Islamic Education Conference#2; Quotes from the seminar

“We need a paradigm shift,” as Ashfaque Chowdhury, Chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, said in his  introduction and indeed what we have outlined in the previous post is a very tall order.

In the following posts I want to look at the aims of Islamic education in the UK as outlined by speakers and delegates and  share some related paragraphs from my seminar “Opening Minds, Closing Achievement Gaps” in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center, on how Cooperative Learning might help to achieve them. First here is the introductory chapter to Cooperative Learning to what follows into perspective.

Cooperative Learning as such dates back to the pre-WW2 cognitive developmental perspective and is grounded in the work of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist, who is often referred to as the father of social constructivism. This means that cooperative learning is based on negotiation of meaning; of how to solve a mathematical problem, what a text means, why Henry VIII created the Church of England, what constitutes truth… depending on the subjects and materials.

Cooperative Learning in its modern form, the “structural approach,”  has replaced the older and more cumbersome role-based versions in favour of interaction-based, and this approach has been big in US since the 90s, research by Johnson and  Johnson, Kagan, Slavin, etc. attesting to it’s effectiveness.

In Denmark, my home country, all major providers of school material now include Cooperative Learning as a rule. In my own department, English exams reached Danish national average two years after adopting Cooperative Learning, and  surpassed it after four years, as you can see. Bear in mind this is an underachieving Muslim minority school with all the challenges of multiculturalism, stacked languages, etc. and  that Danes in general have exceptional English skills.



Source: UNI-C, Danish Department for Education, 2013

Structural Cooperative Learning consists of students in small hand-picked teams or pairs working in fixed interaction patterns selected and timed by teachers to achieve very specific aims – while affording students endless variation and excitement  through the changing materials and tasks.

This element of control is important to us because it solves some basic issues of student-centred learning outlined above, which include suc key problems as disorderly classrooms, difficulty in assessment,  In his seminal work “When Smart Groups Fail” Barron marks that quality of interactions have implications for learning outcomes.

The brilliant solution of this structured approach to Cooperative Learning is that the pre-ordered interaction accommodates all the keys that have been found to ensure successful cooperation, including mutual, non-competitive interdependence to ensure a successful outcome, high level of personal accountability, simultaneous interaction across the whole class, space to negotiate understanding of tasks and material, and so forth.

By organising these interaction patterns  in series, specific controlled and accessible outcomes are attained – here I just want to point out the challenges of fusing student-driven effective enquiry with  subject literacy and  rote learning of facts.

Note the word enquiry – remembering that we begun the talk with the big questions to which the answer is not reducible to 42. Enquiry  is truly key, not only facilitating all the above-mentioned 21c skills, but on the deepest level impacts on the title of this presentation – community and identity building.

The highly controlled social constructivism afforded by Cooperative Learning not only facilitates all the 21c skills we have outlined, but creates a staged enquiry, transferable between topics, and therefore between subjects. (Here I want to note that last October’s scathing  Realising the Potential Ofsted report on RE, enquiry was incidentally presented as best practice in a subject I believe is very promising as a testing ground for some of these ideas).

The mere fact that it  Cooperative Learning  creates instantly applicable Student Centred-Learning, generates instant results and attainment of national curriculum interwoven in social constructivism should make CL interesting for every Head in this country, Muslim or non-Muslim. “Make Heads turn” would be the pun.

However, how this is achieved in detail is a whole other presentation, and don’t want to focus on this. I refer you to the educators’ workshop in Norwich Healing Fractures for a model  lesson.  More important things than grades are at stake, our topic of community cohesion.


to be continued….


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