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Collaborative Learning Techniques: Promoting Safe, Disciplined, and Engaging Classroom Environments

Updated on January 10, 2014

This paper will explore three articles-Jacqueline Norris’s “Looking at Classroom Management Through a Social and Emotional Learning Lens;” Annemarie Palinscar’s and Leslie Herrenkohl’s “Designing Collaborative Learning Contexts;” and Jennifer Fredrick’s “Engagement in School and Out-of-School Contexts: A Multidimensional View of Engagement”-that offer new concepts on constructing collaborative learning classrooms, student teacher relationships, and engagement initiated by teachers to students. This paper will attempt to link the concepts in the aforementioned articles so as to develop a future plan on how I can create a classroom environment where my students feel safe to expound on their beliefs and theories; it will link the three articles to support the concept that teachers must act as second parents to their students and create a classroom environment that is safe and enjoyable, as well as disciplined; Lastly, it will link the three articles to make the claim that, although it seems as though we place little value in education as a society, teachers, by being creative and knowledgeable in their subjects, can ignite an interest in all of their students.

Regardless of a student’s level of motivation, level of interest in education, and level of intelligence, if they exist in a context where they are undervalued, labeled, as just another irrelevant burden on society, and disregarded, they will face many obstacles in developing into whole, educated person and will be severely limited in future prospects that will lead to a path of success; contexts are important! The three articles link together very well on this subject because, where explains what kind of activities teachers can use to create collaborative learning contexts, where students learn to feel valued and respected, Fredrick’s article outlines how teachers should behave towards their students in order to make them feel the same way. Palinscar's and Herrenkohl’s article is similar to Norris’s because they too offer processes on how teachers can create collaborative learning contexts in their classrooms. By linking the concepts of the three articles, there is the potential to create a school environment where both students and teachers thrive on a mutually shared context of collaboration that results in respect for each other and, most importantly, respect for oneself. Fredrick outlines the attitudes teachers should carry towards their students when she writes:

As outlined earlier, teachers and program staff can increase engagement: (a) by showing students that they care about them; (b) by creating positive social environment where peers have opportunities to work together and learn from each other; (c) by having clear expectations, rules, and routines to maximize time on task; and (d) by including a variety of interesting tasks that emphasize higher-order skills and real-world application. (Fredrick, 2011, p.333)


With teachers who adhere to this outline for creating collaborative learning contexts in their classrooms, they will also be promoting the social and emotional learning techniques that Norris believes is important in creating collaborative learning contexts in a classroom. Norris (2003) writes about these techniques, “They help to create a climate where students are not afraid of taking risks, asking questions, or making mistakes because they know that any criticism they receive will be given in a respectful and constructive manner” (p.316). There are overlapping concepts outlined in Fredrick's articles and Norris's article that fit into the same puzzle. Palinscar and Herrenkohl offer specific techniques that teachers can use to achieve the results of Norris's and Fredrick's studies. Their method of reciprocal teaching creates the context where teachers and students can use the collaborative learning techniques outlined by Norris and Fredrick.

