Succeeding Together: Cooperative Learning in an At-Risk School

Succeeding Together: Cooperative Learning in an At-Risk School

Rosa Iaquinta (High-School Teacher, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2122-0.ch022

Abstract

Distress at school is one of the most pressing issues currently facing our school systems. There is, however, very little debate, discussion, research, or information on this matter, notwithstanding the fact that this distress can have a serious impact on the lives of the students affected, leading them to limit or to end their studies. This chapter aims to open up a debate on the social role that schools should play in order to combat the distress of students who live in areas remote from cities, who suffer a range of problems that can be both synchronous (student-student) or complementary (teacher-student). Here the difficulty manifested has been approached through cooperative learning, a methodology designed to activate a system of helping relationships, which result in the full involvement of each student in a number of key areas: collaborative structuring of the activity, assignment of roles, and co-constructive assessment.
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Setting

The high school where we carried out our project is located in the mountains in the south of Italy, in the province of Cosenza (Calabria).Although the area is not far from the nearest city (30 kms approx.), the residents of these villages, situated along the slopes of a valley, Valle del Savuto, seldom travel to the town. The population of the valley is very scattered and there are absolutely no urban centers. A breakdown of the residents by age groups shows clearly a larger proportion of the elderly (65% or more) and a much smaller number of children ((0 to 14 years). A 2001 report from the Italian institute for statistics (ISTAT) shows that the percentage of the elderly in the population had increased in the age range from 91 to 98.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Constructivism: According to this theory learning takes place through a process of active construction, culturally anchored and socially negotiated. Key elements of constructivism are Piaget’s developmental theory, the importance of language, and Vygotskij’s theory of social context, as well as the influence of activism in learning.

Community of Learning: Social groups whose ultimate aim is to generate organized, shared knowledge. Learning is seen as an integral part of the process of participation in the activities of the community; it is not viewed as an individual achievement but is part of a gradual process of integration in the group.

Scaffolding: In teaching activities based on constructivist theory scaffolding refers to all the supports (human, technical and organizational) capable of helping the student to develop the skills and competences needed to fulfill his/her learning objectives. Linked to the concept of the zone of proximal development.

Social Distress in Schools (School Distress): Distress is a topic of research in education and psychology and is a condition linked to subjective perceptions of unhappiness (distress is “felt” but not necessarily “visible”). It refers to an emotional state that has no significant link to any kind of disorder, whether psychopathic, linguistic or cognitive. This kind of distress manifests as a rejection of all school activities, to the point that it hinders the student’s use and development of his/her cognitive, affective and relational abilities.

Activism: A teaching approach based on recognition of the value of practical activities, group work and of bringing learning contents closer to everyday life. As opposed to the traditional teacher-centred approach, which is rigid, intellectual and individualistic.

Learning Objective: The outcome towards which the learning activity is directed. It can be seen as the description of the expected results (in terms of cognitive, affective and behavioral changes) which have been set as the goals to be reached through the learning project.

Cooperative Learning: A method of teaching/learning using techniques of group work to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge, skills or attitudes. Includes a variety of methods and techniques used to organize the learning activities. Theoretical roots can be found in activism and constructivism.

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