Collaborative learning: new way to educate

Collaborative learning: new way to educate

Collaborative learning: new way to educate

Collaborative learning considers education as a social, not an individual act. Students collaborate with each other to study, and not compete against each other by studying alone, writes Samik Ghosh

School education in India is a bundle of contradictions. High-end, computer-based classrooms coexist with schools lacking toilets and electricity.

But children being children, they create joy and learn, in spite of what schools do, or do not do, for them. The big challenge in learning is not physical infrastructure but the fact that most learning options and subjects in today’s schools are arranged sequentially. This severely restricts choices available to students to imbibe lessons and perpetuates an ill-suited, one-size-fit-all system.

Indian educators are today looking for new purposes for school education beyond rote learning. They are rediscovering the importance of experiential or kinesthetic learning to inculcate in children the ability to analyse and think critically.

One of the welcome new trends in school education is a slow shift away from competition-driven motivation for academic excellence to collaborative or cooperative learning.

A creatively planned collaborative learning system puts a few things on the priority list. It allows students to fully discover themselves and their true potential by indulging in a wide range of activities.

The rigid hierarchy of subjects and topics is discarded and it is recognised that creativity in children comes from enabling them to do things their own way. They are left free to discover what they want to learn and explore their little discoveries to the fullest.

Collaborative learning considers education as a social, not an individual, act. Students collaborate with each other to study, not compete against each other by studying alone. They work and learn in groups by carrying conversations among themselves, which is a much less threatening environment.

This social intellectual gymnastics allows for better self-discovery compared to individual learning where self-doubt and peer pressure take their toll. However, it demands much greater imagination from teachers in devising effective group-learning methods.

A few ways of collaborative learning have already worked well in the real word. In a school I was associated with in the past, a term-long experiment was conducted. The teachers were asked to give students full freedom to conduct activities of their choice around the subject being studied, as far as they did not stray too far from the syllabus. A typical section of 30 students was broken into five or six groups.

Each decided on its own what activity needed to be done, related to the central theme or topic.

The Hindi teacher chose a story from the school text book. The students performed a play around it, but altered its ending, which led to an animated debate among the entire class about the merits of the change. 

Another group concentrated on the moral of that particular story. Searching online, the students found similar tales from world literature and translated them into Hindi for everyone’s benefit.

A similar approach was taken in the geography class. Students formed groups and conducted a study about the various types of rocks used to construct major historical monuments of Delhi. 

The results of this unique group learning experiment were impressive in the way students enhanced their comprehension of the subject. It succeeded because they were given freedom to form groups of their own as well as decide the study topic and method of presentation.

Though the participants commented on the work of other groups, no positions or prizes were awarded. The teachers guided them and kept a record of what worked and what didn’t. This collaborative method of non-threatening, stress-free learning has now become an important teaching aid in that particular school.

Another success story of group learning was exploring the technique of interviewing people and analysing the samples. The students questioned various members of their community on the importance of religion in their lives. Though the interviews were done by a small group of students, the entire class participated in analysing the opinions and trying to find patterns in them.

Pictorial story telling is yet another group learning technique for sharing knowledge, observations and opinions. A topic is chosen and broken into five pictures showing its important segments from beginning to end. These are then projected on a screen and the students say their dialogues with the images in the background. 

This technique is simple but puts across the key learning points effectively. It can be modified, with charts or posters taking the place of digital pictures and the style of storytelling may be varied. Pictorial storytelling demands total command over a concept, or it cannot be broken down into just five visuals.

A good school is recognised in terms of the freedom of choice it offers to students and allows them to shoulder the responsibility of self-learning. It instils in them the spirit of liberal thinking and the joy of taking creative risks. All of the methods outlined above can be adapted by any school with modifications.

The teachers need to stop worrying about slowing down the pace of the syllabus and, in a bold experiment, hand over the control of the learning process to the students. They will be amazed with the results.

(The author is Principal, Scindia School, Gwalior)

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