Table of Contents
THE PROBLEM OF INSTRUCTIONAL CHAnGE
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
There has been a lot of research concerning the problems of implementing new techniques and strategies into classroom instruction. The difficulties of innovation may be due to resistance to change, lack of congruence between teachers’ beliefs and practices and several other factors. This does not sound very optimistic in terms of improving learning situations for students. However, there are some ways to enhance student performance that at first sight do not seem to be very complicated but nevertheless are quite effective without depending on the former mentioned barriers too much.
The purpose of this synthesis paper is to present recent findings concerning two of those strategies, cooperative learning and metacognitive instruction, and critically discussing their effectiveness and applicability as well as their limitations and implications for future research. First, a short overview is given on the problem of implementing new techniques in classroom instruction and changing teachers’ practices. This is done to provide a framework and consider the main constraints. Then, research on the two strategies is presented and discussed with regard to applicability and limitations. The main indicator of whether those strategies actually reach the student or not is student achievement as usual, even though it is certainly not the only important one and some other indicators are considered.
Finally, a short summary and conclusion is given and implications for future research are considered.
THE PROBLEM OF INSTRUCTIONAL CHAnGE
Why is it so difficult to implement new procedures or change the concept of how content is taught? Looking at the research in this field, innovation and concept change appear to be situated in a complex network, being affected by several different factors.
Gregoire (2003), for example, suggests that for long lasting changes to occur, teachers must process the reform message and its content systematically. This requires great effort and cognitive capacity, and teachers must therefore have enough motivation and ability to do so. Important is as well the perceived support that is given. As a result, the message can be perceived as either a threat or a challenge. Those considerations bring teacher efficacy into the picture. According to Ross et al. (2001) teacher efficacy is very important in school reform. The higher the self-efficacy, the higher the probability that a teacher will accept conceptual change. Self-efficacy is also content specific. Teachers can feel more or less efficacious under different circumstances. (Tschannen-Moran, 1998) Assuming this, one can draw the conclusion that innovation probably decreases teacher efficacy at first. This is supported by Bandura’s four sources of information that affect self-efficacy: mastery experience, physiological arousal, vicarious experience and verbal persuasion. (Bandura, 1988). A change in practice would especially reveal a lack of mastery experience, which Goddard (2001) sees as the most important source, also with regard to collective efficacy of the whole faculty that could be decreased by change for the same reasons already mentioned. The concept of collective efficacy leads to the consideration of factors surrounding the teacher, i.e. other teachers, the students, the parents or the school structure and policy that have an influence as well.
The most problematic factor here is that all of the participants involved in a structural or conceptual change have certain beliefs about what and how things should be taught. Schraw and Olafson (2002) refer to those beliefs as to epistemological world views that are difficult to change. In a teacher, they affect choices on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. “Belief systems reduce dissonance and confusion; and teachers are able to gain confidence and clearer conceptions of themselves from belonging to groups that support their particular beliefs. Teachers hold many untested assumptions that influence how they think about classroom matters and respond to particular situations.” (Freeman, 1991)
But, going back to the social context, not only the teacher holds a certain epistemological world view. There are the world view of other teachers, those of the parents, students and the administration. Even though there often seems to be a lack of congruence between epistemological world view and practice (Olafson and Schraw, 2002), the influence those beliefs have on whether the people impacted by the change accept a reform or not may not be underestimated.
A very pragmatic explanation that integrates some of the former mentioned factors is provided by the expectancy theory (Shah and Higgins, 1997) The model has three components: value, expectancy and cost. A teacher’s decision about whether to implement a new method or strategy is related to:
1) how highly the value of the innovation is considered (e.g. with regard to increased student achievement and congruence with own beliefs)
2) how successful the teacher expects the strategy to be (e.g. in terms of self-efficacy and anticipated support)
3) how high the perceived costs of implementation are (e.g. the anticipated effort and increased preparation time).
