I have received a number of additional responses to CL series #5 so I
am sending out a second part. The discussion is very interesting in that many
people judge CL from a position of hearing poor anecdotal stories and their
conclusions are based upon a general lack of information or clear understanding
of all the components of CL. Perhaps with further discussion many of these
misconceptions can be cleared up.
I will be sending along the responses to the CL series #6- policies soon. If
you wish to have any comments included please send them along.
The Cl series statements and responses are now on a web site thanks to the
efforts of Larry Rudner. The following site also has a short definition of
collaborative learning and and extended discussion of the differences between
collaborative and cooperative learning. Go to the site and look under GEMS.
There are many other interesting items at this site also.
Ted [log in to unmask]
From: Diane Paulson <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: CL series #5 responses
I just completed a Fifth year program for teacher licensure. The
professors taught mostly from a lecture standpt, probably 90%. I hardly
learned anything. I have been working for the last 18 yrs. as a social
worker, so I brought life experience of how to work with children and
One memory is when the prof. put us into groups at the end of class, then
told us to work together on a particular project. He gave us 3 min. at the
end of class! It was a nightmare, the time stress brought out a few of the
members less desirable behaviors-one being that one group member just took over
and told everyone what to do. My point is that it seems like when CL doesn't
work is when the teacher has not been taught what the process truly is but goes
on their prior knowledge that maybe goes like this--"I know what the word
collaboration means, I know how to do CL". As I read people's responses, it
seems like the people who are against CL have either been victims of lack of
teachers capabilities in CL, or they themselves don't have enough
researched-based information about CL, case in point B. Knuckles response to CL.
Ted's response was excellent because he cleared up each of her points that were
based on a lack of information about research and what CL truly is.
I wish I could change how fearful we all are of changes, especially it
seems in the education system, and help us all to be less reactive and more
responsive to new ideas. It is not doing the children of this country any
good to have all these "adults" react to new ideas without the information
about how many kids are doing poorly in school, dropping out, not meeting
their own potential, etc, Something I remind myself is about how poorly
one of our most revered geniuses did in school: Einstein was a terror, his
teachers hated him and he was in and out of school. He constantly was
punished for not following the expectations of his teachers. The system
could not handle his divergent personality characteristics. His learning
style did not fit into what they had deemed was valuable. The point I want to
make is that there should be numerous ways that teachers teach, sometimes a
lecture works, sometimes independent study, sometimes colloborative learning,
sometimes community service projects, etc., etc. I believe that the role of a
teacher would be more of a facilitator, where they can facilitate the best
learning environment for children who can learn how to find, what to find, and
where to find the information they need.
I hope for children's sake all of us adults can figure out how to make a
system that reflects democracy, dignity, and diversity.
From: DavidMount <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Bad Rap for CL Undeserved
Below you describe one of the most maddening occurrences to those of us who have
worked hard to make CL a beneficial technique. When a session like you describe
fails, the blame goes on the teaching method, not the teacher,destroying the
environment for those students in future situations.
> One memory is when the prof. put us into groups at the end of class, then
told us to work together on a particular project. He gave us 3 min. at the end
of class! It was a nightmare... the time stress brought out a few of the
members less desirable behaviors-one being that one group member just took over
and told everyone what to do.
When used properly, time stress is essential in that it accelerates
cognitive development. In your situation, even the social development which may
be derived from such a crisis, can and should be used to advantage.
>I wish I could change how fearful we all are of changes, especially it
>seems in the education system, and help us all to be less reactive and more
responsive to new ideas.
There are many of us who feel as you do.
>It is not doing the children of this country any good to have all these
"adults" react to new ideas without the information about how many kids are
doing poorly in school, dropping out, not meeting their own potential, etc,
Yes, the reactions of adults who don't know what they are criticizing is
difficult at the least. It just turns kids off before they have the chance
to experience it first hand.
>The point I want to make is that there should be numerous ways that
>teachers teach, sometimes a lecture works, sometimes independent study,
>sometimes colloborative learning, sometimes community service projects,
>etc., etc. I believe that the role of a teacher would be more of a
>facilitator, where they can facilitate the best learning environment.
This is exactly the approach we (my partner and I) take in our consulting
and writing and application of education. We have identified the skills
needed by a "facilitator", or better yet, a mentor, in making education
>for children who can learn how to find, what to find, and where to find the
information they need.
Additionally to your list, I would propose adding "how to critically assess
the validity of the information they retrieve". We know most students are
not very good at using critical thought and will commit to solutions which
are not practicable in their given situation.
>I hope for children's sake all of us adults can figure out how to make a
>system that reflects democracy, dignity, and diversity.
