What are the disadvantages of co-education

Co-construction: learning by working together

From Prof. Dr. mult. Wassilios E. Fthenakis

Co-constructive learning is more about exploring meaning than acquiring knowledge. The key to this pedagogical-didactic approach is social interaction.

Co-construction as a pedagogical approach means that learning takes place through cooperation, i.e. is co-constructed by professionals and children together. The key to this approach is social interaction. The co-construction emerged from the philosophical approach of constructivism, according to which one has to interpret the world in order to understand it. According to this view, the child develops a natural curiosity for learning and the need to relate to his physical and social environment. In this way the child explores his environment and begins to understand it. Piaget's work is also shaped by this view: According to Piaget, children learn through active engagement with their environment. In this understanding, the child is the active constructor of its education. This conception has prevailed in German pedagogy, and the methodical approach with which the child controls this educational process is the so-called "self-education concept": the child educates himself.

The social constructivism that builds on the work of Vygotzky shares this view, but sees the essential factor for the construction of knowledge in social interaction. According to this, children learn to understand the world by exchanging ideas with others and negotiating meanings with one another. This also implies that intellectual, linguistic, and social development is promoted through social interaction with others, while, according to Piaget, children are much more on their own when it comes to developing language and intelligence.

The effective use of co-construction

Professionals can co-construct knowledge with children by emphasizing exploration of meaning rather than acquiring facts. In order to acquire facts, children need to observe, listen and memorize something. Exploring meaning, on the other hand, means discovering, expressing, and sharing meanings with others, as well as recognizing other people's ideas. For example, imagine the following situation: children go on a trip to the forest in autumn to observe nature and collect autumn-colored leaves. These then classify and name them according to size, color, etc. and possibly even look at them under a microscope. The specialists observe the children and support them if necessary. In this case, the specialists act according to the premises of the self-education concept. The educational process is essentially limited to the acquisition of factual knowledge. They act in the sense of co-construction when this process is designed jointly between children and professionals, when questions about the meaning are raised and answered during the forest visit, such as: Why are the leaves falling? Why is it important for the tree to shed its leaves? Why don't other trees shed their leaves? And how can this phenomenon be classified in the annual cycle? So co-construction explores the meaning, the meaning of the phenomenon and is not limited to the acquisition of facts. The exploration of meanings is thus a co-constructive process in which children and adults in a community discuss and negotiate their understanding and interpretation of things.

The goal of the co-construction

Co-constructing meanings with adults helps children learn how to solve problems together with others. Co-construction is therefore an important didactic-pedagogical approach to expand the current level of understanding and expression in all areas of children's development. This process is particularly sustainable when professionals encourage children to express their understanding of the world through a variety of media. Better learning effects can be achieved through co-construction than through self-discovery learning or through the individual construction of meaning.

Elements of the co-construction

The co-constructive process is supported by the use of design, documentation and discourse.

  • The design relates to the activities of the professional and children, which represent possible actions, plans and desired solutions. These can be children's products, such as pictures, buildings, sketches, etc.
  • Documentation includes, for example, records and notes from the professional that enable children to express their own ideas and share them with others. It also enables them to get to know other people's ideas.
  • Finally, discourse is the process of talking to children about meanings: meanings are expressed, shared and negotiated with others. The participants try to understand the designs and documentation of the others. Professionals should pay attention to the children's theories, their assumptions, contradictions and misunderstandings and discuss them. By doing this, they can ensure that they are helping children explore meanings, rather than promoting the mere imparting of facts.

When should co-construction be used?

Co-construction can be used whenever the child tries to explain the world around them. According to the latest findings, this happens from birth. In order for children to be able to co-construct meaning, they need a wide variety of media through which they can express their understanding of the world and communicate it to others. These tools must be adapted to their development and skills. They also need to have adults around them who will listen, watch and interact with them as they struggle.

With babies, sensory experiences are paramount. They should therefore be offered a variety of opportunities to experience their surroundings through touch, taste, smell, touch, movement, hearing, etc. Small children quickly develop the ability to discover and interpret the world through language, images, models and buildings. They have a wide range of gestures and can already express themselves through music, role plays, stories, images and movements in order to share their experiences with others. This ability to use symbolic expressions increases even further in preschoolers. At school age, children can understand the perspectives and feelings of others better and better. With forms of expression such as dance and music, they can clarify and communicate their understanding and thus increase their ability to construct meaning.

It is of fundamental importance that this process is designed by adults and children or by children among themselves. Co-construction in this sense draws on interactionist theories that understand the acquisition of knowledge and the construction of meaning as the result of interaction between adults and children or between children. The child-friendly design of these interactions is the key to a higher quality of education. Every day around 1,000 interactions take place in each group. That is 1,000 opportunities to optimize educational processes and thus strengthen the development of the children's educational biography.

According to Gardner, children can fall back on seven areas of intelligence in order to develop and communicate meanings: logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, physical-kinesthetic as well as interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence.

These multiple intelligences give specialists clues as to how children perceive their environment in different ways and thus construct new meanings. For example, trees could be explored in a musical way (reproduce their sound), represented in three dimensions (with a model) or their movement in the wind could be simulated through one's own movements. In this way children can develop different ways of perceiving and understanding one and the same topic, exchange ideas with others and thus co-construct meanings.

