Issues Associated with Introducing an Inquiry Approach to Teaching, Learning and Assessment in a Queensland School: Part Five


Vygotsky would argue that full development during the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD) depends upon full social interaction.  Vygotsky states: "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra-psychological). Vygotsky argues that the range of skill that can be developed with adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained alone.  A well designed, critical inquiry should, therefore, provide opportunity for students to work in collaborative groups which help satisfy the adolescent need for Belonging and Acceptance.   A teacher’s role in developing supportive learning environments for adolescents is to create socially rich environments which provide learners with opportunities to explore subjects with their teachers and peers.

Such an environment is created using the collaborative learning model where, according to Wankat and Oreovicz, "Research has shown that a cooperative learning environment is conducive to learning higher-order cognitive tasks such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and problem solving." (in Smyser, 1999) Collaborative learning is a highly effective method by which to provide "richer, more extended learning outcomes" for students (DeGiglio & Greenslade, 1994:3). Collaborative learning techniques provide opportunities to develop many of the intelligences identified by Gardiner, in particular the areas of interpersonal intelligence.

 

Collaborative learning is frequently referred to as cooperative learning and yet the two approaches are different in one important but subtle respect. Collaborative learning is a methodology in which interpersonal skills are explicitly taught as part of the total learning experience.  An understanding of the concepts of group dynamics and techniques such as conflict resolution are as important a learning outcome as an understanding of a scientific or historical concept. (DeGiglio & Greenslade, 1994).  In developing collaborative grouping strategies it is wise to consider the value of allowing students to work sometimes in like-ability groups and at other times in mixed ability groups. Students, especially gifted students, need the opportunity to work with people who think at a similar conceptual level or in a similar way to themselves.  Using like ability groups with research tasks of differentiated cognitive levels enables students to experience a safe learning environment more nearly matched to their "zone of proximal development". Where students are grouped by ability and work with a curriculum “adjusted to the aptitude levels of the groups”, the benefits are great. (Kulik in Reis et al, 1992:148)


BY SUE BURVILL-SHAW

 
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