First as promised here is the answer to the CL quiz including an interesting
web site on Dewey provided by Kim.
If you have an interesting quote or book passage which has inspired you
please send it back to the list for all of us to enjoy.
CL series #6 responses follows.
I would like to wish everyone a happy holiday and wonderful new year.
We've worked hard this year and we all disserve it!
Ted [log in to unmask]
From: Kim Mackey <[log in to unmask]>
Well, that wasn't too difficult to find. The quote comes from the end of
chapter 3: Education and Direction in the book "Democracy and Education",
1916 by John Dewey. For those interested in seeing the complete section and
possibly the entire book on the web the url is
for an interesting critique of Dewey and Developmentalism see
"Developmentalism: An Obscure but Pervasive Restriction on Educational
Improvement", by J.E. Stone in the April 21, 1996 volume of Education Policy
Analysis Archives at Arizona State University.
From: Barbara Davies <[log in to unmask]>
Ted Thank you so much for all the time and energy you have put into the CL
discussions. i have enjoyed them immensely. I agree with you that many people
criticize CL without being properly trained or criticize it because of negative
things they may have heard about it. I think that CL can be an amazingly
effective instructional methodology to use, but the teacher is the decision
maker who decides when and how it is to be used. The students in any class
have varying abilities, needs, abilities, etc., and sometimes modifications must
be made-what works well with one group of students doesn't mean it will
work well with another. I have found that teachers often give up on using
CL when they try it and it doesn't go well. Some teachers are unwilling to
spend the time needed to teach collaborative skills and as a result, the
students don't cooperate well.Perservance is important. Once teachers feel
successful at it, they are motivated to continue amidst the obstacles.
From: "Wharton - Linda C." <[log in to unmask]>
I have been following this thread with intrigue! I am a responding simply to
reflect on my experience with CL over the years. I attended one day of a Slavin
conference by winning a drawing at a faculty meeting two years prior to becoming
involved in a Success for All pilot program at my school. The one day
experience whet my appetite for enhancing my arsenal of approaches and
instructional strategies needed to meet the challenge of tapping the various
learning modalities of my students. Yet, I knew that the one day was not
sufficient to do an effective job.
I did include group work as a variety to the lesson, but I wanted more. More
for me, and more for my students.
I was fortunate that a Success for All (SFA) program was being instituted at two
middle school feeder schools and my school was one of the two. CL is a
structured component of SFA. The training I received has extended my theoretical
and pedagogical base regarding SFA and the CL component. My training was
ongoing and intense. Attending SFA conferences was a part of that training.
Working collaboratively with other colleagues was ongoing and just as intense.
The program was moved when the zoned feeder schools changed. Fortunately,
the knowledge and experience have stayed with me. I still use many of
the SFA strategies and the CL component, specifically. As many others have
stated, CL is simply one strategy. It happens to be one that has been
effective for me.
The comments have really been enlightening. They have helped me revisit
my direct, hands on training and experience.
From: Diane Paulson <[log in to unmask]> (EDSTYLE)
Subject: Re: Bad Rap for CL Undeserved
to KB--I appreciate your comments about your school restructuring process.
To address your questions, I am a family/school counselor in an elementary
school. It is easy to assess what isn't working well when you are an "outsider"
My daughter is in 5th grade and has had some negative experiences with CL
that I would determine are the teachers lack of expertise in the area. For
instance, once they were put into dyads forpracticing spelling, (this might not
really be CL) and my daughter didn't have anyone to work with, the class had an
odd number of students. The bad news is the teacher didn't notice! Later I
talked with him and he said that she should have just talked with him, so he put
the responsibility on the ten yr. old to figure out how to implement his lesson
plan. Now my daughter is working with a boy in her class and she is complaining
to me that she is doing all the work, he is playing with his friends. When I
asked what she had done about it, she did talk with the teacher and she
said to tell so&so, the boy, to help. My assessment is that the teacher
has not taught the kids what CL is and maybe really doesn't know herself
how to teach it. Teachers need inservice support to learn this so that CL
can be implemented with good instruction and each child's learning style
needs to at the least be taken into account.
Sounds like your school is doing some effective restructuring. Prior to
this job, I worked with "at risk" youth in secondary level. They are some
of the most creative kids but their needs in the classroom and school are
different. I am relieved that we have started setting up different syles
of classrooms, and in ssome places Charter Schools to help kids find an
environment that reflects their educational and learning style so they can
stay in school and we will all benefit.
From: Kim Mackey <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Before supplying some comments to Ted Panitz's post on policies needed to
provide for the full implementation of Collaborative Learning, I would like
to quote from a previous post of Ted's to clarify what Collaborative
Learning is and isn't.
