Unit Three - Learning Communities in Action


This page last changed on Jan 23, 2008 by wikiadm1.

Incorporating Learning Communities into the Classroom

In an article by Richard Duffy (2001), the author notes two key factors creating dramatic change in the workplace:

1. Ever-expanding technology

2. An increasing need for a diverse workforce skilled in group work.

These factors necessitate curricular changes in order to prepare students for the future. Since the 1960s researchers and educators have worked to create methods for collaborative work to address these needs. Cooperative reading and writing, jigsaw teaching, cognitive apprenticeship, knowledge building along with problem-based, inquiry-based, and anchored instruction are some of the options for educators to consider in creating the kinds of learning environments that will properly prepare students for their future work experiences. Bearing the basic needs of learning communities in mind, strategies from any of these may be fine-tuned to work for specific student populations. This unit will present some examples, and, where possible, provide links to other Wiki courses with more substantive information on the method presented.

Boy at computer.jpg

Collaborative Reading and Writing

In collaborative reading and writing, students must work together to come to an understanding through literary discourse. The sharing of understandings from multiple perspectives is an important aspect of this discourse. Equally important, however, is the sharing of strategies used to reach that understanding that develops during group discussions. Students learn to employ cognitive tools such as concepts, rules, principles, and algorithms. These activities also foster cognitive skills including assumption and generalization through discourse (Pardales & Girod, 2006). Through the discussions required to test information and hypotheses presented by group members, real understanding is created. The critical thinking and social skills needed for this kind of literacy understanding transfer into all areas of problem solving and learning in the curriculum and later life work. Use the following links to other Wiki courses for further information:

1. The discussion-based approach to improving literary understanding

2. Teaching for Understanding

Jigsaw Teaching

In the original jigsaw teaching method, students were assigned to heterogeneous six-member groups. Each group would have the same material to cover, and, within each group, members would be given specific area to research. Each team members would meet with the members of the other teams that had been assigned the same task. These "expert" groups would research and discuss their specific task and report back to their own group to teach their findings. In the end, each student was quizzed for an individual score. A later modified jigsaw method ended with team rather than individual scores (Slavin & Cooper, 1999). This second method has been used with some success in helping ethnically diverse students to bond.

Cognitive Apprenticeship

In cognitive apprenticeship, the teacher models learning behaviors including verbal explanations of the thinking behind the process. The teacher is able to gradually fade modeling and coaching as students adapt the learning and teaching behaviors themselves. In this way, group members can provide one another with help in a more productive manner. For more information on cognitive apprenticeship, click here.

Knowledge Building

Knowledge building theory, created by Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia, differs from the other processes mentioned here in that its purpose is not to create an end product. In knowledge building, a group of learners contribute collectively to help one another build an understanding of a specific subject. The purpose is to advance the knowledge of the group but not necessarily reach a definitive end. Blogs and software such as Knowledge Forum can be used for this purpose. For a more in-depth look visit this Wiki course on the subject by clicking | here.

Anchored/Inquiry-based/Problem-based Learning

All of these methods begin by presenting the students with specific information from which they begin searching for answers. The manner in which the information is presented and/or the methods that will be used for problem solving may differ. Each method intends to make the learning relevant through activities that are, or closely resemble, real life experiences.

The anchored instruction approach is set around an interesting issue and strives to develop positive attitudes along with critical thinking skills. The anchor is often an interesting story into which a dilemma is embedded. The Jasper Woodbury mathematics problem-solving series of video adventures is an excellent example of this kind of program. Click here to visit a Wiki course on this method.

In inquiry-based and problem-based learning students are presented with information and must work together to come up with explanations. Both require students to develop hypotheses, research, experiment, and evaluate to reach conclusions. These kinds of programs have increased potential to use activities that meet the needs of many different learning styles. Click here to visit a Wiki course on inquiry-based programs in science.

All of these methods also offer many opportunities for incorporating technology into education. The Internet offers may ways in which teachers can expand resources for research. It is also a useful means of expanding the learning community to gain expertise and increase opportunities for multicultural experiences. In addition to the blogs and Knowledge Forum mentioned earlier, teachers can make use of audio and video conferencing, email, and instant messaging for communication purposes. The ideas presented here along with the linked Wiki courses can help you create the classroom learning communities that will provide students with lifetime benefits.


Consider how these strategies and methods might fit into your classroom. Have you used any of these methods or versions of them in your classroom? What successes or problems did you encounter? How might you group your students into classroom learning communities when using some of the ideas presented here? What problems might you encounter? If you are working with a group, spend some time discussing your responses to these questions.

Learning Communities in the Classroom

Unit One - Foundations in Theory

Unit Two - Defining Learning Community