How do you learn best? The reason I ask this question is that the conventional wisdom these days seems to be that people learn best through collaboration. Hence lessons are planned with as much time for collaboration built in as possible. But is this always useful?
I started with a question about how you learn best because I think that, as educators, we don’t relate things to ourselves enough. When it comes to collaboration, for example, it is de rigeur these days to say that’s the best way of learning – almost the only way of learning. See, for example, Steve Wheeler’s article Learning as Dialogue, in which he says:
Dialogue has proved time and again to be a very powerful aspect of learning. Ask yourself - how much have you learnt through conversations when compared to reading books?
The very idea of the flipped classroom, for example, is predicated on the idea that pupils will spend time on their own watching a video, say, and then discuss it, while working with other people and the teacher, in class.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but I believe there should be quiet time built into lessons. Pupils need time to think. They need time to reflect. And speaking for myself, I can’t think properly or reflect efficiently when there is a barrage of discussion going on: I experience it as noise if there is no respite from it.
I learn a lot from reading books, to go back to Steve’s question. But it’s not simply reading that I benefit from, but what I call “active reading”. I think about what I’m likely to come across in the book (by reading the table of contents) or article (by reading the summary or the sub-headings), and then think about what I’ve read. I don’t see how I can share my views with other people if I haven’t had a chance to think about what my views actually are.
So, much as I think collaboration and discussion are essential, they are not enough on their own.
When I attend a workshop, the course leader usually shows something, a video for example, and then says “turn to the person next to you and discuss X for five minutes”.
When I am leading a workshop, I ask people to spend 5 minutes on their own thinking about X before asking them to discuss it with someone else. It takes more time, but I believe that it’s more efficient.
And really, even if it is not more efficient in a productivity sense, I do think it’s important to recognise that not every pupil likes constantly listening to other people or to the sound of their own voice. Some prefer quietude for some of the time!