"Collaboration is a philosophy of interaction and personal lifestyle whereas
cooperation is a structure of interaction designed to facilitate the
accomplishment of an end product or goal."
"practitioners apply this philosophy in the classroom, at committee
meetings, with community groups, within their families and generally as a
way of living with and dealing with other people."
So it is clear that Collaborative Learning, as Ted has defined it, is 1) not
the same as cooperative learning, and 2) is a philosophy of interacting with
human beings that goes beyond the classroom to the core values of an
>Policy #1) Support and encouragement must come from the highest policy
>making and financial boards and from the chief executive at the institution.
This is a good point. The problem here is that leaders change, and what one
leader has started may be altered by another with a different set of
priorities and philosophy. Education at the k-12 level in the U.S. is run by
local school boards which have frequent elections. To think that we can
convince (and keep convinced) the majority of them to buy into the
philosophy of Collaborative Learning is a dream.
>Policy #5) A support group mechanism must be developed and encouraged to
So I am going to meet weekly with my peers to discuss the great things
happening in my room with Collaborative Learning. And formalize the process
by signing a contract with them about what I am going to do with
Collaborative Learning in the future. How is the contract enforced? If I
don't meet the contract will I be scorned by my peers or will there be more
substantive consequences? What do we do with those recalcitrant, surly
curmudgeons who think this is all fluff and nonsense and who insist on
teaching the "old way"? This is not just a question for Collaborative
Learning, of course. Do backers of Collaborative Learning believe in the
removal of tenure privileges so as to provide a stick with which to force
>Policy #6) Teachers need to be encouraged to adopt CL in a risk free
So Collaborative Learning outcomes will become part of "high stakes" testing
in the sense that they will replace standardized tests as the comparison
between classes, schools, and teachers? Research on alternative forms of
assessment shows that there are problems of reliability, validity, cost,
time, and possible bias with these forms of assessment. See my posts on
Reform and Assessment for sources on this.
>Policy #11) The general student population should receive training in
"proper social behavior". I would like to know what types of social behavior
is "proper" for Collaborative Learning. I know this may sound innocuous, but
for some reason when I see this phrase, I am reminded of the Cultural
Revolution in China and how many teachers, scientists, and engineers were
>policy #12) Teacher training colleges and universities must emphasize CL as
So Collaborative Learning, being a philosophy, is to be established as the
primary teaching paradigm, and professors who cannot or will not teach using
CL methodology are to be spurned in favor of those who do. If CL is a
philosophy, wouldn't this be considered a form of religious discrimination?
>policy #14) CL must be implemented at all education levels simultaneously.
"CL must be implemented at all education levels simultaneously." Of course,
this means we must all (every teacher, k-16) agree to do this. If we remove
CL and education from the above sentence, "________must be implemented at
all levels simultanteously", it sounds pretty revolutionary. And
revolutions, by their very nature, can get pretty bloody in both a literal
and a figurative sense.
In conclusion, I would like to ask a question of practitioners of
Collaborative Learning that has come to mind recently. Realizing that there
is evidence that cooperative learning can enhance the learning of students
versus straight lecture, what evidence is there that Collaborative Learning
is superior in this regard to structured cooperative learning or even the
use of informal peer groups or peer tutoring? I am thinking in this case
about level 2 research in the quantitative sense.
From: Gary Dannenbring <[log in to unmask]>
To: K12Assess-L Listserv <[log in to unmask]>
RE>CL series #6- Policies needed for CL 12/7/96
My response to Ted's policies focuses on assessment and evaluation issues
and assessment has already generated some interesting discussion on this
list). The following suggested policies addressed this, at least to some
" Policy #6) Teachers need to be encouraged to adopt CL in a risk free =
"policy #15) Absolute grading instead of grading on a curve must be =
adopted by the institution and alternate forms of assessment (such as group
grades and portfolios) must be encouraged.
1. The issue of norm referenced vs. criterion referenced assessment (which
seems to be the point of #15) has little to do with whether collaborative
learning is occurring. Both forms of assessment have legitimate, but
different, purposes. The purpose of classroom instruction should be for
all students to achieve at as high a level of possible. (Note - this doesn't
yet address WHAT they are achieving). Thus, assessment should be tied directly
to the curriculum, and success in meeting the instructional objectives should be
appropriately rewarded. Clearly, this cannot be norm referenced. The purpose
of norm referenced assessment is for sorting. If we want to determine who
should be admitted to graduate school and who should not be admitted, a norm
referenced test (such as the GRE) plays a legitimate role. Or, if we want to
know how well our school system compares to national norms, we again might use
norm referenced instruments (ignoring the debate about what it is that is being
assessed by these instruments or how well they do it). None of this has
anything to do, directly, with CL, except that we are talking about
collaboration in a
classroom setting, and assessment of achievement in that setting requires
2. The proposed policies avoid the issue of what is to be assessed. There are
at least general categories of results, and each could (and I believe should) be
assessed at both the group level and the individual level. These are: a) the
knowledge, reasoning, and skills that are being taught (and hopefully learned),
and b) the ability of individuals and the group to work together (collaboration
3. Overall program evaluation of the system. There are a number of things
that should be looked at, such as:
Were adequate resources available?
