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Cooperative Learning in Escuela Nueva Activa

11/04/2019 - 14:15
By Freepik
Cooperation exists when individuals and groups work together to enhance individual and collective outcomes (Johnson & Johnson 1989). Cooperative learning draws together educational research, theory and practice to form a powerful pedagogy. Drawing from psychology, anthropology, sociology, politics and economics, the breadth, depth, generalizability and applicability of the research validates its use and utility, perhaps more so than any other approach. 
Translating the principles of cooperation into pedagogic practices necessitates nuanced understanding and close integration between the conditions and components of cooperation. Fundación Escuela Nueva has successfully created an approach that is infused both implicitly and explicitly with these principles, and sees them as crucial to the achievement of critical academic and affective outcomes, as well as to a collective social change. 
Various studies have emphasized the use of cooperative learning in the Escuela Nueva Activa® model to promote participation in the classroom and a pedagogic approach that privileges the learner. Escuela Nueva Activa® is emphasized as exemplifying the use of cooperation to cultivate achievement, esteem and civic conduct, as well as to shift the conversation around effective teaching and learning, and the role of education in community and society. 
The purpose of this publication is to provide a comprehensive conceptualization of the how cooperative learning is integrated into, and infuses, all aspects of the Escuela Nueva Activa® approach. It aims both to illustrate how this has strengthened the approach, as well as to suggest how the approach itself has furthered understanding of the effective implementation and impact of cooperative learning.  This paper commences with an overview of cooperative learning, as it is understood in the literature. It then undertakes an analysis of why this is critical and useful in the context of Colombia, and illustrates how this is manifest in the Escuela Nueva Activa® model. The paper concludes with a discussion of how cooperation has been applied in alternate educational contexts, with implications for future improvements and advancements. 
Cooperation in Escuela Nueva Activa®
Fundación Escuela Nueva aims to improve the lives of the underserved through an educational model focused on the learner; the systematic integration and infusion of cooperative principles into the model serves as a critical catalyst of improvement outcomes, as this chapter will show. 
From its inception, Escuela Nueva Activa® has asserted attention on both academic and affective outcomes, founded on the reciprocal and reinforcing nature of both. Accordingly, pedagogic practices within Escuela Nueva Activa® maintain a precise and precarious balance between cooperative and personalized learning, acknowledging the interdependence of both. Thus, although there is an inherent tension between the two, the model leverages flexible advancement for the individual to develop their affect intelligence, encouraging able students to assist and support their peers and therefore develop competencies critical to social cohesion. 
Cooperation is at the core of Escuela Nueva Activa®; it manifests both in a technical sense, through explicit instruction and activities, as well as in a thematic sense, through its implicit influence on the lives and actions of students, parents, teachers and communities.  In the case of the former, the model draws from deliberate applications of cooperative principles to structures and strategies implemented in the classroom and school, whereas in the case of the latter, inherent understanding of the underpinning principles of cooperation affect all interactions between students, schools and communities. Thus, whilst cooperation is implemented across classrooms and schools everywhere, Escuela Nueva Activa® offers a unique interpretation of the structures and strategies that comprise cooperation, and a unique illustration of how these are synthesized to optimise outcomes. 
Conceptual Framework 
Cooperation in Escuela Nueva Activa® is carried out as aforementioned through explicit techniques and inherent themes. Although interventions are not categorized as such, this creates a conceptual frame that facilitates analysis and understanding of its application to Escuela Nueva Activa®. It is important to note that even as these categories have been isolated for analysis, they often overlap and intersect; their impact ultimately lies in the integration of these categories into a cohesive implementation. 
Cooperation as a Technique
In its explicit implementation of cooperative principles, Escuela Nueva Activa® applies a set of structures and strategies that create the conditions for and catalyse cooperation; significant elements are analysed as follows. 
Classroom Structure 
Classrooms in Escuela Nueva Activa® schools contain elements that promote interaction and interdependence. Students are seated in circular groups, ensuring frequent face-to-face interaction, and the formation of a learning community. By actively engaging with one another, students are encouraged to share information and materials, as well as to continually discuss and engage in dialogue with the peers. This has a range of meaningful implications: initially, students are able to access immediate support for learning from their peers, and are empowered to support their peers, both of which create a safe and supportive environment where students develop confidence and concern for others.  They are then enabled to consolidate learning through explanation and interaction with others, to develop confidence in communicating and influencing, and to contend with diverse and different understandings. 
