Engaging Students Through Cooperative Learning and Thinking Skills
RITE Education Consultancy presented a workshop at the Petrosains Science Festival on 13 September in order to support Science and Maths teachers with strategies to engage students during lessons and to promote thinking skills. It is key to all educators to understand the learning needs of the brain, and to ensure that students are fully engaged in their learning. Students need to feel emotionally and physically safe. Once the brain is emotionally hijacked, it becomes very difficult to access the prefrontal cortex and higher-order thinking skills. What makes a SAFE environment? It is an environment where students feel that their voice is heard, where positive affirmations are constantly used and the focus is on what they are doing right, instead on what they are doing wrong. It is an environment where there is structure and routine, which calms the amygdalae and prevents the short circuit to emotionally driven responses. In this environment, there are clear agreed positive behaviour management systems, and students are also given the opportunity to learn in the modalities that they are most comfortable with. There are no put-downs by others, since the classroom models respect and empathy. When students are experiencing behaviour challenges, the teacher is equipped with the necessary strategies to deal with it. Students also practice mindfulness techniques, breathing for stress, and choices. Furthermore, in this environment, the teacher realises that “flow”, the best learning state, happens when there is a good balance between challenge and ability. This would be different for different students who have different learning needs and abilities. So, a teacher who plans a “one-size-fits-all” approach, can be sure that neurological stress will result among her students. Some will be disengaged since the work is too difficult, and for others boredom since the work is not challenging enough. Therefore, the teacher needs to plan lessons that offer choice and different difficulty levels. At the same time, teachers in effective learning environments, will plan stimulating displays that support learning visually. There will be thematic displays that are developed during the course of a topic. These are interactive displays that promotes student thinking with key questions, opportunities to provide feedback and documented displays. Key questions such as “what are we learning about”, and higher order thinking prompts such as “what if…” or “what do you see, think and wonder” will be displayed. Teachers will also involve students in creating these displays, giving them a sense of ownership and pride in their classroom. Students will learn together in cooperative learning groups, utilising cooperative learning structures. These structures deliver an embedded social curriculum, therefore encouraging peer learning and giving students an opportunity to ask and answer questions, share opinions, differ in a constructive manner, and learn simultaneously. Extensive research on the use of cooperative learning has shown that it impacts significantly on student outcomes. RITE Education Consultancy has designed our own Cooperative Structures and also implement structures that are widely available online. These structures are content free, and repeatable steps, that can be introduced in any curriculum area at any age group. I have introduced cooperative learning across continents in hundreds of schools and have seen the impact on not only the academic outcomes of students, but also the social and emotional learning that results. Have a look at the RITE Product section on the website where you can order a set of posters printed on durable acrylic fabric and supports the learning environment with clearly articulated steps and visual reminders for students and teachers on how to implement some of these structures in their classrooms. Learning can be fun if students learn socially, move around to promote brain health and improve retention of new material, when learning has meaning and relevance and sufficient time is given to students to process new information. We will explore these areas in a next blog. Do it the RITE way!