Was the program implemented as designed?
What were the results?
What impact has this had, such as on performance of students when they
transition to another level of the educational system?
A well designed program evaluation system is critical, not just for
accountability, but to provide useful information to improve the quality
of the program.
Gary L. Dannenbring, Ph.D. Evaluation Coordinator
Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center Drake University
2507 University Ave. Des Moines, IA 50311-4505
Phone: (515) 271-3936 Fax: (515) 271-4185
From: George Jacobs <[log in to unmask]>
Sender: [log in to unmask]
Ted Panitz asks us for additions and comments on his list of 18 policies for
implementing CL. I don't have an any, but below are some supplementary remarks.
1. Useful references on school change are:
Cooper, C. & Boyd, J. 1996. Collaborative approaches to professional
learning and reflection. Launceston, Tasmania: Global Learning
Developmental Studies Center. 1996. Ways we want our class to be. Oakland,
Fullan, M. 1993. Change forces: probing the depth of educational reform.
Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.
Johnson, D.W. & Johnson, R.T. 1988. Leading the collaborative school. Edina,
MN: Interaction Book Company.
Senge, P. 1990. The fifth discipline. NY: Doubleday.
2. Policy 3 discusses faculty development. One point to add would be
research by teachers on CL. Research is very important to continuing
development of CL, as well as to teachers' professional development.
3. In Policy 4, Ted talks about materials for using CL. There seem to be
various ways to do this: (1) the textbook itself could do it; (2) the CL
techniques could be described in a teachers manual; (3) supplementary
materials could be provided; (4) it could all be left to the teachers who
have experience in CL via many of the other policies in Ted's list. What do
4. Policy 11 involves an institutional philosophy of cooperation. This is
supplemented by Policy 15 which calls for an end to grading on a curve.
Three ways to implement a philosophy of cooperation are:
(1) Cooperation as a theme, e.g., once my students provided each other with
peer feedback and other types of help while writing a composition on a past
successful group experience.
(2) Actually taking part in cooperation, e.g., public service projects in
and out of school.
(3) While CL is usually thought of as involving only small groups, it can
involve an entire class, an entire school, or interschool cooperation, e.g.,
one time my high school students prepared plays to educate elementary school
From: Michael Scriven <[log in to unmask]>
>> Teacher training colleges and universities must emphasize CL as the
primary teaching paradigm<<
Too bad. I'd buy _allowing_ CL, pending more serious evaluation, but as for
_establishing_ it, that way dogma lies and dogma _always_ lies.
Michael Scriven ([log in to unmask]) Evaluation & Development Group
From: Gayle Gerson <[log in to unmask]>
I have had problems with students who have been "taught" CL improperly.
The problem is that they think that sharing answers is CL and not
cheating. The other issue is the fact that the grade is usually earned
by the one student who is driven by competition and grades. Those who
care less under the traditional system, also "care less with CL.
From: Richard Swerdlin <[log in to unmask]>
I was surprised to see the policy statement evidently reflecting still
another "new gospel". Considering the policy element of hiring only teachers
swearing allegiance to CL, it is unfortunate that such narrowness is being
promoted. Have you heard of intellectual diversity? Have you heard of academic
Several years ago Southern Methodist University wanted applicants for
teaching positions to swear allegiance to Creationism or at least agree to a
disclaimer concerning Evolution. SMU was thus including a questionable litmus
test of conscience, which again smacks of the Nazi and Communist approaches to
uses of education.
Overall, CL can be used as a tool, but it is questionable whether CL or any
other single approach will do the trick. The fly in the ointment remains the
familiar one of individual differences in humans. Relatedly, behavior is
From: DavidMount <[log in to unmask]>
While I agree that the use of any one technique is detrimental to any
educational background, the collaborative learning approach encompasses
many different learning practices. The idea in collaborative learning is
that of non-isolationism. Far too often, learners, be they in school or on
the job, make like hermits, isolating themselves from the input or feedback
of others. The resulting output is not as rigorous or robust as that
attributed to a team effort.
