During collaborative activity, PRACCIS aims to promote a number of productive group processes that facilitate inquiry and learning.
A task with positive interdependence is a task that individual students cannot successfully perform alone; input from all the students in the group is needed for success (D. W. Johnson & Johnson, 1991). PRACCIS seeks to accomplish this through complex explanatory and modeling problems that require all students to think together to achieve best results.
Students are more likely to interact well if they respect each other (Cohen, 1994a; D. Johnson & Johnson, 1990). Mutual respect is particularly important in reducing negative interactions.
Participation by students in a group need not be exactly equal to promote learning. However, it is desirable to promote substantial participation by each student because the opportunity to explain their ideas to their peers promotes learning. Balanced participation means that even if participation is not equal, all students make some meaningful contributions, and no student talks all the time.
High-quality Engagement with Scientific Practices
Effective groups engage in high-quality scientific practices of modeling, explanation, argumentation, model-evidence coordination, communication, and so on. PRACCIS aims to promote a wide range of practices surrounding modeling.
Uptake of Ideas
Collaborative learning is most effective when students take up each other’s ideas--not just by agreeing or rejecting the ideas, but by exploring them and discussing them further, or by applying them further.
Effective groups share in the regulation of group processes, as by planning together, deciding together what the goals are, and reaching agreement about what the standards will be for determining whether they have achieved their goals.
Collaborative learning works best when students are attending to the same things--such as when they are all focused on developing a model together on a shared sheet, or they are all focused on discussing a particular piece of evidence.
PRACCIS has drawn on many scaffolding approaches described in the research literature for promoting these productive group processes. These include all the epistemic scaffolds, the motivational scaffolds, and the comprehension scaffolds that are discussed on other pages on this site. We will more briefly describe some of our general approaches here.
Moving from smaller to larger groups
In PRACCIS activities, we often use variations of “think-pair-share” in which students first think of ideas individually, then discuss these ideas in pairs, and sometimes then moving to larger groups and class discussions. Our experience is that students often are more willing to share ideas in larger groups if they have first had an opportunity to explore them individually or in pairs.
Scripted and guided collaboration
Following work by O’Donnell, King, Resnick, and many others, we have used question and statement stems to help students learn to engage in effective discussions. The comprehension scaffolds page shows examples of scripted cooperation, as we have students summarize evidence to each other and check their understanding. Scripted cooperation follows these steps:
- The two students break the textbook up into sections divided by headings.
- Both students read the first passage.
- The students set the textbook aside so that they cannot refer to it. Both work from memory.
- One student becomes the “recaller.” That student’s task is to recall and summarize what the passage said. The other student is the “listener.” The listener’s task is to “detect errors, identify omissions, and seek clarification of specific issues” (O'Donnell, 1999, p. 180).
- Both students now talk about the text, adding elaborations to what they had said so far. They co-construct knowledge during this step.
- If necessary, they may check what they have said against the textbook if necessary.
- They repeat steps 2 through 6 for subsequent passages.
Guided discourse stems
Guided discourse stems such as those used in Accountable Talk (Michaels, O'Connor, & Resnick, 2007) are described on our reasoning stems page. In line with our approach to foster students’ control over reasoning to the fullest extent possible, we have found it works best to have students generate their own reasoning stems.
In PRACCIS, cognitive prompts are questions or cues that remind students to think about certain issues or to use particular practices as they are engaged in PRACCIS modeling. When cognitive prompts are used as scaffolds for inquiry tasks, the purpose of the activity is to use the prompts to guide efforts to solve a larger modeling problem (such as developing and revising a model based on evidence). For example, students might be prompted to decide which evidence is most useful in choosing between models.
Social and cognitive roles
Another form of scaffolding that may improve group collaboration is to assign roles to each student. Social roles focus on social and procedural processes that the groups perform. For instance, one possible social role is discussion leader. The discussion leader is responsible for making sure that the discussion runs smoothly and that everyone is contributing. Another social role might be the encourager. The student responsible for encouraging others to talk makes sure that everyone is contributing to the group in a balanced way. Cognitive roles focus on the use of particular cognitive strategies the group must use to solve a problem (cf. Herrenkohl & Guerra, 1998). For example, a possible cognitive role is explainer. The explainer would be responsible for ensuring that the group engaged in good explanations.
Having groups evaluate their own performance along specified criteria is a powerful instructional technique (Y. Sharan & Sharan, 1992; Webb & Farivar, 1994). Self-evaluations help students learn the standards by which their performance can be judged. Once aware of these standards, they can detect when their group processes or group products do not meet these standards and can take steps to improve things.
Reducing Status differences
A potential problem with collaborative groups is that groups may exacerbate status differences. Students in classes can often agree on who the high- and low-status students in the class are. Those who are believed to be high status students participate more in collaborative groups than those who are thought to be low-status (Webb & Kenderski, 1984). Because high-status students dominate collaborative interactions (Dembo & McAuliffe, 1987), it is imperative for teachers to take actions to reduce status effects. Two options have been validated by research.
The multiple-ability treatment (Cohen, 1994b)
With this treatment, teachers persuade students that there are many cognitive abilities that are needed to complete the task, such as hypothesizing, considering different points of view, creativity, problem solving, planning, writing, public speaking, and so on. Then, the key to this treatment is the teacher’s clear and strong statement that "None of us has all of these abilities; Each one of us has some of these abilities;" the teacher goes on to explain why this is likely to be true (Cohen, 1994a, p. 128, italics in original). This idea can also be prominently posted on a bulletin board in the class. Teachers should avoid the implication that some students have cognitive abilities whereas others have noncognitive abilities (artistic ability, motor skills) because students typically view skill with hands as a lower-status skill than being good with their “heads” (Cohen, 1994a). Research has showed that a multiple-ability treatment reduces status differences within groups although it does not eliminate them (Cohen, Lotan, & Catanzarite, 1988; Rosenholtz, 1985).
Assigning competence to low-status students (Cohen, 1994b)
Using this second method of assigning competence to low-status students in order to reduce status differences, teachers observe groups, and when they notice a lower-status student making a good contribution, they publicly acknowledge the contribution, describing specifically what the student has done well. (see Chapter 11, Teaching for Motivation for more on this strategy.) Following is an except from a teacher who tried this method with a student with a poor school record and few friends in the class:
We were doing an activity that involved decimal points and I was going around and noticed he was the only one out of his group that had all the right answers. I was able to say, “Juan! You have figured out all of this worksheet correctly. You understand how decimals work… Can you explain it to your group? I’ll be back in a minute to see how you did.” And I left. I couldn’t believe it; he was actually explaining it to all the others. I didn’t have faith it was going to work, but in fact he explained it so well that all of the others understood it and were applying it to their worksheets. They were excited about it. So then I made it public among the whole class, and from then on they began calling him “the smart one.” (Graves & Graves, 1991, p. 14)
Another approach to assigning competence is to thoroughly train lower-status students to be experts in a task so that they can teach higher-status students how to do the task (Cohen, Lockheed, & Lohman, 1976). However, it is essential for the training to be effective; if the leaders do not succeed, it will only confirm their lower status.
Note that reducing status differences using these two methods requires that teachers use higher-level, open-ended, complex tasks that afford the use of multiple cognitive abilities. Otherwise, students will not find it plausible that multiple cognitive abilities are needed for the assigned task.