Deep learning through classroom-community collaboration

The pluralist nature of our society has encouraged young people to explore and experience cultural diversity from a very young age. Schools are championing this approach by entwining curriculum topics with themes of cultural diversity but often this consists of exploring factual knowledge of rituals, practices, objects and historical events. We were keen to develop a learning approach that encouraged young people to explore real-world settings and tap into the knowledge assets present within their local communities.

We worked with 128 students from Gosforth Central Middle School, Newcastle upon Tyne over two terms on the topic of migration, incorporating elements of history, geography and religious education. Students worked in groups and collaborated with community members, parents, grandparents, relatives and friends to collect stories of migration and used these stories to further develop physical and digital artefacts.

Working in groups collaboratively, students interviewed young immigrants, explored immigration policies in political manifestos, created interactive board games and other artefacts to share the stories gathered from their community. Some students used the Thinking Kit platform, a multi-user, computer based learning application, designed to promote collaboration and higher order thinking skills, to develop interactive digital activities.

By talking to their community members over a sustained period of time, students could display empathic attitudes to learning. Using the experiences of others led to deep learning, a learning approach where students focus on understanding the meaning of the learning material, relate new ideas to previous knowledge and use concepts to make sense of their own everyday experiences in relation to others. This deep learning was possible due to the real-world conversations that children engaged in, outside their classrooms.

The use of the Thinking Kit digital application was important to amalgamate the personal learning of the students into the school curriculum and make it accessible to the wider student community. The digital artefacts are now a learning resource and are available as free downloads to anyone interested in student-led approaches to learning.

By encouraging students to link with the real-world, we want to create opportunities for students to question, reason and critically engage with the information available to them. In doing so we wish to support students to become active participants in an increasingly globalised world, bridging the gap between classrooms and communities.

For more information please contact Vidya Sarangapani.