26 February 2012

On Collaboration

An article in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald caught my attention because it was discussing how technology continues to change work patterns. The article arrived at the following conclusion:
“Because complex design and supply chains favour cross-disciplinary collaboration, employers want people with "employability skills". That means being able to work in teams, solve complex problems, manage large projects from start to finish and negotiate intercultural relationships.”

It reminded me that careers of the future will require both collaborative and cooperative skills and educators need to provide students with learning opportunities to develop these skills.

Some educational theorists delineate a difference between cooperative and collaborative learning.  Dillenbourg (1999a) defined the distinction roughly as follows:
In cooperation, partners split the work, solve sub-tasks individually and then assemble the partial results into the final output. In collaboration, partners do the work ‘together.’
Workplaces require both types of skills, sometimes whilst working on the same projects. Students are frequently assigned group work, for example when a research task is divided and individuals report back on their findings, combining their knowledge. This is generally seen as cooperative learning. 

True collaboration occurs largely through interactions among students as they work towards group cognition. Students actually learn by the process of communicating, raising questions about knowledge, teaching each other, and arriving at shared resolutions. 

This process is not only required by jobs of the future but by the job we teachers hold today. Time for greater collaboration between and among ourselves would be of substantial benefit.

12 February 2012

Thinking and Reading

‘The “E”-generation needs to comprehend more than ever before. … They must be prepared to analyze, validate and ask the next logical question. They have to know how to think.’
This quote comes from a book by Cris Tovani, an American educator, called I read it but I don’t get it (p.110.), which has encouraged me to reflect on the relationship between thinking and reading, a topic I raised in an earlier post titled The Reading Revolution.
Tovani’s book is a simple account of how good readers operate and shows teachers how to explicitly teach that information. Many teachers will be familiar with some of her strategies, as frequently we are good readers ourselves and have used these strategies to gain access to meaning in our own learning as well as our classrooms.
Annotation, or the use of sticky notes, is one of the first tools she discusses and one I have been using forever. (Digression: I was delighted that my sister worked for 3M during my undergraduate years when she introduced us to Post-It Notes and Tape-Flags. All my texts since that time have been punctuated with little bits of paper and plastic.) Showing students my annotated texts has inspired many to follow suit – with even greater organisational and colour-coding gusto.
Tovani, though, goes further. She invites us to plan the annotation students make on texts with specific connections to aid comprehension. She writes that ‘By the time students enter middle school, they have begun to rely on their teachers to tell them what their reading is about.’ (P.98.) Making annotations or sticky notes which record the teacher’s explication, e.g., ‘Here Hamlet is referring to blah...’, is not helpful for individuals trying to comprehend the text. Instead, Tovani argues that the students try to make the following, more personal, connections:
  • Text to self: Connections between the text and the reader’s experiences and memories.
  • Text to world: Connections the reader makes between the text and what she/he knows about the world (facts and information).
  • Text to text: Connections the reader makes between two or more types of texts. The reader may also make connections relative to plot, content structure, or style.  
Tovani argues that by making personal connections it allows students to ‘hold on to [their] thinking as they process text’. This one strategy has the potential to improve student comprehension when encountering the reading material accessed in any subject. And there are many others in this book.
Cris Tovani writes in her conclusion ‘… that comprehension strategies are really thinking strategies and are used in every aspect of our lives.’ (P. 109.) All teachers know this on some level. With greater knowledge of strategies, every teacher could be teaching comprehension, and therefore thinking, every time their students engaged in reading.