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May 27, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

My rant on the nature of activities and discussion in the education research on classroom learning

Based on a question on Quora:

What is more effective for learning: self reflection or group discussion?Edit
There’s a lot of evidence showing that reflection done both individually and as a group is effective in boosting understanding and retention of information. However, I can’t find anything that compares the effectiveness of self-reflection vs group discussion. With limited teaching time, what gives student the most bang for their buck?

I’m keen to hear from teachers and instructional designers.

I think this is an interesting question, but I think it begs or assumes two other issues:

Assumption: Educational results alone the best criteria to make this particularly decision. I don’t think this decision should be made based on education results alone. The skills of self-reflection and group discussion are both vital life skills. Its like positing a conflict between writing and speaking skills. You need both and both are valuable. Also, arguably both build on each other.

I think self-reflection and pair sharing (referred to as rapid response in the training literature) can be helpful and can be done with minimal interference with group discussion. (i.e. for me, self-reflection and pair sharing). Each teaches different skills.

Assumption: The two aren’t complementary or building. They make space for the group discussion to be effective. In fact, I think rounds of each part can help build better discussions. To pose them against each other–even given limited time–may be short sighted. Also, the strengths of students may be (the argument for diversity of learners says to do both…so both have the opportunity to shine and express themselves fully)

Scenario for integrating all 3 activities. Lets say you have 20 minutes for direct instruction and 20 minutes for activities and then 5 to 10 minutes to give an assignment–I think you can use as many as 3 to 5 different questions in a cycle which includes both. Finally, you can make the assignment self-reflection on synthesizing or personally responding to what occurred–integrating 2 or more of the questions (obviously this may very as kids grow in their synthesis skills).

* The model I described is somewhat simplified. I think most literature would suggest 7 minutes of direct instruction (combined with embedded questions which encourage self-relfection about application or use or relevance–or which encourage the student to think like a practitioner in the field). It would be followed with 7 minutes of activities (this self-reflection, pair share, and group discussion cycle). Although–there are permutations even of this–combining self-reflection and pair share can become one issue–on occasion to help break the mold and perhaps encourage a quicker dialog once students become more accustomed to self-reflection. This isn’t a call to get rid of it–just to offer other options.

** My bet is the research on integrating all 3 would conclude that a tripartite strategy, rather than isolating to just one may be the best strategy. Although this doesn’t square with my example per se, 60 to 90 seconds to reflect….double that time to pair share….and then 4 to 5 minutes of group discussion could be a decent allocation. Hopefully, there is a model in the literature which can explain my educated guesses. Moreover, self-reflection in 5 to 7 minute segments may also be effective–to encourage a deeper level of self-reflection and perhaps even some free-writing, brainstorming, critical thinking, and problem solving.

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