Developing a democratic classroom and a democracy stance: Cooperative Learning case studies from around the world

Year: 2018

Author: Ferguson-Patrick, Kate

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A democratic classroom environment means students are involved on a regular basis, in shared decision-making that increases their responsibility making the classroom a good place to be and learn. Engagement in the learning process is important as well as having students with the skills and attitudes necessary for a responsible, prejudice free learning environment, allowing them to contribute to an equitable and humane democracy society (Cunat, 1996). This is increasingly important due to the refugee crisis in many countries.  We need to consider how to ensure inclusion of all learners in culturally-diverse classrooms in our schooling systems. Dewey (1916) argued clearly that  ‘education can function either to create passive, risk-free citizens or to create a politicized citizenry educated to fight for various forms of public life informed by a concern for justice, happiness, and equality’ (as cited in Giroux and McLaren,1986, p.224). Apple and Beane (2007) further argued that as a school’s primary purpose is to  “fulfil democratic educational purposes” then it is important that they bring “the democratic way of life to the culture of the curriculum and the school” (Apple & Beane, 2007, p.8).
There is urgency for more effective intercultural education and Portera and Grant (2017) include a number of competencies required for a globalised world, which includes the ability to work in a cooperative group. However, education is being strangled by the culture of standardised testing leading to a ‘reductionist curriculum (Lingard, 2010) and changes in curriculum and pedagogy that undermine some of the overall aims of education, particularly to participatory democratic education. Learning that engages the students cognitively, socially and emotionally in order to develop social and personal competences should enhance a democratic school culture. When teachers use cooperative learning (CL) they develop democracy classrooms and a democracy stance (Vinterek, 2010) emerges in these classrooms (Ferguson-Patrick, 2014). Democracy classrooms are classrooms that use inclusive pedagogies that increase participation and decrease exclusion (Florian and Black-Hawkins, 2011) and CL is one such pedagogy.
This paper will present an analysis of findings from case studies of schools using CL successfully in countries worldwide (Ferguson-Patrick & Jolliffe, 2018) and will review the factors that demonstrate this democracy stance in action.   These include the importance of the creation of caring communities and creating democratic dialogue; the use of physical space that creates the ambience of a democratic classroom and the sense of enjoyment experienced through working cooperatively.