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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Collaborative Reasoning, Part III

As you will recall, I have been writing a series on collaboration in Maine schools.  Part I, Collaboration, What is it? and Part II,  Collaboration - The Role of Communication, were posted in March.  Today, I will post Part III - Collaborative Reasoning.

This time of year, I see many disappointed faces in the schools where I work.  These are usually found among committee members.

Because most schools form committees by asking for volunteers - members are immediately at a disadvantage.


For three reasons:

  1. members who volunteer usually do so because they have a position on the topic being reviewed by the committee.  Consequently, many come on board from a point of view of advocacy - hoping to convince others of their opinions
  2. many administrators are not clear as to the role of the committee.
In The Handbook for SMART School Teams by Conzemius and O'Neill, they suggest 4 possible methods of making decisions.

  1. Consensus Decisions:  all members agree to support the group decision - regardless.
  2. Voting:  committee members vote on options -51% is enough to carry the vote.
  3. Consultative Decisions:  team or one member makes the decision in consultation with others.
  4. Command Decisions:  Decision by Authority  or Expert Decision.
The confusion around this process can be cleared up by clearly stating ahead of time, the role of the team.

Two common misconceptions are evident in schools:
  1. teachers thought the committee or team would make the decision and are angry and disappointed because that was not the end process
  2. teachers believe consensus is the only viable committee or team process   - AND  -
  3. teachers believe consensus is synonymous with collaboration.  
In an effort to clarify this point, I would like us to take a look at the new definition of collaboration for students - collaborative reasoning.

 "Collaborative Reasoning has a format that is useful for deepening conceptual understanding.  Collaborative Reasoning discussions do not foster reading consensus.  Instead, this discussion model requires students to seriously consider multiple perspectives on a text they have read and then engage in a thoughtful dialogue.  The discussions have an open participation structure; that is, students are expected to communicate freely.  According to Richard Anderson, “Reasoning is fundamentally dialogical.  Thinkers must hear several voices within their own heads representing different perspectives on the issue.  The ability and disposition to take more  than one perspective arises from participating in discussions with others who hold different perspectives (Reznitskaya and Anderson 2002). " Taken from Foundations,  Comprehending Texts, 2007, page I14

While I recognize this definition is for reading, look closely.  Is this not the process we want our students as well as ourselves to engage in when we discuss important issues or consider decisions we have to make?  

In the age of a shrinking globe, this is a more defined - meta-cognitive - approach to processing information and decision making than we have had before.  

Let's embrace it and implement it in all aspects of our personal and professional lives.  

I think we would grow!