While the term "collaborative" seems to be a buzz word for something _not_
new, the term describes exactly the approach to learning: all members of
the team work together in a collegial atmosphere, sharing information and
ideas, debating solutions and possibilities, critiquing concepts, building
the best solution to match the situation...
It is not easy for the mentor. It cannot be said to be a "cop-out" by the
instructor like has been leveled against some other methodologies, some
rightfully, others not. The preparation for a collaborative learning
session is difficult and time consuming, even when an experienced
facilitator. The facilitator must be well-trained and anticipate many
possible responses to each exercise. They must be, among other things,
expert real-time assessors so they can adapt the session to what is
happening....NOW! The session demands alot of concentration and energy and
when you're finished, you know you've expended yourself. BUT....the energy
in the classroom is incredible during one of these sessions when it's led
by a knowledgable facilitator/mentor. You often have trouble ending the
exercise because of the excitement in the students.
There is nothing about collaborative learning which says that it can't
include lectures, acted demonstrations, readings, handouts, videos/films,
debates, etc. It just describes the environment of learning and says it
should be different from "competitive". While it is debatable whether
competition is bad or good, it can be said that the result of competition
among students, cheating, stealing, lying, etc., is deemed detrimental by
I hope that your reaction to the term does not turn off your receptivity to
the potential for improving the outome of our efforts as teachers. I know
from your posts that you are experienced, dedicated and committed. Let
those assets serve you to the community's benefit through a method of
teaching which is most like the preponderance of working environments
From: "Bourke, Denis" <[log in to unmask]>
What is your opinion of this -policy list- for the implementation of
collaborative learning ???
I see several issues that would have to be worked through.
Funding the huge changes simply would not happen
Those who are expected to be leaders in the change process would have to
be converted first
The real world is not collaborative by nature -- it IS competitive
A Kunian crisis would be required to force the paradigm shift etc etc
From: Richard Swerdlin <[log in to unmask]>
The idea of "non-isolationism" as an element or characteristic of
CL is reasonable, as you suggested.
My reaction to CL#6 is affected by the language used in the
policy statement. Granted a policy statement, such as the listing
issued by Ted Panitz is intended to promote further discussion, the
statement itself seems categorical, rather than reasonably qualified.
Relatedly, I have always encouraged my elementary and college
students to qualify their language, so that distortion or
exaggeration are minimized. Often they do not do so. This
encouragement applies to both written and oral comments. Perhaps
nostalgically, I recall my own teachers at all levels generally
discouraging hyperbole. It was not unusual to see an exaggeration
circled in red. Certainly exaggeration did not wash in Composition.
As you surmise correctly, a problem with "collaborative learning"
stems from flippant users. There have been some recent situations in
which students have attempted to mask or avoid certain realities in a
an elementary math education course, on the ground that there is
lecture, boardwork, discussion, etc., but not the "relaxed
atmosphere" that prevails in Classroom X or Y. This even includes
the fact that drinking and eating are not permitted in carpeted
rooms, which is a rule I enforce, but which some colleagues ignore.
This occurred (along with mention of CL), when a student giggled over
the "foolishness" of dividing 13 by 4, using a number line. I had
mentioned and illustrated that anumber line should start with "zero",
which of course is directly related to whole numbers. Not
surprisingly, the student later gives me the story that I am a
"traditionalist" who is "unaware that is 1996". I did respond to the
effect that I am indeed aware of the year. Relatedly however I
mentioned that mathematical truth does not vary like yearly rainfall.
Repeatedly I had pointed out that there is no single best way of
performing most operations on numbers.
Overall, I trust that my encounters were with a minority of
questionable users of the term "CL".
Perhaps of mutual interest to listers, by chance I recall at
least two instances (involving teachers other than myself), in which
a student was expressing resentment over receiving a "B" on a small
group project, since said grade was not determined by the teacher,
but the peer group. Aside from the "B" issue, both students said
that they thought it was the teacher's responsibility to determine
grades. This recollection also triggers another. Some students tell
me (where they cannot be seen or heard by peers), that for their
tuition they would rather hear more from a college teacher than from
less knowledgeable peers. They evidently were voicing a measure of
skepticism, as reflected in the adage about "the blind leading the
blind". By the same token, I did not invent the observation that a
camel is really a horse, designed by a committee.
From: Richard Swerdlin <[log in to unmask]>
As an afterthought of relevance, I recall visiting a student
teacher at the elementary level, while a class was following a
collaborative or committee scheme in studying the construction of
bridges. The nature of the route naturally made it a bit stickier,
at least initially, to fathom what was taking place.
