M5e. Caring and Collaborative Thinking (thinking about – and with – others) (Preview)

I have grouped these last two types of thinking together because we covered many of the same ideas in depth in Module 2. If you cast your mind back, the expected outcomes of Module 2 were for your students to:

  • respond positively to tasks and ideas that are challenging
  • demonstrate open-mindedness towards alternative explanations and viewpoints
  • offer reasons and examples to support their thinking using a shared language for learning
  • seek clarification and check assumptions so as to better understand others
  • show an interest in other people by listening carefully and connecting to their ideas

I have highlighted in bold the terms particularly connected with caring and collaborative thinking.

Furthermore, if you look back at the Video Reflection 1 form that we used at the start of Module 2, you will see the following ideas linking directly to caring for, and collaborating with, each other.

Caring Thinking
thinking about others

  1. Encouraging each other to speak. (e.g. encouraging gestures; taking turns; not talking over each other)
  2. Recalling each other’s ideas and putting their names to them. (e.g. ‘When (name) said (idea), I thought…’)
  3. Asking interested & inviting questions to better understand each other. (e.g. ‘Could you give us an example of that?’)

Collaborative Thinking
thinking with others

  1. Connecting to other people’s ideas. (e.g. ‘Following on from what (name) said …’ or ‘I agree / disagree with (name) because …’)
  2. Listening carefully to different points of view. (e.g. rather than replying with their own opinions, they asked for extra information or checked understanding)
  3. Comparing varying points of view to identify common ground as well as differences

So, it’s fair to say that Learning Challenge sessions rely heavily on caring and collaborative thinking – as indeed should all learning cultures!

With that said, let me add a bit more detail about the definitions of these two types of thinking. I will also offer some ideas for deliberate actions you could take to help your students develop their abilities and attitudes within these domains.

Caring Thinking

Caring can be split into five categories:

  • Caring is to feel concern for something or someone; for example, I care about my students.
  • Caring is to become careful or pay attention to someone or something; for example, I tell my students to be careful when using a saw.
  • Caring is to provide for somebody; for example, I take care of my students’ physical health by providing frequent brain breaks.
  • Caring is to wish for something; for example, would you care for another coffee?
  • Caring is to deal with something; for example, I am taking care of my students’ reports now.

Within Learning Challenge sessions, these aspects of caring thinking would be represented in the following ways:

Showing concern for others by being aware of their emotions and responding appropriately. For example, encouraging someone who is feeling nervous; helping those feeling frustrated to explain why; and giving those feeling excited a chance to share their enthusiasm.

Paying attention to someone by listening with your ‘whole self’. Concentrating on the speaker and leaning slightly forward helps to communicate an openness to listening; nodding, smiling and asking relevant questions encourages the speaker to continue.

Providing others with the space to share their thoughts. This could be through encouraging gestures, making space and time for them, and inviting (though not compelling) them to speak.

Offering others something that they would like. For example, offering them time to pause and reflect away from the group, or the possibility to change their minds or contradict something they said earlier without feeling bad or embarrassed.

Dealing (respectfully) with other people’s ideas and emotions. This includes taking seriously the thoughts of others, rather than dismissing (or implying that you are dismissing), belittling or ignoring those ideas.

Fascinatingly, ‘caring’ in English comes from the old English words, caru and cearu, originally meaning ‘sorrow, anxiety, grief,’ and ‘serious mental attention’. It can also be found in Old German as chara meaning ‘wail, lament’. As for ancient Indo-European languages, the term gar meant ‘cry out, scream’.

So, there are obviously many links between caring and the more sorrowful side of life – indeed perhaps the magnitude to which we experience grief is in direct relation to how much we care about that person or thing? Therefore, to show caring thinking within a Learning Challenge lesson is to show how much we appreciate the people we are with – and how much we would miss them if they weren’t in the group with us.

Collaborative Thinking

Collaborative thinking is a relationship among learners that fosters positive inter-dependence, individual accountability, and interpersonal skills. It involves a group of students communicating their needs, coordinating their activities, sharing information, exchanging know-how, building their community, and – generally speaking – focusing on a shared goal or task.

Issues such as credibility and trust, and the need for reciprocal action between collaborators, are important to the success or otherwise of collaboration.

Collaborative thinking should engage your students in processing and synthesising information and concepts together. Rather than focusing on the memorisation of facts and figures, they should use those same facts and figures to create new hypotheses, solutions, and challenges for – and with – each other. These are some of the reasons why collaboration and Learning Challenge sessions work so well together.

If your students have engaged in collaborative thinking together then they will have reframed ideas, listened to other viewpoints, articulated their own points of view, and then gained a more complete understanding as a group than they could have done as individuals.

Cooperative and Collaborative Thinking

Cooperative learning has many advocates in education. There are also some really expensive, prescriptive packages available. What is the difference, though, between cooperative and collaborative thinking?

Cooperative thinking is a subset of collaborative thinking. With cooperative thinking, participants are responsible for a specific section of their own learning. They must use their knowledge and resources to ensure that everyone in their group develops a complete picture. The roles and structures are pre-defined and are often likened to the cast and crew of a theatre production in which everyone, with their specific role, contributes their part to the whole production.

The ‘Jigsaw Method’ is an excellent example of cooperative learning. So good in fact, I will describe it properly in the next section.

Not all forms of collaborative thinking are as prescriptive as cooperative thinking. In collaborative thinking situations – such as Learning Challenge sessions – participants still take joint responsibility for their team’s actions, but their roles, resources, and organisation is left up to them. There is no director to administer the rules of engagement, so the group itself must self-direct.

Jigsaw Method

The Jigsaw Method is a particularly effective form of cooperative thinking. It was originally designed by social psychologist Elliot Aronson to help weaken racial cliques in forcibly integrated schools. According to John Hattie’s Visible Learning database, the effect size of the Jigsaw Method is 1.20 (three times more than the typical impact)! That said, there is only one meta-analysis on the topic, albeit covering the outcomes of 37 studies, so we should be somewhat wary. An effect size of 1.20 is, nonetheless, astonishingly good.

I like to use the Jigsaw Method for many different purposes. It is particularly effective for engaging harder-to-reach students because everyone is responsible for their part of the ‘jigsaw’. It also lends itself really well to online learning as well as in-class learning, as you will see from the descriptions below.

The following extract is from the first book in our new Challenging Learning Series, Challenging Learning Through Dialogue (Nottingham, Nottingham & Renton, 2016).

Figure 11:  Cooperative Thinking With the Jigsaw Method

From Challenging Learning Through Dialogue (2016), Section 7.6 (page 76 in the English edition).