You're not alone.
From: "Bourke, Denis" <[log in to unmask]>
Read your grumble about the prof and the 3 minutes with interest. I have
experienced this several times, and I have been guilty of doing it
myself. Time seems to be one of the big enemies. There is constantly
more and more subject matter that has to be covered in a given
time-frame. Teachers get criticised for _deciding_ what the student has
to learn. In my experience, I actually have very little choice in what I
may or may not present to my students. Along with most, I teach to a
prescription or body of knowledge that has been laid down by drones in
the Education Ministry, a Professional body, an Industry committee, or
some such. About all I can do is use my own knowledge and experience to
guide the student to what is the most important information that they
really have to internalise, and what they need to be aware of rather than
know, and where to find the latest version.
Collaborative learning, like most learning theories and approaches, has
its place. I do not think it is the education panacea that its more
zealous supporters believe it to be. There are those I know who cannot
bear the collaborative workshop sessions that get shoved into CPD courses
for instance. They see them as a waste of time, with the blind leading
the blind, and they come away more confused as everyone tries to push a
viewpoint. This is particularly so with the pragmatic type who simply
wants to know the right way and how to do it. Or the assimilative type
who wants to take time to think things through before being bulldozed
The biggest problem I had in school, was not with the teaching method
that might have been adopted by one teacher or another _ although some
were shockers, and some were brilliant_ but with the vaildity of what I
was told to learn. Time and again, when I asked why were we learning
this or that, it was met with a blank response or -- that's enough from
you boy --. I remember vivdly still, being presented with Pythagoras'
theorem to learn by heart. Why? for heavens sake. What use is it? You
have to know it for the end of year exam, boy, that's why.
About a month later, I was home on holiday and Dad was building the new
chook sheds. Quite state of the art they were, with separate nesting,
roosting, and eating/fossicking areas. Not for him the battery cages.
The man who laid the concrete blocks for the base walls went to an awful
lot of trouble at the start with his string lines. I was intrigued. He
had two strings starting from the same point, one running north, and the
other east where the walls were to be. The strings were very taut and he
measured a certain distance along one and made a red mark on the string.
Then he did the same on the other. Dad then held the tape measure on one
mark while the block layer held the measure at the other mark, and I
moved the eastern string in or out until told to stop. The string was
What was it all for? To get the corner square, sonny. How do you know
it's square? Well, if you measure 3 feet along one string, and 4 feet on
the other, then all you have to do is move one string in or out until the
distance between the two marks equals 5 feet. Then the corner is square.
Why does that make it square? I don't know mate, it just is.
He was applying Pythagoras' theorem, but didn't know it !! That night I
retired to my room after dinner and learnt the theorem off pat in twenty
minutes, and when tested on it in the end of year exam, I got full marks.
Some of the collaborative learning situations I have witnessed, seem to
have more of a leadership development/social interaction outcome than a
genuine subject knowledge outcome. Especially with children. At the end
of the day, they have cleverly collaborated together to survey and record
the make, colour, and number of cars passing a certain point in a given
time. But they still do not know why. What they do find out is that
Peter is not going to let anyone else write the tally, Mary is
colour-blind, James isn't interested and is running around playing jet
planes, and little Penny doesn't say boo to a mouse
From: Harvey Babischkin <[log in to unmask]>
I agree, grades are certainly not the issue - they are the tangible
manifestation of an instructional philosophy. As a parent, grades are the
only "consistent" means for me to "know" what is going on in school and "how
well" my daughter is "doing".
I view grades as a simplified assessment system to inform student and parent as
to the achievement "status" on a particular body of knowledge, skills, etc. It
doesn't matter if the "grade" is rubric, scale (alpha or numeric), narrative,
pass/fail, benchmarks, etc. Some type of system is necessary to communicate to
parent and student.
Grades are a very gross reflection of learning. It's impossible and would
be counterproductive and confusing to communicate the goals and objectives of a
course of study let alone all the courses that a student takes in one year.
Many elementary schools, including the one I work at, and the school my
daughters attend, select the most important goals and objectives to grade.
Some will equate grades with status. My daughter certainly does. She
enjoys the acknowledgment from teacher, friends, classmates, and parents
that comes with "good grades".