Looking over the plans of the cooperating teacher and those of
the student teacher, my reaction was that the group route was useful,
although it seemed rather time consuming, considering what was
supposed to be learned from the lessons. Regarding the factor of
time, it is trite but true to realize that the school day is not
infinitely long. Even an idealist like myself cannot ignore the time
factor in class. All things considered, what I saw seemed to be
Perhaps of interest too, the Director of Student Teaching at UNT
mentioned at least four times in the semester briefinng, that "we are
guests in the school system", which really meant that university
supervisors should say next to nothing about what they saw in
visiting a student teacher, short of a criminal act being committed.
I smiled at what I thought was questionable use of time, since I did
not want to "undermine" the Denton ISD.
The above is mentioned, since there is the possibility of an
observer being considered "not trained" or "indoctrinated" in CL, if
there is criticism of some element in it (assuming it is even clear
what CL is). This possibility is not entirely a hypothetical fantasy
on my part, since it is easy to recall some situations in Illinois in
the late 60's, where anyone who wondered about literally rubbing
shoulders in class or creeping on the floor was likely to be
considered "old-fashioned", "inhabited", "traditional", etc. This
was in a college class. At the time this seemed screwy. It still
seems screwy, even if intentions were pure in heart.
From: Peter Doolittle <[log in to unmask]>
Basically, I would agree with Richard that it is unnecessary and probably
detrimental to place CL above all other instructional strategies.
Instructional strategies are tools and different goals and objectives
require different tools.
In addition, with the current trend toward an emphasis on individual
differences, it would seem inappropriate to mandate the use of CL. At our
school, group work and CL are used frequently (probably 75% of the time) and
while some student enjoy it and thrive within it, others _hate_ it.
I have found that the students that tend to not like CL are the independent,
internally motivated students (gross generalization, but that's what _I've_
experienced). That is, the very students that excelled under the "old"
non-CL system seem to be the most disgruntled. Not that these student do
poorly within a CL environment, they simply do not like it and would prefer
the independent model. Why is this?
By promoting CL as THE instructional strategy within both education and
business, are we placing the independent worker/student at a disadvantage,
in just the same way that we place the cooperative worker/student at a
disadvantage when only lecture is used? Why must we propose a system with
only one alternative?
From: "Reinhard W. Lindner" <[log in to unmask]>
You overwhelm me. Generally, speaking I have no problem with appropriate
uses of CL. However, institutional realities are not the only issue. What
about personal choice, appropriateness of instruction to the nature of the
course/student(lecture is sometimes appropriate and effective! and, of
course, there are more methodologies available than lecture and CL), and
academic freedom. CL conquers all, I guess.
From: DavidMount <[log in to unmask]>
>Basically, I would agree with Richard that it is unnecessary and probably
>detrimental to place CL above all other instructional strategies.
>Instructional strategies are tools and different goals and objectives
>require different tools.
Is CL a singularity? In other words, is CL a single approach, or is it a
non-descript, non-boundaried collection of approaches, selectable for
>In addition, with the current trend toward an emphasis on individual
>differences, it would seem inappropriate to mandate the use of CL.
One asset of CL which puts it above other teaching strategies is that it
can address individual differences _because_ of it's flexibility.
>At our school, group work and CL are used frequently (probably 75% of the time)
and while some student enjoy it and thrive within it, others _hate_ it.
If the use of CL is _that_ high at your school, it is unusual in my
experience and I would love to have that opportunity to teach in that
environment. But two points may be made here to consider the reaction of
(1) By the time students get to you, what approach have they experienced?
Have they been made responsible for their own learning before? Are they
able, _and willing_, to assess the validity of the information they secure
in their search? Do they test their solution in the context of the problem
they are trying to solve? What is the balance of risk demanded vs. security
(2) Is there any real harm, or perhaps a _benefit_, to "stretching" one's
preferred learning style to experience a different approach? Do we, in the
adult world, in our careers, in life, always have the _valid_ information
delivered to us on a silver platter?
> have found that the students that tend to not like CL are the independent,
>internally motivated students (gross generalization, but that's what _I've_
Will these students be successful and/or happy, or even keep their jobs,
when they get into the corporate world where the Fifth Discipline is
becoming the norm and they "can't accept it" because it's not their
>That is, the very students that excelled under the "old"
>non-CL system seem to be the most disgruntled. Not that these student do
>poorly within a CL environment, they simply do not like it and would prefer
>the independent model. Why is this?
I don't know for sure here, I haven't enough information, but with those
students whom I have worked who have this reaction, they are discouraged by
(1) the collaborative approach seems to be less efficient (they don't
recognize the better result coming from the group);
(2) the grading approach to which they have become accustomed fosters
competition for grades (they aren't comfortable helping others learn
because when graded under the Gaussian distribution or some skewed version
of it, they necessarily lower their own grade);
(3) they are likely to be uncomfortable in groups, perhaps due to social
retardation owing to years of independent study (the group approach
requires maturation of social skills);
Perhaps there are more, but this is getting long.