Classrooms in Escuela Nueva Activa® also contain learning corners, wherein students can access books and educational materials. This serves to create a sense of interdependence, as students recognize the need to share resources, and to ensure they are maintained for themselves and for others. 
Arguably unique about the Escuela Nueva Activa® classroom is the incidence of structures that subtly yet significantly encourage elements of cooperation. The “self-attendance records” (autocontrol de asistencia), wherein students are expected to track their own attendance, promotes both individual accountability as well as interdependence; students are invested with the right and responsibility to maintain their own records, and are also encouraged to observe the attendance of their classmates, and to offer support and assistance to those absent. Whereas in a traditional classroom, the teacher would carry out these administrative tasks, in the Escuela Nueva Activa® classroom they activate student engagement with the school environment.  Similarly, the “friendship mail” (correo de la amistad) enables students to reflect on their interactions, and to provide praise and appreciation to their peers. This serves to reinforce immediate processing of cooperation during learning, through a permanent mechanism and in particular, emphasizes concern, compassion and cohesion. 
Thus, through the aforementioned techniques, the classroom set up illustrates the Escuela Nueva Activa® focus on the learner, and on the learning community; by transferring attention from the teacher as in traditional classrooms; the student is encouraged to develop autonomy and accountability as an active and engaged learner. 
Curriculum Structure 
The curriculum is a central element of Escuela Nueva Activa®; whilst it is closely aligned with the national curriculum standards and associated competencies, the design and delivery of the curriculum through the Escuela Nueva Activa® Learning Guides is such that it is a critical tool in facilitating classroom cooperation. 
The Learning Guides integrate the content with cooperative learning principles. The construction of the Learning Guides enable students to complete activities through interaction and support from other students, with teacher intervention at critical junctures. Students assimilate content from this interaction, rather than through teacher instruction alone, as in traditional classrooms. 
Language is used to great effect in the Learning Guides: the consistent use of the terms we and our throughout immediately create a sense of a collective, and imply that activities can be completed effectively only through collective effort. It is further used to explicitly integrate the principles of cooperation, through the use of instructions such as ‘we express our opinions’ and ‘we make sure to let everyone participate’. In this way, students are subtly but surely drawn into cooperating with each other constantly. 
Learning is therefore a significantly social activity, with the Learning Guides directing students to discuss and debate as they engage with ideas and address the accommodation and assimilation of concepts. This consistent dialogue ensures that students are able to share their understanding of concepts, as well as to contend with other understandings that either consolidate or change their initial interpretations. Through this process, they strengthen their conceptual notions, which enables application of concepts to unfamiliar or challenging contexts, a significant element of learning and understanding. They also develop confidence in communicating effectively and efficiently, in persuading others to accept opinions, and in offering empathy and openness to other perspectives or approaches.
The Learning Guides also promote participation from parents and families, by requiring students to ‘include your family in this process’. Often the activities necessitate active engagement from relatives, asking students to complete activities together with them, again creating a sense that learning occurs not in isolation, but through interaction and engagement with others. The Learning Guides thus leverage the knowledge and skills of families to enhance learning, as well as create a sense of a learning community that extends beyond the school. 
Like the classroom, the curriculum too is constructed such that it encourages individual accountability.  The Learning Guides are structured in accordance with the Gradual Release of Responsibility model, as students transition from understanding and investigating concepts together to applying and consolidating them independently. At each stage, students are asked to ‘show (my) work to the teacher to assess (my) progress’, ensuring that all students have done the activities and demonstrated the associated competencies. 
Escuela Nueva Activa® Learning Guides are often shared by students, and used across years. Embedded even within this, is the notion of interdependence, as students are expected to ensure the Learning Guides are kept in good condition. Further, a committee of the school government is tasked with collecting, organizing and storing the Learning Guides each day, ready for the following day.  Such a simple activity serves to show students that their actions affect those of others and vice versa, thus promoting social concern, courtesy and consideration. 
Instructional Strategies 
Escuela Nueva Activa® understands cooperative pedagogies as being instrumental to instruction, and thus trains teachers to create conditions for cooperation at all times. Although planning and preparation are provided through the curriculum, it is important to note that these ensure that teachers and learners have clear objectives for the lesson, which in turn invests them with the autonomy to engage actively in their learning, as both teachers and students are aware of what is to be achieved. 