I attended a conference a few years ago on performance assessment and
developing rubrics. I voiced a concern that the 4 point rubric the speaker
shared with the group did not acknowledge excellent/outstanding achievement. I
indicated that my daughter would not be motivated under the system outlined at
the conference. Opposing opinion indicatd that learning should be intrinsic and
extrinsic. How many of us work because it is intrinsically satisifying and we
need no other incentives to enthusiastically do our job and work overtime,
attend night meetings, etc.? For my daughter, one of her incentives is good
Harvey C. Babischkin
[log in to unmask]
I find the above quite confusing and disturbing. I posted to Bob a while
ago when he first posted his concern about CL. I'm sure that Bob would
consider that my comments were pro CL. I don't believe that the purpose of CL
is to change student value system or misbehavior. My understanding is that CL
is an instructional technique to improve/increase student learning and to give
student's an experience with group dynamics.
If the purpose of CL is for behavior modification then I would be totally
opposed to its use.
I would like to comment on two items that BOB has stated. The first is from a
previous post listed below.
>Personally, I and, I'm sure, many others value individual responsibility
>and competition over cooperation and other communal values.
I don't believe that any of these are the antithesis of the others.
Individual responsibility actually enhances cooperation and vice verse. Welive
in a very complex society with increasing interconnections between
people. Just think of the global nature of business or the WEB or even the
communication we are currently having. Although there are instances, the
American rugged individualist was a myth. Throughout history the large
majority of individuals (even cave dwellers) lived in communal villages and had
to cooperate in order to survive .
The second item is from Bob's post which "T." referred to.
>"The day my daughter ever gets a "group grade" or gets graded on her
>functioning within a group, you can be sure that there will be a very >strong
reaction on my part.
I have mixed feelings about the concept of a group grade. My daughter's
(Grade 4) school does not use CL. My daughter usually gets called upon by
the teacher to help other students who are having difficulty. My daughter
is the one who other students call at night to get an explanation of the
homework or classwork. The school psychologist requested that my daughter sit
next to a learning disabled boy so she could help him. My daughter is the one
who always finishes first and gets the "A's". My daughter enjoys working in
groups, leading, helping others, being the center of attention, getting
Is it equitable for my daughter's grade to be lowered because her group has the
"needy" students? Is it equitable for the "needy" students to get a
higher grade because of the work my daughter has done? Does a group grade
provide a clear picture of my daughter's and the other student's
capabilities and acheivement? Each student should get a grade based upon their
own accomplishments whether in or out of a group.
However, I don't have a problem with her getting a grade on her functioning in
the group if the grading - goals, objectives, and expectations - is clearly
delineated and group dynamics skills are taught. These are the two failings
that I see in the use of CL. Group dynamics was an integral part of my
administrative degree and certification program. How many teachers using CL
have any clue about this area let alone that the skills are taught.
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Assessing group work To: [log in to unmask]
From: [log in to unmask]
> Should students working in groups be assessed as groups or as individuals?
Some research was done 20 years ago in England, by examining boards and
others, on assessing group work. Their conclusion was that:
It is impossible to assign credit for individual contributions to group
work in ways that could be regarded as fair. For example, the level of
performance of a given individual depends substantially on the other
members of the group -- both positively (through your building on others'
work) and negatively (through their pre-empting things you could have done) in
complex and interactive ways.
Further, any analysis of group work identifies differing roles, such as:
' Ideas person' - suggesting key elements of the groups approach
'Ball carrier' - moving the work forward with tactical suggestions
'Worker' -- carrying through agreed procedures effectively and reliably
'Log-jam breaker' -- intervening when the group is 'stuck', or
about to commit a serious error
'Presenter' -- clearly communicating group ideas concepts,
decisions.... within the group and to others
Many people 'specialise' in one of these roles, not exclusively but
significantly. Any analytic assessment scheme must assign values to each
of these activities, and try to identify who did how much of what. There is
only nonsense down that track. The models are weak, the whole is more than the
sum of the parts etc.
HOWEVER, SOLVING PROBLEMS IN GROUPS IS CENTRALLY IMPORTANT.
* Continue to include a lot of individual assessment
* Assess the performance of groups on appropriate tasks,
* giving equal credit to all members of the group who take part
* assigning individuals to different groups over a period of time
in a reasonably random way
This can work well.
THE GRADE A CEILING
The situation, common in the US, where an able student expects 'straight
A's, produces many distortions. It is not designed to distinguish
exceptional performance; there is always a 'long tail' of excellence.
Rather, it is a measure of competence.
A good student can usually help a more representative group to produce a
competent result -- if they can work with others.
In the UK, it is common for assessment to put a lot of effort into separate
the different levels of excellence -- but no student expects to get 'full
marks ' all the time.
"Our task is to make the important measurable, not simply the measurable
The ability to work in groups is important, and should be assessed. It is
a design responsiblity for the assessment community to face.