>By promoting CL as THE instructional strategy within both education and
>business, are we placing the independent worker/student at a disadvantage,
>in just the same way that we place the cooperative worker/student at a
>disadvantage when only lecture is used? Why must we propose a system with
>only one alternative?
Some would only permit a system of only one alternative as has been the
case for far too long. I have been a victim of it and know how detrimental
it has been to my dreams for there to be only one "choice".
From: DavidMount <[log in to unmask]>
While I agree with several of your points (funding, conversion of leaders,
reaching concensus), I take feel your statement:
>The real world is not collaborative by nature -- it IS competitive
is too generalized. There are many situations which are _not_ competitive
and when they are, the competition is detrimental to the desired outcome.
For example, the use of a "true" team to design a product, would require
collaboration to produce the best outcome. Tolerance of competition between
team members would compromise the success of the product and jeopardize the
job security of the team members as well as the viability of the company.
Yes, competition between companies is essential to drive product quality
improvement, especially in the absence of consumer sophistication. But this
is not the same as cooperation between individuals who need to share
expertise due to the complexity of today's world and that of the future.
From: "Bourke, Denis" <[log in to unmask]>
I do not have a problem with Collaborative Learning in itself, and I
think I said that it has its place. Unselfish collaboration and teamwork
is the reason that New Zealand currently holds the America's Cup, how the
US put a man on the Moon, how the Romans built their Empire. These were
all achieved through effective leadership, bringing what Adair J. calls
his three circles -- tasks needs, individual needs, and group maintenance
needs -- to a theoretical overlapping. Commitment to the desired
outcome, what individuals are hoping to get out of the collaboration for
themselves, how they agree objectives and processes among themselves.
However, this has an inherrent danger. The collaborative group can
become so inward focussed that they become subject to what irving Janis
calls Group Think. And in time, if a member of the collaborative team
raises a dissenting voice, they get kicked out. This is what underlay
the Bay of Pigs debacle. However, I digress.
My issue is with pushing people into a collaborative environment to
undertake a task, the point of which is not explained first, and without
the requisite skills to do the task efficiently. A typical example is
the Military's search for leadership qualities among the new batch of
recruits. Teams of five, you have a piece of string, a box of matches, a
barrel and two short planks, and you have to get the whole team across
the creek without getting wet. Some bright spark might figure it out,
but the rest are made to look dumb.
You don't put a team together to design a new product unless they each
bring a requisite skill/knowledge set to the collaboration, and there is
a clear concept of what they are to achieve.. I remember reading
recently of a study of youngsters being steered towards an understanding
of mechanical advantage by building with Lego. The researcher was
facinated with the interaction as the youngsters collaborated. In my
view, the youngsters were involved in mere discovery learning by copying
a Lego model, and how best to fit the pieces so it worked. The overall
outcome was supposed to be an understanding of mechanical advantage.
They never achieved that, because at the end of the exercise they had
still not been told such a concept existed. But they made nice model
From: DavidMount <[log in to unmask]>
Thanks for your response. I am very interested in your comments. I have to
confess not being aware of Irving Janis, but have heard the term "group
think" but likely not capitalized. Can you provide a brief description or a
reference for me?
>However, this has an inherrent danger. The collaborative group can
>become so inward focussed that they become subject to what irving Janis
>calls Group Think
>And in time, if a member of the collaborative team raises a dissenting voice,
they get kicked out. This is what underlay the Bay of Pigs debacle.
I am in agreement with you regarding the situation in which there is the
fear of raising a dissenting opinion within a group. However isn't this a
case of improper power balance? I am not familiar with the dynamics behind
the Bay of Pigs.
>My issue is with pushing people into a collaborative environment to
>undertake a task, the point of which is not explained first, and without
>the requisite skills to do the task efficiently.
And you provide a good example of how it _should not_ be done. I don't
believe this should be identified as collaborative. "Team" perhaps, in the
sense they're all seeking the same goal (to get to the other side), but not
collaborative: the person who figures it out gets the leader title, not the
group! Shared reward is part of the specifications of collaborative effort.
>You don't put a team together to design a new product unless they each
>bring a requisite skill/knowledge set to the collaboration, and there is
>a clear concept of what they are to achieve.
Agreed. Again a good example of your point. Again, the Lego project was not
a well-considered or -designed situation; although the intended goal was
reasonable, the exercise did _not_ focus on the principle to be learned.