In a dramatic departure from the notion of the teacher as a dictator and deliverer of instruction, teachers are trained instead as facilitators who focus on development students as learners. Critical to this is the notion that the teacher is no longer the sole source of information and support; rather, students are the agents of learning, and seek support from each other, with the teacher offering interventions at critical junctures. These junctures are indeed crucial, for effective cooperation necessitates explicit instruction in the attitudes and actions that accompany it. The teacher therefore ensures that students are taught strategies to communicate clearly with each other, to encounter and address conflicts, and to translate interactions into learning. The teacher also encourages the agency of the learner, offering them options on how they can find required information instead of revealing answers. Escuela Nueva Activa® therefore creates an important revolution in the attitudes of the teacher, empowering them to understand student learning in a holistic, multidimensional sense, and to see themselves as the facilitators of affective as well as academic growth. Teachers are thus shifted away from traditional teaching practices that bank content in students, to innovative pedagogies that carefully construct relationships and environments that encourage curiosity, autonomy and accountability. 
Escuela Nueva Activa® empowers teachers to function in this transformed environment by training teachers just as they are expected to teach; thus, the teacher training exemplifies the cooperative structures and strategies that these teachers will eventually implement. The Training Guides mimic the Learning Guides, encouraging interaction and creating a sense of interdependence between the teacher and the community, through activities that ask the teacher to compare conclusions with colleagues, and to interview and engage with parents in the process of understanding the Escuela Nueva Activa® pedagogical approach. 
Cooperation as a Theme  
An implicit understanding and appreciation of cooperative principles infuse the Escuela Nueva Activa® approach, and influence interactions between students, schools and communities; significant elements are outlined as follows. 
The Escuela Nueva Activa® approach encourages cooperation throughout the school, between and amongst students, teachers and administrators. The introduction of a student government is a unique intervention, as interested students are elected to lead the school through various committees, including sport, environment and others. These students work closely with the educational community to improve and enhance the school. 
Various studies of Escuela Nueva have emphasized the student government as a structure that promotes social development, democracy, participation and rights. It is also, importantly, a structure that promotes cooperative principles, as it illustrates the interdependence of the students on each other and the administration. It transfers sole accountability for the school and its success away from the teachers and the administration to the students, who collectively accept the right and responsibility to undertake activities that affect the whole school. 
The Escuela Nueva Activa® approach also facilitates cooperation between teachers, commencing with the offering of microcentres, wherein teachers are brought together at intervals to refresh their training and to share and reflect on their pedagogical practices. Teachers also participate in the global Escuela Nueva Activa® Learning Community, educating themselves and sharing ideas and information; consequently there is a clear sense amongst teachers that each of them is a contributor to an overall school community, and that their success is reliant on the success of all their colleagues and students, a notion that guides and influences all their interactions. This often translates into teachers engaging in independent interactions every day, sharing and supporting each other to develop skills and reflect on strategies.
Schools that employ the Escuela Nueva Activa® approach have close connections with the community. This is inherent within the curriculum, which encourages students to engage with the community to learn in context and apply their learning to their lives, and comprises activities such as creating a calendar of community events, a map of the community, and a socio-cultural community monograph. It is also evident in community involvement in school councils and school activities, as well as through teacher familiarization with the community and contribution to community life. Escuela Nueva Activa® therefore encourages horizontal rather than vertical interactions between stakeholders, enabling multidimensional relationships that are reciprocal and reinforcing. 
There is an implicit but integral notion of interdependence in this too, as the school relies on the community for support and investment, and simultaneously, the community relies on the school to function as a site of safety, security and social cohesion, the effects of which are infused through community life. 
It is thus apparent that cooperation is infused throughout the Escuela Nueva approach. Whilst the implementation and integration of the structures and strategies varies from school to school, it is clear that they underpin the functioning of the model. It is important to note here that this approach does not see students as the objects of cooperative principles and processes; rather, the student is privileged as an active participant, and is invited to ‘improve the process of cooperative learning’. 
Abstract y Capítulo III
Invitamos a nuestros lectores a conocer el proyecto educativo de la Fundación Escuela Nueva 
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