In the previous two parts of this series, we talked about getting to know your students as individuals and exploring their different learning styles. Today in What You NEED to Know About Student Learning (Part Three), we will focus on independent versus collaborative learners.

Why focus on independent versus collaborative learning?

We all know that not all students prefer to work one way or the other. Some students learn best independently while others work best collaboratively. Many teachers, believing that they need to offer social opportunities in the classroom, seek plenty of ways to let students collaborate. While social development is necessary for students, it may not be the best way for all students to learn. For example, if you ask many students to brainstorm together, you may end up with great results. On the other hand, you may end up with what psychologists call “group think” where students are simply influenced by the most charismatic student in the group and end up following those ideas.

Why should you know your students’ personalities?

Some students thrive in groups, such as social/interpersonal learners and verbal learners (discussed in Part Two of this series) who love to talk and discuss ideas. Knowing your students’ personalities will help you determine if you should emphasize collaborative learning or use it sparingly.

To give independent learners a chance to collaborate, you can:

→ have them independently write down ideas first, then share them with a group.

→ allow groups of collaborative learners to work on certain tasks and differentiate tasks to allow some learners to work independently if that’s their preference. For example, students can independently read a novel and select two roles from a novel study group to complete, changing roles each week of the unit. Collaborative learners could read a novel in a small group and rotate roles more frequently

What may happen if you force one way or the other?

Forcing independent learners to frequently collaborate may actually cause them to shut down and not voice ideas because they feel overwhelmed or insecure. They may simply nod and agree with majority opinions. On the other hand, limiting collaboration for students who learn well in groups may cause them to produce minimal effort. They may lack the stimulation to more fully develop their ideas or work.

This completes the 3-Part Series on What You NEED to Know About Student Learning. We now understand that it requires not only expertise in a content area, but also extensive knowledge about students as individuals, their learning styles, and how to manage their learning.

Go back to Part One:

What You NEED to Know About Student Learning (Part One) explores how to get to know your students as individuals.

Go back to Part Two:

What You NEED to Know About Student Learning (Part Two) explores different learning styles along with tips and strategies for you and your students.