"Student potential is limited to the expectations that the teacher has of them."
The Psychology of Vygotsky
I'm not proposing anything new, or anything that many teachers have already done simply based on their own exploration of learning. So, when I came across the theories of Vygotsky a few years ago, it seemed to confirm that challenging the students do go beyond what I perceived as their maximum potential was the way to go. The Zone of Proximal Development is defined as:
"The distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).
* Constructivism - Learners construct knowledge through experience.
* Behaviourism - Learning through reinforcement, or learner is a passive reciprocal for knowledge input.
More to Explore
For a more in-depth, yet accessible article on the 'Zone of Proximal Development' click here.
I do think that there is room for all learning theories; however, knowing when and where to use them are of importance. We are all familiar with a more traditional approach where information is disseminated to students. And, it many scenarios this is the best method of instruction... but not the only one. If we want to measure students potential by what information can be regurgitated, then it is sufficient. Although I believe that we are edging towards classrooms that embrace many kinds of learning theories and approaches. And, these approach can help to unleash the potential of our students.
As I create assessment rubrics for my students, I sometimes wonder to what extent I am limiting their potential. By this I mean that the learners now have a boundary in which to work within, so will this aid in limiting this possible potential? Moreover, another possible limiting factor is my own expectation of what they are able to achieve. I have tested this consistently over the last two years. Each semester I seem to challenge the students more, I create bigger projects and push the students to collaborate more, be more creative and learn new skills. And, to this day, they have constantly blown away my expectations. So, the question is, why wasn't I challenging them in the same manner two years ago?
Two years ago I will have asked my students to collaborate on a simple report about the trip and may upload it to a simple Wiki page. However, recently I took my class on a trip to a national park to learn about the importance of forests. On returning to the classroom I informed my students of the task. Three to a group, they were to write a 3,000 word research paper (of which none of them had every done), create a 10 min video documentary about conservation (no one knew how to edit), and compile all of this into a website (no one had created a website before). To do this they had 2 weeks and what they created completed destroyed my expectations. Here is the link of one of the groups so you can judge for yourself (Click here).
The conclusion that I have come to is that I should never put limits on what students can achieve, especially when they are challenged, and when they collaborate with other peers. Many of my students come from educational systems where it is very teacher centred and focused on the individual, so they have very little experience of projects or collaboration. Furthermore, am I a limiting factor? Does my own need to remain in control, cause me to choose projects that are safe and in that respect more under my control?
I'm happy to say, though, that now I no longer put limits on myself or my students, as I know that they are capable of so much more than I could imagine. My conclusion is that I should live up to the expectations of my students and I should not expect them to live up to mine.
Below is 10 tips to help you release the potential of your students through projects and collaboration.
How to Bring out the potential of students.
Step 1 - What is the purpose of the project or task?
Firstly, you need to think about what the objective is. Many learning outcomes can be created, but consider process, as well as product.
Step 2 - Deciding on a project or task.
To get the best out of a project, it has to be designed in a way that means the students must work together in order to finish it. During this collaboration, each students will need to use their strengths to teach and help others in order to complete the project.
Step 3 - Choosing Groups.
Each student brings something different to a group, and it is important to leverage the group on this fact. Each student has different strengths and weaknesses, so make sure the group has a mixture of varying abilities.
Step 4 - Give them something new
Give your students something new to learn. My co-workers worry too much sometimes that the students don't know how to edit a video or make a website; I simply say, 'they will learn'. When my students say reluctantly that they don't know how to do these things I say, 'go learn how to do it. Youtube is a great teacher!'
Step 5 - Offer examples
Of course we can't just expect students to make a website of video without a benchmark. So, I always create a sample to act as a guide, so the students have something to go back to.
Step 6 - Scaffold
Before you get to the big project, get the students involved on some smaller scale projects so they can get used to the collaborative experience.
Step 7 - Monitor progress
Hold regular meetings with each group to get feedback. This is a good opportunity to find out how things are going and offer advice on how to continue.
Step 8 - Encourage
More than anything keep encouraging the students to give you more. Students are capable of amazing things, but sometimes they need a little push. Also, the collaborative process can be very stressful and demanding so always remind students that this is a learning experience and by doing it they are improving so many skills such as: team work, research, collaboration, communication, listening, writing, conflict resolution etc.
Step 9 - Learn with them
I like projects, topics and challenges that are new to me. By doing this the teacher is learning alongside the learners which then breaks down the teacher / student wall that sometimes exists.
Thanks for reading. I look forward to reading your comments.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.