DoingCL - The Classroom Environment





The Classroom Environment

A community "[is] an inherently cooperative, cohesive, and self-reflective group entity where everyone feels that he or she belongs, and whose members work on a regular, face-to-face basis toward common goals while respecting a variety of perspectives, values, and life styles." (Graves, 1994). Creating this community where students are respected is crucial for a successful collaborative learning program. To encourage this, instructors need to observe how students treat one another and deal with problems since students from diverse groups state that insensitive comments usually come from classmates (McKeachie, 1994).

For the group to form a community the interactions must be on-going and open. Students need time to get to know one another so they feel safe to share their misconceptions with one another. This can be facilitated with an ice-breaker or the instructor can start the group with a short straightforward assignment to foster a sense of "we all sink or swim" attitude. Alternatively, the group may coalesce without any special introductory time.

To encourage an open dialogue, instructors need to make it clear that all ideas, including those on the fringes, are welcome. "Valuing people who think and act in ways that are consistent with the traditional culture of the institution often leads to inadvertant or deliberate exclusion of those who are different. Usually, faculty are unaware that they are operating within a cultural perspective, since the dominant culture is taken for granted...this culture is uncomfortable for many students from socially diverse groups because in its most extreme form it is 'narrow in that it rules out nonverbal, empathic, visual, symbolic, or nuanced communication...' (Adams, 1992)..." (McKeachie, 1992).

Finally, the group will need the time and skills to group process. For example, the group should address questions like "What are our goals?", "How can we improve the process to achieve our goals?", "How do we resolve conflicts?", and eventually "Did we achieve our goals?".

Adams, M. (1992). "Cultural inclusion in the American college classroom." In Border, L. and Chism, N. (Eds.), Teaching for diversity, New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 67.

Graves, L. N. (1994). "Creating a community context for cooperative learning" In Sharan, S. (Ed.), Handbook of cooperative learning methods.

McKeachie, W. J. (1994). Teaching Tips, 9th edition, D. C. Heath and Company.

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