Learning effects through co-construction

By co-constructing meaning, children learn that

  • the world can be explained in many ways;
  • Meanings are shared and negotiated with one another;
  • a problem or phenomenon can be solved in many ways;
  • Ideas can be transformed and expanded;
  • Ideas can be exchanged;
  • their understanding can be enriched and deepened;
  • exploring meanings together with adults or other children is exciting and enriching.

Specific aspects of the co-construction

The process of co-construction is often presented as a way of giving children more weight in designing learning processes in the institutions. However, this depends to a large extent on the children's active ability to express themselves, so that silence is quickly less valued. It should therefore always be kept in mind that silence can also be its own form of expression.

The intercultural aspect: Children's cultural and ethnic identity can influence the process of co-construction. The self-confidence you have acquired so far, which is necessary in order to represent your own point of view towards others, plays an important role. Children in particular who move in two cultural groups easily have the fear that they will not be able to survive in either of the two social groups and develop less self-confidence as a result. They often shy away from expressing themselves to others who have not had similar experiences. In addition, these children can use culture-specific expressions that are not always recognized or correctly interpreted.

Co-construction can promote self-confidence development by encouraging children to express their individual opinions and also by having adults show interest in and value in children's opinions. In addition, co-construction conveys the willingness to understand and respect the point of view of others, which increases awareness and appreciation of differences (diversity). Children can also be specifically encouraged by adults to find out and express their understanding of cultural differences.

The gender aspect: Since boys tend to prefer to resolve conflicts through physical violence and aggression, while girls prefer to use language, argumentation and negotiation, girls in mixed-gender groups tend to withdraw easily. However, this would lead to the boys dominating in the co-constructive process and only the boys' interpretations being heard.

Specialists can promote a balance here by encouraging girls to construct meanings themselves. In addition, professionals can work with boys to express their opinions more vocalized.

Children with special needs: In groups with children of different abilities, co-construction can become an enriching process when children are given a wide range of opportunities to express themselves according to their specific abilities. Children who have difficulties with language should be particularly encouraged to express themselves through images, music, movement, etc.

Professionals help children develop respect for diversity by appreciating the different ways of expression and by talking to the children about the different ways of perceiving and experiencing the world.

Co-construction in the newer curriculum

The fact that children and professionals work together to construct knowledge and answer the question of its meaning has established itself as a pedagogical and didactic approach in a number of educational plans, for example in the Bavarian educational plan, in the Hessian educational plan and in the framework guidelines for the South Tyrolean kindergartens. In the Hessian education plan it says among other things: "Education in childhood is designed as a social process in which children and adults actively participate. Education, not least as a construction of meaning, only takes place in mutual interaction, in social dialogue and in the co-constructive process. The decisive factor is the quality of this interaction process, for which the adults are jointly responsible for controlling and moderating. The co-construction approach overcomes the conventional situation that different positions on the understanding of education often prevail in the elementary sector and in the school sector, and promotes the continuity of children's educational processes. "

It goes on to say: The co-construction approach “takes into account that children are socially involved from birth, have skills and are active designers of their educational processes. He regards social interaction as the key to the construction of knowledge and meaning. It is of crucial importance that the child and his environment are active at the same time. Educational processes are constructed jointly by children and adults. In a learning community with adults and other children, the child learns to solve problems together, to explore the meaning of things and processes together, and to discuss and negotiate with one another ”(2007, p. 21). Similar views can be found in the Bavarian Education Plan, which also dedicates its own focus to this approach.

Two aspects are of central importance: The acquisition of knowledge and the construction of meaning are not the result of the individual efforts of a child, but the result of the interaction, in the design of which all participants play an active role. This changes the quality of the relationship and influences the professional's understanding of the role: The professional is no longer in the role of the observer, who documents how the child organizes its educational processes (on the basis of self-education). In this understanding of roles, the professional remains passive while the child takes on the active role. If the quality of the relationship is designed in this way, the child moderates and organizes its education itself. The professional only tries to design the environment in such a way that this educational process organized by the child (and then also for which the child is responsible) can be optimally designed. The specialist has no direct influence on children's education: They do not actively shape this process.

In the process of co-construction, this relationship changes: Both the child and the specialist become active co-constructors of children's educational processes. In this way, the specialist assumes responsibility for the development of children's educational biographies. You have an active role in the educational process. The relationship between the family and the educational institution changes accordingly, as does the relationship of the specialist or the educational institution to other educational locations outside the institution: the family and the educational institution become co-constructors of child development and educational processes. They form an educational partnership with one another.

This has consequences for the design of their relationship: Parents are no longer customers who should be served, or even onlookers of the educational activities in the institution. Last but not least, the co-construction approach helps to develop a democratic-dialogical relationship between the specialists working in the facility. Co-construction, ultimately, changes the inner attitude and helps the educational institution to develop a different learning culture in which mutual appreciation and recognition, the affirmation and greeting of diversity and the importance of the respective expertise are indispensable elements. These elements unfold best on the basis of a discursive culture.

How co-constructive educational processes can be designed is illustrated by four handouts developed by the “Creating Natural Knowledge” project based on the educational areas of mathematics, natural sciences, technology and media. A review of these publications can be found here.

Prof. Dr. mult. Wassilios E. Fthenakis: The pedagogue, geneticist and psychologist is a full professor of developmental psychology and anthropology at the Free University of Bolzano.

Source: "didacta Kinderzeit" - Journal for Pedagogy and Education 3/2009. It is published here with the kind permission of the editors of "didacta Kinderzeit" on September 14, 2009.