In the early years, educators believed that learning is a social activity. This concept was lost over time. The belief that the one who does the work is the learner has completely been eclipsed by a one-way communication wherein the teacher acts as the authority in all subject matters in the classroom. But who learns in this teacher-student relationship? The teacher prepares the lesson plan, discusses, talks, and writes on the board. The student sits passively receiving all this information. Who did the work? Who learned in this process?
Studies showed that social interaction is at the core of the students’ abilities to learn concepts, organize their thoughts, and find gaps in their reasoning. When students sit passively in a classroom, all they do is try to focus on listening to their teachers. The idea of applying what they learned and learning along and with their peers is lost. Instead, they are mere recipients of the information the teachers want them to know. They don’t participate, and they don’t interact.
What Kind of Interaction Do Students Need?
According to the studies, students need to participate in peer learning, learning by teaching, and reciprocal teaching. They also need to learn by doing, learn by participating, and monitor each other’s’ progress. This is especially important in high schools where the students are trying to identify and determine themselves. They are going through a phase of getting to know themselves. Not letting them speak up and interact with their teachers and classmates is clamping their individuality.
In today’s traditional classroom, teachers see students as empty vessels that they have to fill in with information. They are not. Teachers should consider that their students have a mind of their own. Even a preschooler has a pre-understanding of the world.
Students learn through two systems: cognition and social interactions. Cognition refers to what they already understand about the world they live in. It’s about what they already know about their culture and language. Teachers have to consider where the students are coming from rather than generalize their learning.
Learning Through Social Interaction
But the most overlooked system of learning is social interaction. This system posits that students are also learning (or even learning more) through their interactions with their teachers, classmates, friends, families, and the community. And the students themselves know that social interaction is the key to their learning.
A study of 180 students came up with stunning results. One, they believe social interactions help them learn from others. Two, it makes learning fun for them. Three, it gets them interested and engaged. And four, it allows students to interact with each other in the classroom.
But while these four themes are ones you already know, some responses will give you an insight into how the students see the importance of social activities in their lives. For them, social interaction also improves their comprehension, makes them more comfortable and confident, and prepares them for the real world. Furthermore, their interactions with their peers teach them how to collaborate, communicate, and socialize. They also believed that social interactions make them want to come to class more.
Why Is There a Gap?
If the students themselves understand the critical role of social interaction in their learning, why can’t schools and teachers? Federal and state accountability standards might be the reason for that. School administrators and teachers have to follow a curriculum that is not based on what the children need but rather on what the state deems as a success.
Governments measure the students’ success through a standardized set of tests. These tests determine their knowledge on subject matters that the world identifies as metrics to success. These don’t take into account the individuality of the students. They don’t mind that their strengths differ from one another. The current standards reward students who can comply with the requirements—attend school, pass the tests, and submit the assignments. It doesn’t reward students who learn differently. They don’t take into account those who have skills and talents outside the usual subjects.
There is a need to review the standards by which the world measures the students’ success in a school. This problem will further exacerbate during this time. As students try to learn virtually and through online classes, those who thrive in social settings will struggle with concepts and ideas. But thankfully, this generation is a fast learner. They adapt to changes well. They don’t allow themselves to be boxed and they fight for themselves and others. If there’s any generation that can thrive amid these odds, it is this generation of empowered youth.