Why and How: a Look Into Learning Communities

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Abstract The idea of learning communities in classrooms grows more and more popular as education reforms are trying to keep up with the tide of satisfying the needs of students to be able to reason through complex issues and problems, direct one’s own learning, communicate and work with people from diverse backgrounds and views, and share what one learns with others. A key idea in the learning-communities approach is to advance the collective knowledge of the community, and in that way to help individual students learn by building and deepening teacher knowledge, integrating new practitioners into a teaching community and school culture that support the continuous professional growth of all teachers of the teaching community in the school, and encouraging a professional dialogue that articulates the goals, values, and best practices of a community. Therefore, after the basic introduction of learning communities, this paper aims to examine the reasons behind the common approval and the worldwide gaining popularity of learning communities, the reasons why Taiwanese education needs this approach, and finally how ideal learning communities can be put into practice in Taiwan. Keywords: Learning community, Sato Manabu, The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), collaborative learning, lesson study, curricular reform

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Why and How: A Brief Look into Learning Communities In recent years, not only in Japan, where the design of learning communities originated and was proved to be of great advantage but also in other neighboring countries such as Taiwan and Korea and even in the U.S., there have all developed a “learning-communities” approach to education, the concept of which has reached far out to many parts of the world, being refined and put into practice lately with an aim to help both students and teachers move out from the current education crisis. According to Scardamalia and Bereiter (1994), the goal of a learning community is to “advance the collective knowledge and consequently to support the growth of individual knowledge.” The defining quality of a learning community is that every member, including both the teachers and the students, in the class is involved in a collective effort of understanding, and there is naturally a culture of learning formed in the classroom that no one will be left out from getting engaged in learning, no matter their learning achievement is comparatively high or low. Everyone in the classroom is equally encouraged and given chances to learn and acquire new knowledge. Katerine Bielaczyc and Allan Collins (1999) pointed out that such a culture of learning tends to possess some major characteristics, including the “diversity of expertise among its members” who are “valued for their contributions and given support to develop,” shared objective of “continually advancing the collective knowledge and skills” with a special emphasis on learning how to learn, as well as “mechanisms for sharing what is learned.” If a learning community is presented with a problem by the teacher, the learning community can “bring its collective knowledge to bear on the problem” through the help of each other and the guide from the teacher (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999). It is not required that every member of the learning community “assimilates everything that the community knows” to the full point

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Why and How: A Brief Look into Learning Communities immediately, but each should know that, within the community, who has “relevant expertise to address any problem” and everyone can all learn what they can from mutual communication and cooperation with the help of one another. This, however, is an extreme parting from the traditional view of schooling which emphasizes individual knowledge and performance more, and expects that “students will acquire the same body of knowledge at the same time” (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999). Why learning communities? The need for a strong start with good support...
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