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Supporting strategic processing in the life of the classroom

The literature we reviewed consistently suggested how learning environments require social forms of strategic processing, not just within structured collaborative learning activities but also within learning communities as they are instantiated day to day (McCaslin & Burrows, 2010). Thus, a key question is, if they are to engage in strategic processing as “social,” how must learners come to be personally aware and adaptive given the dynamically shifting learning environments in which they are participating together?

Setting the Stage for Social Forms of Strategic Processing

Learning environments are highly influential in how students engage in collaborative forms of learning (Woolfolk, Winne, & Perry, 2015). To support students’ willingness to take risks and learn together, it is important to create a safe, non-threatening learning environment in which students feel they are ‘in it together’ (e.g., Noddings, 1992). Educators can do that by developing a community of learners that recognizes, values, and builds on diverse learners’ strengths, interests, challenges, and histories (Schnell-ert, Kozak, & Moore, 2015). In communities of learning, students perceive their role, not just to best others or achieve on their own but also to contribute to others’ learning. This perspective is consistent with a call for creating positive interdependence as an essential condition for collaborative learning (Gillies, 2016; Johnson & Johnson, 2009), or a “culture of collaboration and interdependence” (Ertmer & Simons, 2006, p. 40). Similarly, Hutchinson (2013) argued for the importance of fostering socially responsible self-regulation, where students deliberately and intentionally manage engagement in prosocial ways that support their own and others’ learning. Hymel, McClure, Miller, Shumka, and Trach (2014) added that, in classrooms where cooperative learning and interdependence are supported, “prosocial values can become normative” (p. 20).

Supporting Learners to Recognize and Participate in the Life of the Classroom

Educators typically establish all sorts of norms, routines, and participation structures that help in orchestrating students’ engagement in the busy life of the classroom (e.g., morning meetings, sharing circles, “ask three before me”) (Leinhardt et al., 1987; Woolfolk et al., 2015). Perry et al. (in press) suggested that these “enable independent and social forms of learning” (p. 40). But, if students are to work successfully with others in classroom contexts, they need to “read” expectations and direct their activities accordingly. Referring to the kinds of norms, routines, and participation structures prevalent in classrooms, Butler et al. (2017) asked: (a) do students know what they are?; (b) do they own them?; and (c) do they know how to participate? Correspondingly, to support effective forms of strategic processing, where all students have a clear sense of purpose and can channel their strategic action effectively, they recommended (a) naming them explicitly (i.e., making them visible); (b) building them with students; and (c) providing supports for all learners to know how to navigate them (see also Perry et al., in press). Doing so enables students, on their own and with others, to work through cycles of strategic action effectively.

Learning to Learn Together: Qualities of Discourse

Classroom discourse is structured by socially accepted ways in which knowledge is presented and by established procedures for carrying out educational activities. However, the underlying linguistic and social ground rules are usually implicit, for students as well as for teachers. The implicitness of these ground rules has been attributed to students’ failure to successfully participate in educational discourse.

(Staarman, 2009, p. 79)

Schoenfeld (2004) suggested that in learning, communities engage students in rich forms of thinking and learning together around “matters of substance” (p. 251). Thus, to support socially shared strategic processing, it is key to identify the quality of discourse in which students are expected to participate together in different classrooms and activities. To that end, Staarman (2009) built on a “thinking together” approach to study forms of educational discourse involved in collaboration (p. 80); Jurkowski and Hanze (2015) studied benefits for cooperative learning when teaching students to engage in “transactive communication” (p. 358); and Michaels et al. (2008) considered how classroom practices can support “academically productive talk” (p. 283). Gillies (2016) focused on how students can be supported to reason together and engage in the kinds of high level talk required in collaborative learning. There is also ample research describing discipline-based forms of discourse that students need to learn how to navigate in texts and conversation (e.g., Hickey et al., 2002; Moje, 2013; Seixas & Morton, 2012). These various discussions combine to suggest how, to engage in socially shared strategic action effectively in classroom environments, students need to learn how to recognize and participate effectively in multiple kinds of academic discourse.

In terms of enriching collaborative learning, research has also suggested how classroom diversity contributes to the quality of discourse within a learning community (Schnellert & Kozak, 2019). As Torre et al. (2016) argued, “cognitive diversity, where group members have different yet overlapping levels of knowledge and expertise results in more effective and innovative individual and group achievements” (p. 192). Kahiigi, Hansson, Danielson, and Tusubira (2012) suggested that students co-construct richer understandings about concepts when they have to negotiate different perspectives. Similarly, Lee et al. (2015) found that task-related conflict created a need to reconcile contrasting views and led to greater learning. This research suggests again that in classrooms students need to build capacities to engage in rich forms of discourse with others. Further, Lee et al. concluded that, to successfully navigate task, process, and relationship conflicts that arise during collaboration, students need to mobilize social skills as they engage in activities, particularly at the group level.

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