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The Student Learning Community: Strategies for Success

We’ve talked about the importance of strong professional learning communities (PLCs). But what about student learning communities (SLCs)? 

Cooperative and collaborative learning have been linked to both higher academic achievement and improved social skills for K-12 students. To get the most benefit from group learning, teachers need to build strong student learning communities in the classroom. Thinking Maps provide a shared “language for learning” to support SLCs and amplify the benefits of collaborative learning. 

What is a Student Learning Community

A Student Learning Community (SLC) is a learning environment that connects students with each other and with teachers, parents and other collaborators in the learning experience. It transcends transitory

 “group work” by creating a community organized around shared learning goals. Learning within an SLC is an ongoing, collaborative and dynamic process built on trust, accountability and active participation. Collaboration in this context is a core part of the learning process, not a “special” activity to be engaged in once in a while. 

SLCs support higher levels of engagement and connection for students—which translates to better attendance, more active participation in learning, and stronger learning outcomes. In  STUDENT LEARNING

 COMMUNITIES: A Springboard for Academic and Social-Emotional Development, Fisher, Frey and Almarode outline the essential conditions that must be met to support successful collaborative learning within the SLC, including: 

  • An atmosphere of trust, openness and cooperation.
  • Explicit attention to social-emotional learning (SEL) skills.
  • Creation of class norms for individual and group success.
  • Instruction designed to develop critical and creative thinking and communication skills.
  • Tasks designed to stimulate learning through academic discourse.
  • Flexible criteria for group formation depending on the task involved.

Building a Common Language for Learning in the SLC

Thinking Maps supports SLCs by providing a common language for learning that supports the growth of both academic and social-emotional skills. Using Thinking Maps for cooperative learning within the context of an SLC gives students a framework for gathering information, sharing ideas, and participating in formal academic discourse. Instead of “reinventing the wheel” for each new group assignment, students can focus on the actual content and learning, using portable, flexible learning tools that can be applied to many kinds of group work and learning activities. 

  • For example, “Think-Pair-Share” is a common collaborative learning strategy, in which students are given a learning task, provided an opportunity to learn independently, and then paired with another student to share and build upon each other’s ideas. Thinking Maps are ideal for this kind of activity. Students can create individual Thinking Maps, using the Map most appropriate for the learning task, and then pair up to compare and add to their Maps. The “Map-Move-Map” Thinking Map exercise provides a variation on Think-Pair-Share that incorporates movement. 
  • For another common collaborative learning method, Jigsaw, students are assigned to groups, each with a different topic to research or passage to read, and then “remixed” to share their learning with students from other groups. Students in each group can work collaboratively to create a Thinking Map appropriate for the information they are responsible for learning. When students reform into their new groups, they can “talk off the Map” to explain what they have learned to others. 
  • For “Round Robin” or “Carousel” activities, Thinking Maps provide a vehicle for shared meaning making. Instead of jumping immediately to a written product, students can create shared Thinking Maps that are passed between students or groups, with more information added at each pass. (See the “Sneak-a-Peak” activity in the Language for Learning manual, p. 227.

In these activities, Thinking Maps support and amplify common collaborative learning methods. Critically, Thinking Maps allow all students to participate effectively, including students learning English as a second language, students with learning disabilities, and students with different academic and cultural backgrounds. Everyone can contribute to building a Thinking Map in their own way. Thinking Maps provide a natural method for scaffolding and differentiation to help all students participate successfully in collaborative learning. 

    Looking for More SLC Tips?

    The September Navigator (for Thinking Maps Learning Community members only) has a three-part series on SLCs. If you’re not a TMLC subscriber, contact your representative to get started. 

    We also love these resources. 

    Want to learn more about using Thinking Maps to build strong Student Learning Communities? Talk to your representative or check out our upcoming Virtual Training Calendar

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