Copying a previous result does not teach anything further than copying. We
have experienced this in our teaching of pharmacy compounding skills.
Students given a compounding project with a known drug, if they can't find
a "recipie" in the literature, will contact one pharmaceutical company
after another until they get someone willing to provide one. Whether it is
a "valid" one (stable, quality, bioavailable, right dose, etc.) is not
usually considered or evaluated. They take the source for granted. With the
Lego example, the kids may remember the design, but do they know if it will
support the intended load or do they test it?
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Bad Rap for CL Undeserved
I read the comments about CL with interest, as I see the uses and abuses on
a daily basis. I work at a small HS in Southern California, where we have
been undergoing restructuring. Before the change, there was great concern
over the high rate of failure on the part of our students, many of whom are
pigeonholed as "minority," "AFDC," "from a single-parent family," "below the
twenty-fifth percentile on CTBS," and the like. Our dropout prevention pro-
gram continues to be a viable place for these children (it uses computers and
CAI heavily, by the way); of our kids who complete the regular program, we
estimate that ten percent go on to college of any kind. Thus we have been
moving towards such strategies as career paths, internships, and the like to
further the chances of successful career attainment by most of our kids, not
merely the college bound.
And this has something do to with CL? Well, yes. I have seen the pendulum
swing from lecture-driven lessons to alternative learning strategies, CL, and
the like. A few observations that I have made over the years:
1) CL is NOT a substitute for teacher interaction. I have seen teachers go
from "use-the-book-and-answer-the -questions" to "do-the-same-only-in-groups."
The teacher MUST circle the room and become a part of the learning. It's
particularly great when we can ask the kids questions, sort of reverse the
roles, and let them teach us about what they have learned from the group work.
2) CL requires skills that MUST BE TAUGHT, especially to students weaned on
Nintendo. Most of our kids now lack basic social skills -- a sad but true
fact -- and do not know how to work in groups. The first few times I have
students do CL, I generally need to reinforce the material through lecture,
as the kids do not know haow to learn from other and need proactice. (Sorry
about my typing; I hope the errors don't conceal the content.)
3) Kids need to be disabused of the notion that they learn from the teacher.
I spend a great deal of time dealing with kids telling me, "You're the teach-
er; you're supposed to teach us." CL is harder than passively listening to
a lecture. Again, remember that these kids grew up on video; they are not
used to interaction.
4) Personality styles need to be addressed. Who hasn't dealt with "He isn't
doing his part!" only to then be told, "She's so bossy, she wants everyone
to do it her way, why should I bother?" Adults find group work hard; how
much more so do kids who again are not used to interaction and have a passive
notion of education?
5) Finally: if the lessons do not have obviously underscored value to the
kids, they see CL as one more form of busy work.
I would enjoy reading others' reflections, reactions, and experiences. How
many of our readership here are "in the trenches" and how many strictly
acadmic? How many of us are secondatry teachers, and how many post-secon-
From: DavidMount <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Bad Rap for CL Undeserved
>I would enjoy reading others' reflections, reactions, and experiences. How
>many of our readership here are "in the trenches" and how many strictly
>acadmic? How many of us are secondatry teachers, and ho w many post-secon-
I am not currently "in the trenches", but I was "performing" at the Faculty
of Pharmacy University of Toronto, co-teaching collaboratively in
undergraduate courses to 170 students in a class up until Summer 1995. I
know of what you speak from direct experience as well as indirectly from
A few comments on your observations.
>1) CL is NOT a substitute for teacher interaction. I have seen teachers go
>from "use-the-book-and-answer-the -questions" to "do-the-same-only-in-groups."
>The teacher MUST circle the room and become a part of the learning. It's
>particularly great when we can ask the kids questions, sort of reverse the
>roles, and let them teach us about what they have learned from the group work.
Yes, it is exciting when the students can tell us, enthusiastically, about
their learning. Perhaps it is necessary to stimulate the interactions as
they become accustomed to this kind of learning, however, I have found that
it is best to "fade into the background" and observe, only intervening when
you note that the group is getting off track or stuck on some concept. We
want them to _not_ depend upon us so we need to wean ourselves (actually,
they will occasionally tell you that your presence is not wanted!).
Teacher interaction should occur, but in measured and well-considered
situations. Students are great at milking information from us, so beware of
their approach for information. Interventions can be great or you can
"crash and burn".
>2) CL requires skills that MUST BE TAUGHT, especially to students weaned on
>Nintendo. Most of our kids now lack basic social skills -- a sad but true
>fact -- and do not know how to work in groups.