From: [log in to unmask] (Beth Sattes) To: [log in to unmask]
Interesting comments. I sent my son to a private school so that he could
experience cooperative learning. Montessori provides an educational
environment where children actively learn--with others, by themselves,
however they prefer and learn best! Now unfortunately, because I believe
strongly in supporting public schools, my son--who learns ONLY by talking
(as do most adults I know who need to discuss or write before they know whatthey
think)--sits all day in a public school. He never moves (except in
physical education), he never speaks in class (except in answer to teacher
questions which don't interest him), and he RARELY learns--except when he is at
home or at boy scouts where learning is project-oriented, he can make things and
do things, and read things that interest him--AND WORK WITH OTHERS. His science
fair project, for example, is very complicated and he was able to choose a
partner with whom to work! He loves working on it and is learning so much!
I don't think any one strategy is good for every child. But for heaven
sakes, why make all suffer to promote one particular learning
strategy--which doesn't work very well for anybody?
Beth D. Sattes Appalachia Educational Laboratory
P.O. Box 1348, Charleston, WV 25325
Phone: (800) 624-9120 or (304) 347-0414 FAX: 304.347.0487
From: Harvey Babischkin <[log in to unmask]>
I think your statement hit the center - "I don't think any one strategy is
good for every child.". One system doesn't fit all. I've always considered
myself an eclectic - taking what I hope is the best of many diffferent
theories and srategies. CL and other stratagies should be available to
teachers. Some activities are purposeful for direct instruction, lecture,
research, individual learning, group learning, etc. CL shouldn't be the
only mode of operation. Learning Styles research has clearly demonstrated our
learning styles are individual but we should be exposed to multiple ways of
learning - a learner should experience aural, oral, and written, etc.
By the way, a Montessori school filtered children into my grade 2 class. I
found that because of the Montessori philosophy allowing greater freedom of
choice, these children took longer to "acclimate" to the public schools more
restrictive environment. Their academic and social skills were quite good. I
had considered having my children attend their preschool but the distance was
too far for transportaton.
From: Bob <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Some interesting responses. Harvey Babischkin mentions that virtues
like competiveness and cooperativeness aren't in oposition. I certainly
agree. However, one approach to educating people would be to cover
the material in such a way that all students perform the same acts of
learning, for example, all doing the same set of math problems or all
studying the same history text. (In other words, don't shortchange my
daughter by letting her do only what she finds amenable, as might occur
in group work.) If one accepts that approach, then group work, with
its emphasis on communal values, seems inconsistent with attaining
uniformity of content coverage. Of course, this line of argument
requires a value judgement or presupposition, namely, that covering
content or imparting knowledge is the prime function of a school and
that other functions, such as teaching people to work together, etc.,
should never interfere with the primary function.
Then I read the response from Beth Satte concerning her son's learning
preferences. On the one hand, I sympathize with her wish that children
might be taught by what ever method works best for them (though meeting this
goal obviously has practical limitations). On the other hand,
I wonder whether her son developed along the lines that she described
substantially as a _result_ of going to the Montessori school. If so,
I think that's very damning evidence against a permissive approach
to educating younger children.
Finally, I have to respond to Joseph Marusa's comment that "Grades
do not equal learning." Good grief! I know that grades often fail
to reflect learning accurately for any number of reasons. But grades
are _SUPPOSED_ to reflect learning, aren't they? If not, we're really
in trouble. The fact that "group grades" may be the only viable
approach to evaluating group work is just another argument against it,
given that the contributions of the group members are unlikely to be
From: Pam Derstine <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask], [log in to unmask]
Re: Bob Frary's comment about Montessori education.
I couldn't let this one go by without comment. Based on a sample size of
one, to conclude that the Montessori 'permissive' approach might have
led to Beth's son's learning preferences (which are not those commonly
used in public education) is pretty rash. I can expand the sample size to
four by adding my three children who went to a Montessori school from
ages 2-5, starting public school in first grade. They thrived on the
self-directed Montessori approach but adjusted with no problems to
public education. I think that Beth's son's learning preferences have
nothing to do with his Montessori experience. In fact, my observation of
learners from preschool through professional school is that regardless
of their experiences, each has a seemingly inborn learning style and
must learn appropriate strategies to be successful in whatever learning
environment they find themselves. Where we fail, I think, is in helping
students discover that THEY aren't failures, but rather most frequently
they have failed to accommodate; and secondly we fail in helping them
find strategies to use to be successful. For example, a visual learner
can be successful in a lecture course by using the appropriate study
strategies which convert the auditory lecture messages into a visual one
for the student.
Just my 2 cents.