Follow me on Twitter @revbrock

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Your Congregation Can Learn from Common Core: Part 2 - Collaboration

My school district has adopted a new mathematics curriculum that is “aligned” with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While the mathematics we expect to teach our students has not changed in the last 200 years, the pedagogical methods and assessment expectations of our classrooms have changed to reflect the new, more lofty goals of the CCSS.

This new curriculum places all mathematics students into groups (usually 4 students per group) and encourages the groups to “discover” the point of that day’s lesson from carefully crafted lessons in a textbook. The teacher in this new model is a facilitator, a help in times of trouble or a light in moments of confusion. Although some parents have voiced concerns about how their children will be tested and evaluated, I am personally pleased with how the classes have gone.

This idea of learning-through-groups is not necessarily germane to the CCSS, but it is not too much of an imaginative leap to understand why groups work well in our attempts to fulfill our new educational objectives. The editors of my own textbooks thoroughly demonstrate that “cooperative learning help[s] students learn better,” that it works well for students of all ability types, and that cooperative learning is “valued in business.”[1]

The CCSS are, ostensibly, a framework upon which more successful 21st century learners can be cultivated. The emphasis on collaboration is a reflection and consequence of our more connected and collaborative world. Our classrooms are beginning to look more and more like the world our students will inhabit in their professional lives, and I believe that is a welcome transition.

Our congregations would do well to see the emphasis on “team” that is demonstrated in the spirit of the CCSS as a reminder of our own cooperative call in the Kingdom of God. As many of my dear friends said in seminary, “there are no lone rangers in Christianity.”

Collaborative learning is a pedagogically trendy way of saying that we are a part of a community; a body that lives as a larger organism than any one of us does as an individual. In Scripture we are likened to branches that draw nourishment from a Vine[2] and the Body of Christ.[3] We are not individuals saved by grace who are then to work out our salvation in fear and trembling alone on some spiritual island. Rather, we are welcomed into a great and eternal family by those who have gone along the Way before us. We are discipled, trained, and formed in community with elders in the faith and in relationship with those inside and outside of the Church. At no point are we alone in faith – we have been promised the very presence of Christ until the end.[4]

The struggle, both in my classroom and in my congregation, is to break the habits we’ve carefully cultivated over the generations of the individual student learning a discreet lesson upon which they will be tested and then moved on to a new topic. In my mathematics classes this struggle is against the way I’ve been teaching for years and the way my students have been learning for years. They have become accustomed to being seated in neat rows and dutifully taking notes while I work examples on a screen or whiteboard. Now, however, they are being asked to essentially teach themselves with me as a hovering support, a resource to be used as their collective abilities sometimes demand.

In my congregation (and in others I’ve been a part of), there is a sense of discipleship as an individual activity between the believer and God that occasionally includes a group exercise. The practice of group prayer (which is often a very individualized time of “here’s my needs and requests” all lumped together) and group Bible study can be seen as a supplement to the individual’s “quiet time” and intensely private spiritual practices. These are good and necessary, yet there seems to be a momentum against the participation in one another’s lives to the point where meaningful discipleship can happen in our congregation. Our culture is certainly partially to blame, but there is also a habit of making self-reliant disciples in our congregations that resists our participation in the discipleship of others.

Perhaps the CCSS can remind us that we need each other to do this thing to which we have been called. We need to work cooperatively, collaboratively, and compassionately with one another. Surely we are the body, stitched together because we cannot function alone, and we cannot learn alone.

[1] Carter, G., Jones, M. G., Rua, M. (2003). “Effects of partner's ability on the achievement and conceptual organization of high-achieving fifth-grade students.” Science Education 87 (1): 94- 111; Cavalier, J. C., Klein, J. D., Cavalier, F. J. (1995). “Effects of cooperative learning on performance, attitude, and group behaviors in a technical team environment.” ETR&D 43 (3): 61-71; Cheng, R.W., Sam, S., Chan, J. C., (2008), “When high achievers and low achievers work in the same group: The roles of group heterogeneity and processes in project-based learning.” British Journal of Educational Psychology, 78 (2), 205-221; Chi, M. T. H., DeLeeuw, N., Chiu, M. H., Lanancher, C. (1994). “Eliciting self- explanations improves understanding.” Cognitive Science 18 (3): 439-477. Cohen, P. A., Kulik, J. A., Kulik, C. L. C. (1982). “Educational outcomes of tutoring – a meta- analysis of findings.” American Educational Research Journal 19 (2): 237-248; Crouch, C. H., Mazur, E. (2001). “Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results.” American Journal of Physics 69 (9): 970-977; Davidson, N., Kroll, D. L. (1991). “An overview of research on cooperative learning related to mathematics.” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 22 (5): 362-365; Dees, R. L. (1991). “The role of cooperative learning in increasing problem-solving ability in a college remedial course.” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 22 (5): 409-421; Dineen, J. P., Clark, H. B., Risley, T. R. (1977). “Peer tutoring among elementary students – educational benefits to tutor.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10 (2): 231-238; Enghag, M. Gustafsson, P., Jonsson, G. (2007). “From everyday life experiences to physics understanding occurring in small group work with context rich problems during introductory physics work at university.” Research in Science Education 37 (4): 449-467; Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Yazdian, L., Powell, S. R. (2002). “Enhancing first-grade children's mathematical development with Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies.” School Psychology Review 31 (4): 569-583; Gillies, R. M. (2000). “The maintenance of cooperative and helping behaviours in cooperative groups.” British Journal of Educational Psychology 70 (1): 97-111; Gillies, R. M. (2004). “The effects of cooperative learning on junior high school students during small group learning.” Learning and Instruction 14 (2): 197-213; Nembhard, D., Yip, K., Shtub, A. (2009). “Comparing competitive and cooperative strategies for learning project management.” Journal of Engineering Education 98 (2): 181-192;

[2] John 15:5.
[3] Romans 7:4, 12:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 3:6, 4:12-15; Colossians 3:15.
[4] Matthew 28:20.

No comments:

Post a Comment