to look at in terms of the material, but that that question does a very good job of mining the material and really, and where they really work with the evidence that they've been given, and they raise a, a, a wholly new question that I hadn't anticipated. If I feel they're working with the material using that question, my job is to go with that question and really gi, give it structure and hold up the responses in the same way they were with the questions that I've come up with. I have that flexibility. It's not the, just the, but it's not just them talking about whatever they want to talk about. Even when they generate a new question, their own question, I have to feel that it's something that connects to the material in some ways for it to be of and, and it's forcing them to work with the material and develop their ideas.
Avram Barlowe: One of the things that may happen is sometimes a conversation is very interesting and there are, a, a lot of kids wanna speak at once because an issue seems so vibrant on the floor that everybody's talking. You have to get in there and say, look, hold it. You can't, you cannot, you, you, you know, we have to, we have to stick to the list here. On the other hand, there, there may be times when a kid says something and another kid wants to respond to it immediately and, and, and it's, they're supposed to wait, but you sort of feel like the dialogue between the two kids has to happen.
You have to be able to, to, to, to let that, to sort of cast out the, the line a little bit and then reel it back in so that not everybody's jumping in.
(everybody talking over one another)
Avram Barlowe: Well, I, I mean, I think there, it, it works very differently for very, for different kids. I think one of the real strengths of this, of what, of what we're doing methodologically with a diverse group of kids, is we're, is, is we're allowing kids to see that I can put out an idea and defend an idea in this classroom, even though I don't necessarily feel like I read as well as this kid or as much as this kid, or I write as well, or as I score as high on a test, because here's an issue that's being posed here,
I'm looking at something that I'm reading, I uh I think I understand what it means and, gee, I have an opinion about this that's based on my experience, and I can sort of test my mettle here. And, and I think that's a very empowering experience for kids, um, very important.
You know, I think that really, everybody in there can see that there's, that, that on any given day somebody can say something that makes you think about something in a way that you haven't thought about it before. And it doesn't matter who that kid is in the classroom. And that's good for every kid in that classroom.
Linda Darling-Hammond: There are several principles involved in creating classroom communities that take maximum advantage of how people learn.
The first principle is that students learn more when teachers and students work together on a task. The second principle is that language development is central across the curriculum. Regardless of the subject matter, developing competence in the language of instruction is fundamental for effective learning.
Third, choosing tasks that are meaningful to students accelerates learning enormously. Fourth, we find that good learning occurs most often in intellectually challenging activities that teach complex thinking.
And finally, the instructional conversation that is, dialogue with a specific academic goal -- is at the heart of the effective classroom.
Yvonne Scott and Avram Barlowe have both created community-centered classrooms that are carefully organized to support social learning. They create opportunities for dialogue and collaboration that push students to think more clearly and to produce high quality work.
In doing so, these teachers give their students the skills for both academic success and success in the human community.
This is The Learning Classroom. Thanks for watching.
Return to the Support Materials for Session 7.