Using collaborative learning techniques to create a learning context where students feel valued is only one of many steps teachers must take in order to achieve successful collaborative classrooms. Another step is by ensuring that these techniques can be carried out without distraction from disobedient students. Norris and Fredrick's both note that class structure as well as teaching methods are important factors when attempting to create disciplinary guidelines in the classroom. When explaining how ones teaching method is an important factor for discipline, Norris (2003) writes, “Social and Emotional Learning (SELL) is an approach that teaches individuals to recognize, regulate and express the social and emotional aspects of their lives so they can successfully manage life tasks” (p.314). This aspect of discipline is important because it teaches students how to manage their emotions so that, when confronted with a problematic situation, they will be conscientious enough to understand that the situation will be better managed when dealt with patience and logic, rather than impatience and emotional impulses. Fredrick's (2011) is more direct about discipline when she writes, “In well-managed classrooms, the emphasis is on work and there is little wasted time and confusion. Teachers are also clear about their rules and consequences of misbehavior” (p.332). Both psychologists make important observations about discipline: (1) that students must be instilled with what it means to have discipline (2) and that students must be told when and where discipline is expected. Palinscar and Herrenkohl never mention, in their article, techniques for maintaining a disciplined class. However, they describe something that could be used to prevent an outlier student from causing trouble in the classroom: developing an intersubjective attitude, or social norm, in the classroom. They write, “Rogoff, Matusov, and White (1996) have argued that to promote collaboration there must be the development of an intersubjective attitude-a commitment to find a common ground on which to build a shared understanding” (Palinscar & Herrenkohl, 2002, p.27). I believe that this can be an effective method, although manipulative, because troublesome students are more likely to respond to judgment of their peers than the judgment of their teachers. I do not believe that I would use this technique in my classroom, however. I despise the idea of developing an intersubjective “anything” in my classroom. Coming to a consensus on something should not be forced; it should be agreed upon through civil discourse and logical debating and even then it is not always achieved.

The last unifying concept between the readings is that they all promote engagement. Engagement as a class is important to have because it alone can silence a classroom and promote collaborative learning. When a class as a whole is engaged in a subject, or perhaps a particular lesson, although they may be eager to ask and answer questions and may forget to raise their hands, their focus is on the lesson. What one teacher may perceive as disobedience, another will make the observation that he or she is dealing with a situation that many teachers dream about: their class has found an interest in the material they are learning and are volunteering their attention to participate. Classes are engaged, according to Palinscar and Herrenkohl (2002) when, “Allowing audience members to ask questions of reporters encouraged the student audience to nominate themselves for participating in the process” (p.30), and according to Norris (2003), this is made easier in classrooms that incorporate SELL and where, “…students are taught to use Active Listening, I-messages, and other effective communication skills so that the interactions within the class are clear, positive, and supportive” (p.316). These two concepts go hand-in-hand. Students must learn in a context where they can openly declare their beliefs and theories and have them supported or challenged respectfully. These are two complimenting ways that promote engagement. Another way to promote engagement that works in compliance with the previous two is by offering students challenging and “engaging” material. Fredrick (2011) writes, “Student engagement is higher in classrooms where students perceive instruction as challenging and when they are in cooperative groups, as opposed to large group discussions” (p.329). Feeling comfortable and safe, learning how to communicate respectfully with one another, and being given the chance to be challenged are three concepts that teachers should apply in their classrooms to promote engagement.

The concepts expounded upon in this paper-using collaborative learning techniques to promote: safe classroom environments, nurturing relationships in the classroom, and engagement-are all concepts that I, as a future history teacher, plan to execute in my classroom. It is not my duty, as a teacher, to lecture my students and hope that they are listening. It is not my duty to force upon my students social norms or intersubjective attitudes in order to reach a shallow, dictated consensus. As a teacher, it is my duty to make my students feel safe so that they can express their thoughts openly; it is my duty to develop relationships with all of my students so they feel that they can depend on me to care for them and be stern with them when necessary; it is my duty to create actively engaging lesson plans so that they can feel as though they are part of the learning process.


Fredricks, J. (2011). Engagement in school and out-of-school contexts: A multidimensional view of engagement . (Master's thesis, Connecticut College)Retrieved from 14 _12_3 _ 12_5_/Fredericks - Engagement in Schools.pdf

Norris, J. (2003). Looking at classroom management through a social and emotional learning lens. (Master's thesis, The Ohio State University)Retrieved from 11 _11_12 _ 11_14_/norris-classroom management and socioemotional.pdf

Palincsar, A., & Herrenkohl, L. (2002). Designing collaborative learning contexts. (Master's thesis, The Ohio State University)Retrieved from 12 _11_19 _ 11_21_/Palinscar and Herrenkohl - Designing Collaborative Learning Contexts.pdf


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