Sunday, March 22, 2009


To practice critical thinking, students need to participate in the discourse of the discipline--to think, speak, and be listened to as they participate in the

discipline's particular mode of inquiry. Students will not get enough practice just by talking to the instructor, and very little by just listening to the instructor. Students develop competency and become critical thinkers in classroom that provides opportunities for intensive, structured interaction among students.

The principles of collaborative learning.
The most direct way to create classroom interaction is to adopt the principles of collaborative learning. In collaborative learning, the teacher designs a learning problem or task, and then assigns small groups of students to address the problem collaboratively. Students are typically instructed to reach a consensus on an issue, or to create a group product. The purpose of the collaborative learning is to enhance learning and achievement by encouraging peer-to-peer interaction and cooperation.
The value of group learning.
Students engaged in structured group work are typically talking, rehearsing ideas, probing judgments, empathizing, listening, questioning--in other words, practicing the skills of critical thinking. Research in colleges and universities indicates that collaborative learning enhances the mastery of content for most students. Even more dramatically, collaborative learning improves students' attitudes toward the course and the discipline. They not only learn more, they like what they are learning more.
Designing collaborative tasks.
Collaborative tasks can range from elaborate to very simple. Ideally, students should be given clear, explicit instructions in writing. Teacher may have already modeledthe task or procedure that students are asked to perform. The task should be clearly related to the goal of the course, and--even more effective—related to subsequent tests. Finally, a task should require some form of consensus or agreement, even if the group ends up agreeing that they can't agree.
The teacher's role.
The teacher's role is most important in designing the task. Once groups have begun work, the teacher should do no more than unobtrusively monitor the process. The groups need to resolve problems themselves. When groups are finished, it is important spend some time processing their results. The focus should be on what the groups
discovered, not what the teacher knows or thinks.
The interactive classroom.
Whether by small groups or whole-class discussion, teachers can do much to create an interactive classroom. Chet Meyers suggests some basic rules for consistently encouraging student interaction:
Begin each class with a controversy or problem.
Instead of "We're going to cover this...," begin with "Here's the question we want to answer."
Use silence to encourage reflection.
A reflective pause in your own discourse tells students that "I'm thinking about this, and so should you." Pauses after teacher-initiated questions encourage student responsibility; a teacher should resist the temptation to fill the silence or answer the question for them.
Arrange and use classroom space to encourage interaction.
Move chairs, have students face each other, form a semi-circle or circle. During lecture, move to different parts of room, or teach from the back and have students write on the board.
Create a friendly environment.
Teachers should invest some class time in learning students' names, asking about other classes, inquiring about students' lives outside college, or sharing something about their own. These informal interactions offer a chance to use facilitative responses (see the related resource "Teacher Talk and Student Success"). It may seem like schmoozing, but studies indicate that this kind of hospitality pays off in higher student achievement