Again, I agree with you. There are many sideline benefits to group work,
but be aware that the acquisition of these skills takes some time. This is
why Ted is suggesting through the Policy statements that CL be applied in
every level of education so we are developing higher skills in students
before they reach university, where the content of the curriculum is so
very important to the establishment.
>4) Personality styles need to be addressed. Who hasn't dealt with "He isn't
>doing his part!" only to then be told, "She's so bossy, she wants everyone
>to do it her way, why should I bother?" Adults find group work hard; how
>much more so do kids who again are not used to interaction and have a passive
>notion of education?
One of the things my partner and I do when we begin to introduce CL to a
class or to a group of administrators and/or teachers is to introduce the
concepts of personality and diversity. Even adults have trouble with this!
>5) Finally: if the lessons do not have obviously underscored value to the
>kjids, they see CL as one more form of busy work.
You know, it really doesn't matter what form of teaching you use, if there
is no perceived relevancy to the subject matter, there will be little
acceptance of the method.
The CL methodology is not Plug'n'Play as they say. Educators need to learn
certain skills not unlike facilitation in order to make it work. I see this
as the major hurdle to it's use
From: "Bourke, Denis" <[log in to unmask]>
On Group Think, a good reference is Janis, I., and Mann, L. (1977)
Decision-Making, Free Press.
As I recall, there are eight symptoms.
This occurs when a coterie has reached the stage where
concurrence-seeking eliminates the realistic appraisal of alternatives.
No conflict, or opposing opinion is allowed to spoil the cosy we-feeling
of the coterie, or power group. Janis and Mann identified eight symptoms
1. Invulnerability. The cohesive group becomes over-optimistic and can
take extraordinary risks without realising the dangers. This is because
the discordant voices are shut out.
2. Rationale. The group is swift to find rationalisation to explain
away evidence that does not sit well with its policy.
3. Morality. The group tends to be blind to the moral or ethical
consequences of its policy.
4. Stereotypes. Victims of Group-Think fall easily into a habit of
stereotyping their opposition, and shutting out discordant evidence.
5. Pressure. If any member voices doubt, the group exerts subtles
pressure to stifle the doubt. Doubts can be expressed, but not pressed.
6. Self-censorship. Members of the group are careful not to express
personal doubts or feelings outside the group, since this upsets the
7. Unanimity. It is important that once a decision has been reached,
divergent views are screened out.
8. Mindguards. Victims of Group-Think then set themselves up as
mindguards to the decision. A doctrine of collective responsibility is
invoked by the mindguards, to stifle any out-group dissent.
Janis and Mann then observe that the result of Group-Think is, that the
group looks at too few alternatives, is insensitive to the risks
inherrent in its favoured strategy, finds it hard to rethink a failing
strategy, and becomes very selective in the sort of facts it sees and
asks for. It is rife at the top of orgainisations when issues are dealt
Do Janis and Mann see a cure ? Yes. Such groups must actively encourage
self-criticism. They must seek alternatives, and introduce outside ideas
and evaluation wherever possible. They must offer a positive response to
conflicting evidence. If they do not, then they are doomed to move from
one blunder to the next.
From: Linda Bryan <[log in to unmask]>
Re: Cooperative Learning
>>Policy #18) Financing must be provided in order to maintain small class sizes
and thus maximize student interaction and familiarity and student-teacher
interaction. etc. etc.
So Ted, what is the advice about groups for me if I say that I have four classes
of 35 and one of (can I believe it?) 26? Last year I had six permanent groups of
five or (occasionally) six in my social studies 7 classes.
This year, in social studies, geography, and languge arts, I've got mostly huge
classes, although there's that one of 26 because my class period is scheduled at
same time as an advanced math class (It's a long story). Anyway, I correct that
one set of papers first! I look forward to talking to those kids one-on-one!
In the other classes, I have seven cooperative groups of five, or (more often)
six groups of six. That's awful. Try working with six or seven kids at a
computer. Try keeping six on task!
When I have seven groups, I find I lose track of the groups. I can't get around
the room fast enough.
From: Lisa Dillinger <[log in to unmask]>
I find this discussion interesting and in line with the study and research I
have conducted lately.
The constructivist vs. the directivist view is the arguement that must be
discussed if a shift in education is going to come about. Teachers all over
the country are deciding which approach to take. Of course, what "ties our
hands behind our backs" is the way students are tested. If standardized
testing is an exam in fact regurgitating (sp?), any efforts by the teacher
to begin to take the critical thinking approach will back-fire when the
"leaders" of the schools demand, with a fist coming down on the table, that
schools improve test scores so everyone looks good on paper.
When our "leaders" in the school system listen to the business cry for
competent workers , then we might see a different view toward testing.