In summary, the barriers when attempting to change teaching practices are numerous and this resistance is a big problem when trying to improve teaching and learning environments. So what can be done ? Are there any methods that can be implemented easily without having to change a whole set of beliefs, without going through a long period of change with no immediate results and without the need to persuade students and parents of the usefulness of that change first? It would be helpful to find a way to enhance students’ performance and get them used to something new by relatively simple methods that are not considered a threat to the participants of that change. I suggest that the two strategies I chose for this review, cooperative learning and metacognitive awareness, can serve this need and maybe even lay the ground for further changes, once the school, teachers, students and parents see that change does not always implicate long effortful and complicated procedures until an improvement is evident and therefore opens them up to new ideas and conceptual changes. This is supported by Guskey (1986), who “found that staff development activities were most effective at changing beliefs when teachers could be helped to adopt a new practice and could see that it was successful.” (cited in Calderhead, 1996) Guskey also argues that changes in beliefs follow rather than precede changes in practice. We could then think about the two strategies as a preparation and first step to help structural and conceptual changes in classroom practice.
Cooperative learning, collaborative learning, peer learning and group learning are interchangeably used to define a process by which students work together in small groups on a given task.(Boud et al. 1999). Vermette (1995) states that cooperative learning can be a successful experience when carefully planned and thoughtfully carried out. Constant vigilance, clear communication and instructor guidance are critical to the success of this strategy, he claims. As a reasonable size for the group, Gupta (2004) suggests between three and five people. He founds four people to be working together most effective. The teacher usually changes his role traditional role when using cooperative learning. As Stiles et al. put it, in formal cooperative learning the teacher becomes “the guide on the side” (Stiles et. al., 2004, p. 97). Through the work in a group “students learn to communicate, exercise critical thinking and learn the subtle nuances of the subject matter not gained from reading” (Stiles et. al., 2004, p. 97) The four main steps she suggests in planning cooperative learning are:
1) Make preinstructional decisions
2) Plan the task and facilitate cooperative structure
3) Monitor progress and intervene if necessary
4) Evaluating student achievement and processing effectiveness of learning
From the students’ perspective in their study, it was helpful to use suggestions, timelines, support and praise provided by the instructor. Important when working self-directed over a longer period of time is the availability of the instructor and the permanent feedback.
Mulryan (1994) compared fifth- and sixth-grade students perceptions of cooperative learning to those of their teachers. Their perceptions were very similar in the sense that students and teachers saw cooperative learning as a situation where students work together, give and receive help, exchange information, opinions and ideas. The feedback of the students usually seems to be very positive. In one of Gupta’s (2004) studies in physical science classes on the college level, cooperative learning was well accepted by the students. They rated teamwork, communication, lifelong learning and problem-solving skills as important ingredients of cooperative learning. The positive attitude students developed towards studying in groups is reflected in the attendance quote, which almost reached 100%.
The positive effects cooperative learning can have rely on some conditions though. Giellies (2004) compared cooperative learning for mathematical problem solving in unstructured versus structured groups that worked together on a regular basis in junior high school students. The children in the structured group were more willing to work with others and to provide help and assistance. They used more higher order thinking skills and had higher achievement scores. Moreover, they developed a stronger sense of group identity and responsibility for each other and engaged less in off-tasks or interrupted each other than students in the unstructured groups. This suggests to use cooperative learning on a regular basis once it is implemented in the classroom. The method also seemed to coincide with the students’ desire to engage in peer interactions. Mulryan (1994), who showed that students in cooperative learning setting outperform students that work on their own or in competitive settings, claimed that cooperative learning furthermore helps to prevent many social problems that are possible to arise at that age. (Johnston and Johnston, 2000) Gillies argues that students should be told a set of rules for their group processes before they actually engage in the task as to help them to clarify how to make decisions in the group and reduce uncertainty. She claims that when this is done, children work together effectively and rise questions and construct knowledge that usually would not have been appeared in a traditional classroom setting. One reason might be that children act on the same or similar level of ability and therefore can recognize, understand and correct misconceptions or misinterpretations easier than the teacher can. The need to explain content to each other enhances elaboration additionally.
- Quote paper
- Fanny Jimenez (Author), 2004, Cooperative Learning and Metacognitive Instruction, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/42303