What should the learning environment look like in a small group setting?
Face to face conversation in a comfortable and safe atmosphere is first and foremost. "Collaborative Learning Builds Deeper Understanding" is a documentary about a school that focuses on small group discussion as an integral aspect of learning.
Specifically, this part of the video demonstrates the Harkness-Style Roundtable Discussion. As is shown in the video, the instructor describes the step by step process to developing a "great conversation" from day one.
To make the students feel as comfortable and safe as possible to be able to take risks that will create a good conversation, the instructor...
- Asks, "What are the values implicit in sitting around this large, wooden, oval table? Now, every classroom won't have that, but how can that type of environment be created in a classroom?
- Students respond with respect, listening to each other, and being courteous.
- Creates the right geography in the classroom. She asks, "Can you all see each other? Can you make eye contact with your classmates?" If the students can't see each other, they adjust their chairs so that they can.
- Always tells the students, "Check your ego at the door." "Be willing to take risks, just have fun, and throw out ideas." She adds, "if you throw something else out and it's not fully formed, that's great because somebody else can jump in and build on an idea."
- Also starts with a reflective moment, a moment of silence, or a moment of writing.
While all educators may not feel comfortable with all of this at first, finding a comfortable, inviting atmosphere to conversation will create a tremendously, positive learning environment.
It is important to have a set of guidelines for the conversation. Watch how she describes one of the "discussion styles". There are three roles students will fill during the discussion.
Of course, all of this is NOT easy. However, teachers have noticed that students will talk with them at the end of the small group session and say, "I didn't get to say everything I wanted to." That's where technology can continue the discussion. Tools that can assist with this include
How does this look in other subject areas?