I received this by email from Vance Ricks at Guilford College. A colleague of his, Jonathan Malino, had an idea about a possible classroom tool for group work/understanding learning through a group experience, and Vance suggested that he try to get it up here for some comments on how to develop the idea. So I'm functioning as the messenger here. I think the idea is an interesting one, and because I'm such a dreadful failure at getting this kind of collaborative learning to happen in my own classrooms, I'm curious to hear what people have to say about it too. Here's the original email, with a few changes to translate from email to blog-ese:
In Introduction to Philosophy, I broke the class into groups of two. Generally when I break the class up, the groups have 3-4, but I wanted to be sure no one could be passive. I also picked the groups, so that students who don't sit near each other or appear to know each other well would work together.
As I watched them, before I started to float, I recalled that the typical format for Jewish text study in a yeshiva is called "havrutot," or study partners/partnerships. I've always found this format a terrific experience when we do it my Israeli philosophy conference, although there groups tend to be more than two. But in a yeshiva setting, each partner has a palpable responsibility for the learning the pair accomplishes. Plato is aware of one aspect of this kind of study, when he quotes the
Illiad in the Protagoras (and in the Symposium) "When two walk together, one sees before the other" (rough quote). In the Protagoras, Socrates also talks about how, when we discover something, we are eager to share it and check it with others. In short, there is a social aspect to learning and discovery that includes, but goes beyond, the inherent social character of the elenchos.
I mention all this because as I watched the students on Friday, I thought that it would be interesting to find a way to build havrutot into my Intro. class in a systematic way. I don't know how to do this, but I'm going to give it some thought.
Any suggestions here for our colleague at Guilford?