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Chapter 15
Theories of Learning




On several occasions in earlier chapters we have noted the value of involving others people in the learning process.


In Chapter 7, we discovered that observing and imitating what other people do (modeling) provides an efficient way for learners to acquire new behavior.


In this Chapter we want to look at several teaching strategies that use social interaction as the primary mechanism for helping students learn.


The first three Strategies “classroom discussion, reciprocal teaching, and cooperative learning involve students at the same level of general achievement working together as a group.


Two other Strategies, Peer tutoring and apprenticeships involve student working intensively with someone who has greater proficiency with regard to a particular topic or skill.


We will also examine authentic activities in which students work on real tasks in close cooperation with others.  And finally, we will consider the concept of a community of learners, a classroom in which teacher and students help one another learn in a systematic and sustain fashion.






Classroom discussions are likely to facilitate learning in several ways.  When you explain your ideas or thinking to peers, you have to organize your thoughts and pull your individual thoughts into logical viewpoint that makes sense.


If you can explain an idea that may or may not have a right or wrong answer, you are more likely to have related that thought or idea to a personal experience to arrive at your conclusion.  And we know learning is more meaningful when we can relate it to a personal experience.






Although students typically do most of the talking in classroom discussions, teachers can promote effective discussion by adhering to the following guidelines:



  • Class discussions should focus on topics that lend themselves to multiple perspectives, explanations, or approaches.


  • Students should have sufficient prior knowledge about the topic under discussion to discuss it intelligently.


  • The classroom atmosphere should be conductive to open debate and the constructive evaluation of ideas.


  • Smaller groups encourage a greater number of students to participate.


  • Classroom discussions are sometimes more effective when they are” structured” in some way.


  • Some type of  ” closure” should be provided at the end of the discussion.






Another strategy used in Social interaction which promotes Student learning is


Reciprocal teaching involves a teacher and students meeting in a group to read a section of text, stopping to discuss that text as they proceed.  Initially the teacher leads the discussion but gradually turns the role of teacher over to different students who take charge of the discussion.


Reciprocal teaching has four strategies good readers typically use:


  • Summarization:  They identify the gist and main ideas of what they read


  • Questioning:  They ask themselves questions to make sure they understand what they are reading, thereby monitoring their comprehension as they proceed.


  • Clarifying:   They take steps to clarify confusing or ambiguous parts of the text, perhaps by rereading or imposing their own knowledge on those things.


  • Predicting:   They anticipate what they are likely to read next based on cues in the text and ideas that have already been presented.










In Cooperative learning, students work in small groups to achieve a common goal.  Cooperative groups vary in duration, depending on the task.  Some are formed for short periods of time, and others for longer periods.


Base groups are generally formed as “long term groups” and sometimes may last throughout the year.  They provide means through which students can clarify assignments for one another, help one another with class notes, and provide one another with a general sense of support and belonging in the classroom.





Cooperative learning is not simply a process of putting students in groups and setting them loose to work on an assignment.  Oftentimes students will be more accustomed to learning on an individual basis, or perhaps even competing with classmates.  For cooperative learning approach to be successful, teachers must structure classroom activities in such a way that cooperation is not only helpful for academic success but in fact even necessary for it.  The following are several features that enhance the effectiveness of cooperative groups:


  • Students work in small, teacher-assigned groups:
  • Group have one or more common goals toward which to work:
  • Student are given clear guidelines about how to behave:
  • Group members are dependant upon one another for their success:
  • The teacher serves primarily as a resource and monitor:
  • Students are individually accountable for their achievement:
  • Students are rewarded for group success:
  • At the end of an activity each group evaluates its effectiveness:





Teachers can not always devote as much time as they would like to one-on-one instruction with their students.  In such cases, peer tutoring, whereby students who have mastered a topic teach those who have not, can provide an effective alternative for teaching fundamental knowledge and skills.


In some cases, peer tutoring leads to greater academic gains than more traditional forms of instruction.


One possible reason for its effectiveness is that it provides a context in which struggling students may be more comfortable asking questions when they don’t understand something.  Peer tutoring typically benefits the tutors as well as those being tutored.



  • Teacher should be sure that their tutors have mastered the material they are teaching and use sound instructional techniques:


  • Structured interactions can enhance effectiveness of peer tutoring:


  • Teachers must be careful that their use of higher-ability students to tutor lower ability students is not excessive or exploitative:


  • Teachers can use peer tutoring to help students with special educational needs:


  • Tutoring does not necessarily need to be limited to same-age pairs.





In an apprenticeship, a learner works intensively with an expert to accomplish complex tasks; in doing so the learner performs activities that he or she could never do independently. 


Although apprenticeships can vary widely from one context to another, they typically have some or all of the following features:


  • Modeling:  The teacher carries out the task, thinking aloud about the process at the same time, while the student observes and listens.
  • Coaching:  As the student performs the task, the teacher gives frequent suggestions, hints, and feedback.
  • Scaffolding:  The teacher provides various forms of support for the student, perhaps by simplifying the task, breaking it down into smaller and more manageable components, or providing less complicated equipment.
  • Increasing complexity and diversity of tasks: As the student gains greater proficiency, the teacher presents more complex, challenging, and varied tasks to complete.
  • Articulation:  The student explains what he or she is doing and why, allowing the teacher to examine the student’s knowledge, reasoning, and problem solving strategies.
  • Reflection:  The teacher asks the student to compare his or her performance with that of experts, or perhaps with an ideal model of how the task should be done.
  • Exploration:  The teacher encourages the student to frame questions and problems on his own and in doing so to expand and refine acquired skills.


Apprenticeships are clearly a labor-intensive approach to instruction; as such, their use in the classroom is not always practical.  At the same time, teachers can use elements of an apprenticeship model to help their students develop more complex skills.



Authentic activities are tasks that are identical or similar to those that students will eventually encounter in the outside world.


When students activities resemble real-world tasks and problems, it should help students transfer the things they learn at school to out-or-school contexts.


Authentic activities can be developed for virtually any area of the school curriculum, For example, teachers might have students



       Give an oral presentation

       Write a letter to a business

       Participate in a debate

       Find information in a Library

       Write a computer program

       Plan a family budget

       Design a model city





An effective teacher typically creates a sense of community in the classroom; a sense that teacher and students have shared goals, respect and support one another’s efforts, and believe that everyone makes an important contribution to classroom learning.  When this is done, some theorist suggests that the classroom is transformed into a community of learners in which teacher and students actively and cooperatively work to help one another learn.














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