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Student Participation and Cooperataion

VIII. Student Participation and Contribution

According to classroom tradition, students were to be seen but not heard, as they were expected to be submissive and cooperative by taking instruction and by accepting what was said or was asked of them. Modern education, beginning in the in twentieth century, changed this tradition by calling for active student participation in the learning process. Progressive education, according to the principles advanced by John Dewey and his colleagues, called for student participation in the learning process through what was called “the project” approach. According to this approach, learning was to take place through a means of providing students with opportunities to participate in the learning process. In the project approach, classroom work was designed to teach students knowledge, skills and values through an active learning process.

Instruction through participation or “active learning” had the effect of attacking the rigidity of the traditional instructional, and as a result the social studies classroom became more student friendly, as the relationship between teachers and students became less formal and more intimate. “Learning by Doing” became the catch work of progressive educators once they began to experiment with practical ways to encourage student participation in the learning process. As a result, rigid rows of desks were replaced by moveable furniture, including tables, as students were also encouraged to work cooperatively in group settings. The “core” of this instruction was the project assignment that was designed to teach the subject matter by doing certain tasks, including creative tasks. Reference books sometimes replaced textbooks, or the textbook became a secondary source of information. In addition, students were encouraged to do their own research in the library or in the community and they often worked as team members in which the project work was subdivided into its component parts.

Social studies teachers involved in the ‘project’ approach used the disciplines of the subject field to provide different aspects or perspectives related to the project. For example, in a group setting, one student might work on the history of the topic, another might work on the geography of the topic, while the other students were assigned elements of the economy, politics, or sociology. After working separately, the students would join together in a group setting to organize the overall study of the project into a comprehensive whole. In addition, students often were required to produce a product, such as a report, and to prepare a presentation for the entire class.

After a project presentation, all class members were expected to ask question, discuss resource materials, challenge conclusions, and to make suggestions for further study. One required aspect of the “project approach” was for the teacher to provide classroom training in etiquette based on the requirements of civil behavior in the classroom, especially during times of discussion. In addition, student grading became as an aspect of group work. In other words, teachers were expected to develop some type of grading system that could be applied to the results of group work. This was often achieved by requiring that each individual student complete a specific task in connection with his or her group work. These specific tasks might include a written summary of their participation or a product such as a map, a table or chart, etc. In addition, students might be given both a group grade and an individual grade. Individual project work could more easily be graded. Generally however, the teacher was required or encouraged to give students specific standards of performance prior to the beginning of project work. These standards included such elements that were to be included in various parts of the project work.

In today’s classroom “project work” has been overshadowed by the requirements to meet state standardized tests (teaching to the test). As a result, teachers often are reluctant to use the “project” approach as extensively as it had been used in the past. On the other hand, teachers are still being encouraged to help students learn though some means of participation. For example, a social studies teacher might present a topic thorough traditional means (oral presentation) and then assign the class an activity related to the topic. Subsequently in the “modern” classroom of today, participation learning has become supplemental to the teacher’s presentation, text assignment, and other shortcut forms of delivery.

The important thing to remember is that participatory learning is motivating for the student and has the overall effect of getting students interested in the subject matter. Therefore, participation learning should be a planned element of instruction based on the argument that motivational instruction is more likely to be retained than passive forms of instruction.

The “project approach’ to enhance student participation can be based on a process which might include some of the following steps:

1. Review each unit in the course curriculum to see which units of study are best suited for the project approach
2. Once a unit has been selected in the project approach, make a list of topics to develop into project assignments
3. For each topic selected, survey the classroom, school library, and community resources that can be accessed by students
4. Determine the amount of classroom time to be designated for small group work and the classroom arrangement that will be used to advance group work
5. Develop a set of specific instructions that students will follow in such categories as “getting organized” that provides for a division of labor so that each student is included in the advancement of the project work, group leadership and accountability, calendars, etc.
6. Specify the expected end-result of the project such as a joint written report, a panel presentation, a product based on student developed charts and/or tables, etc.
7. Specify the standard that will be used to determine group and individual grades
8. Specify your expectations regarding what should be learned through project tasks and periodically check on student progress based on your expectations
9. Should difficulties arise, make an assessment so that changes can be made to modify the project work
10. Give students periodic feedback and encouragement based on the progress being made by students.
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