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KEGS Tales, Teaching and Learning

Towards Co-constructed Learning: How to get it started.

Having written about co-construction in our Learning Lessons publication (Vol 2/ Issue 8 and Vol 3/ Issue 3), also profiled in this post I was invited to run some CPD sessions in two schools and then to write a summary of the process.  It is a fabulously enriching way to approach teaching and learning; here is my quick guide.

The aims of co-construction are as follows:

  • To enable students to develop the skills and confidence to become highly effective independent learners, taking ownership of their own learning, including content, sequencing, mode of delivery and assessment.
  • To ensure that students’ prior learning is always the starting point for further learning and that formative assessment practice is firmly embedded.
  • To create an environment in which students can take risks with their learning, exploring modes of learning and of communication that they do not normally experience
  • To create an environment that unleashes teachers’ and students’ creative energy, as traditional roles are broken down and the teaching and learning processes merge.

A summary of the co-construction process:

  • A topic or unit of work is discussed with a class using strategies that elicit a detailed analysis of their prior knowledge – including areas of doubt and misconceptions.
  • The class is then asked to volunteer ideas for key questions, areas of further study or enquiry.
  • Guided by the teacher, the class discusses a logical sequence through these questions to generate an outline for a possible ‘scheme of work’.
  • Student volunteers are then given ownership of different sections.  This can be done by planning out the whole unit in advance or, more organically, a few lessons at a time.  The former is more solid and easier to manage; the latter is more flexible and responsive.
  • A practical plan is to alternate or intersperse student-led lessons with teacher-led lessons.  This enables the teacher to manage the process, push the learning along as required and to ensure that key feedback processes are undertaken.
  • Regular reviews of the whole process need to be carried out throughout;  What have we learned so far? Are we still on track?  Where are we going next?  Who is taking the lead? It is important to change plans as and when required to take account of prior learning and progress.
  • Towards the end, summative assessments and review sessions are important to ensure that there is sufficient rigour. In fact, giving students a sense of the nature of the final assessments at the start helps them shape the process more sharply from the start.

A student-led teaching episode:

Importantly, co-construction is not just a series of student-led lessons; it is the ownership of the whole process that truly defines the co-construction. However, the student-led lessons are a very important element.

  • Whole lessons or just parts of a lesson should be owned and delivered by students; usually in groups of 2-4 students. They have genuine responsibility for the lessons.
  • The emphasis should be on planning a set of activities for the class to do, rather than on what information students will present.   This prevents ‘death by powerpoint’.
  • Co-construction implies teamwork between teacher and student; it works well for teachers and students to take over from each other and work together to run the lesson, to deal with questions and support individuals.
  • Setting homework is a key element – the students love setting homework and providing feedback.  This should generate very valuable discussion about formative assessment and the value (or otherwise) of using arbitrary grades.  The best co-constructed assignments include a process for generating shared success criteria for tasks and then allowing time for the student-teachers to give feedback to the class in a subsequent lesson.
  • It is often useful to share previously used or teacher-generated resources with students leading lessons so that they don’t have to create brand new material if something very effective already exists.

Spreading the practice across the school:

 A pre-requisite for effective co-construction is a fairly solid bedrock of formative assessment practice and a commitment to student-led learning through group-work and presentations etc.  In truth, co-construction should be an extension of pedagogical approaches where student input, peer and self assessment, collaborative learning and explicit learning to learn discussions are routine. If students are confident in their ability to support each other with their learning in this way, then co-construction feels like a logical evolution where the content is also determined by students in partnership with their teacher.

A pioneer team of teachers is a good place to start with this, ideally from across departments. They  should meet regularly throughout the year to discuss their experiences and develop a model for co-construction that works well in the school’s context.  Feedback from students is very important. The group can then put on a showcase of the work students have produced. Ideally it would show that the learning process is rigorous with strong outcomes as well as being creative and engaging.

Teachers across the school can be encouraged to try out co-construction in smaller steps from individual lessons to short units, before looking at a whole course.   It pays dividends to build in lots of opportunities for students to make learning choices such as options for homework or for the mode of presentation eg you can write an essay, make a powerpoint, a video or write a dialogue and act it out.  This helps students explore the possibilities for themselves and begin to rely less on the teacher to tell them exactly what to do.

A next step would be to develop a unit of work in one subject that would be delivered for a whole year group on a co-constructed style.  This then ensures that all students in the school passing through that year group would experience co-construction and benefit from all the meta-learning experiences such as how to assess, how to sequence ideas, how to develop good questions and so on.

My personal experience is that teaching and learning via co-construction is extremely rewarding for all concerned.  It is not risk free but it is highly engaging and leads to some extraordinary outcomes.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Towards Co-constructed Learning: How to get it started.

  1. Thank you for taking the time to lay this out with such clarity. I am in full support of this development in school learning and I think it has the potential to disrupt a lot of the less positive trends in secondary teaching at the moment in respect of teaching and learning becoming a formulaic procedure.

    There seems to be some resonance with Dorothy Heathocate’s work from the Drama domain – “Teacher in Role” and the like.

    I am interested in how your brand of co-construction still centres on the ‘instructional lesson’ as being the core experience of learning (even if it clearly recognises the learning benefit to whoever constructs this lesson – I’ve long felt I do far too much of the learning my my classroom, since I get to do all the fun teaching stuff). Perhaps this is because Physics is a more specific and conceptual/factual subject than the English that I teach.

    I wonder if this co-construction could also go as far as to explore, with the students, alternative means of learning or experiencing knowledge.

    I’ll think some more. Thanks so much for this

    Chris

    Posted by Edutronic (@Edutronic_Net) | August 27, 2012, 10:52 pm
    • Chris, thanks for this comment.
      It is a good, fair point. The student-led lessons can tend towards being rather ‘instructional’ but in Physics, with lots of great practical demonstrations and so on, this is more exciting than it sounds. I love it when Y10 students have put together a set of frontbench demos, without any help from me, and then lead a Q&A session exploring various elements of the apparatus and related concepts. However the best lessons are when they organise the class to do group work; we make it clear that planning lessons does not equate to making a powerpoint presentation! We ask them to devise activities for the class. That said., the greatest difficulty/challenge with co-construction is that students enjoy it the most by far when they are leading the learning. They can’t get enough of it when there is a degree of turn-taking. Perhaps, they should just teach themselves! Now, there’s an idea! (PS, I think getting students to set and mark homework is one of the best ideas I’ve ever had!)

      Posted by headguruteacher | August 27, 2012, 11:08 pm
      • You’re right, of course. Inherent in the design of a learning episode is a mastery of the key content, so of course the student/teachers are going to end up with a rich understanding.

        In New Zealand there is a national competition for young scientists who speak about a particular area of their interest or passion. There seems to be a real explosion of popularity for the teaching/sharing of knowledge aspect of being a scientist – your students will be at the forefront of it.

        Here’s the link: http://www.eureka.org.nz

        Chris

        Posted by Christopher Waugh | August 29, 2012, 11:01 am

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