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On this attribute, learning experiences are found to be contrived, simulated, or real. The degree to which the learning experience relates to aspects of life that have personal meaning to the students is indexed here. Does it connect to their real world outside school?

Doing a workbook page containing problems of adding money in the form $124.35 + 3.50 = ? would be judged as contrived, since calculating the answer on a workbook page is not connected to the students’ world of experience out- side school. But if the class has set up a model store selling grocery items (or anything they might find in a real store), and the students are buying items using play money (or even real money), then this activity simulates real expe- riences from the students’ lives. If the class takes a trip to a supermarket and spends money it has made through some project to buy supplies for a party,

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and they collect, purchase, pay for the items, and get change, then the activity is judged real: it is integrated, connected, and related directly to the real world.

Contrived in this sense does not have a negative connotation. Much of learn- ing and knowledge construction is contrived in that it does not simulate or reproduce the reality outside school, nor could it. It is impractical for almost all of us to learn about the history of India by visiting historic Indian sites (though that would be nice). And aspects of historical study necessarily re- quire reading books and other contrived (versus real) experiences to proceed effectively with the learning. There is no general value implied in this attribute that real learning experiences are superior to contrived ones. Students do not have to leave school on a field trip to enter the realm of real learning experi- ences either. The act of painting is real no matter where one does it. Painting is painting and not a simulation of painting, whether or not one does it in school or in an art studio. The same applies to creative writing or other aesthetic work of any kind. Having a debate is a real experience between the debaters and not simulated just because it is not taking place in a court of law or a legislative chamber. Many experiences in school are inherently real for students. Settling a dispute with another student over how to share materials is a real experi- ence in which students play a deliberate role and act as mediators according to certain designs.


Many educators believe it is important that as many learning experiences as possible connect to students’ real world of meaning—their world of experience outside school. One school of learning theory holds that such learning experi- ences are more effective, more powerful, and more lasting in effect (Dale, n.d.). The student, it is said, has a context in which to embed the new information and because of its relevance to his personal life is more impelled to attend to and participate in what’s going on. This then guarantees a level of involvement on the part of the student with the learning experience that will maximize learning. To people of this persuasion, it is important to know how much realness is char- acteristic of learning experiences being offered. Early childhood educators and open classroom educators are especially interested in this attribute of learning experiences (Bussis, Chittenden, & Amarel, 1976).

Regardless of one’s beliefs about the learning theory of personal relevance, it is a distinction we can make among learning experiences. It produces data to bring to an analysis of teaching-in-action in comparison with teaching’s intentions. We can look at curriculum designs to see where and how often opportunities for realness exist and how appropriate such experiences might be to the content



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and the learners. We can evaluate the efficiency of a curriculum in terms of the balance among contrived, simulated, and real experiences that is best for ac- complishing the objectives of the instruction in the time allowed.

4. Type of Interdependence


Johnson and Johnson (1987) first set out a three-point typology for learning ex- periences: cooperative, competitive, and individualized (they don’t use the term learning experiences; they say goal structures). A learning experience specifies the type of interdependence existing among students—the way in which stu- dents will relate to each other and the teacher. One might say they have taken a specific aspect of the social climate—that aspect related to competition and its presence, absence, or opposite—and defined it in detail:

When students are working together to find what factors make a differ- ence in how long a candle burns in a quart jar, they are in a coopera- tive goal structure. A cooperative goal structure exists when students perceive that they can obtain their goal if and only if the other students with whom they are linked can obtain their goal. Since the goal of all the students is to make a list of factors that influence the time the candle burns, the goal of all the students has been reached when they generate a list. A cooperative goal structure requires the coordination of behavior necessary to achieve their mutual goal. If one student achieves the goal, all students with whom the student is linked achieve the goal. When stu- dents are working to see who can build the best list of factors influencing the time a candle will burn in a quart jar, they are in a competitive goal structure. A competitive goal structure exists when students perceive that they can obtain their goal if and only if the other students with whom they are linked fail to obtain their goal. If one student turns in a better list than anyone else, all other students have failed to achieve their goal. Competitive interaction is the striving to achieve one’s goal in a way that blocks all others from achieving the goal. Finally, if all students are work- ing independently to master an operation in mathematics, they are in an individualistic goal structure. An individualistic goal structure exists when the achievement of the goal by one student is unrelated to the achieve- ment of the goal by other students; whether or not a student achieves her goal has no bearing upon whether or not other students achieve their goals. If one student masters the mathematics principle, it has no bearing upon whether other students successfully master the mathematics prin- ciple. Usually there is no student interaction in an individualistic situation



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since each student seeks the outcome that is best for himself regardless of whether or not other students achieve their goals. (Johnson & Johnson, 1987, p. 7)

Johnson and Johnson have an observation checklist with a series of yes-no questions for classroom organization, student-student interaction, and teacher- student interaction. The outcome scores of the checklist are three percentage figures for the three possible goal structures. There is a recognition that a learn- ing experience will rarely be exclusively cooperative. From the percentage fig- ures of Johnson and Johnson’s observation checklist, one could make a state- ment about the dominant quality of the learning experience along the attribute of competition.

An important body of research literature has emerged on the effectiveness of cooperative learning for cognitive as well as affective ends. This is accompanied by a technical literature on how to do cooperative learning. At least five forms of cooperative learning are developed and available for teachers to try (Figure 20.1). They are arranged in the order of the demands they place on students for interaction and communication skills (from least demanding on the left to most demanding on the right).

If you want to rate yourself on this attribute, you will want to be able to look at a single learning experience and characterize its dominant quality: coopera- tive, competitive, or individualistic. For example, in certain science lab courses we have observed, groups of students worked together sharing apparatus, ideas, and information as they performed a common experiment. This we considered sig- nificant cooperation. At the same time, these students were recording experimental results in individual notebooks the teacher graded separately.

Different groups of students were at different places in the sequential pro- grammed curriculum. Some were working alone, either because no one else was at the same place as they or because they wanted to work alone (which the teacher allowed). Students took tests individually when they felt ready. Individ- ual pretest feedback was given by the teacher to students and tests were graded individually. This was significant evidence for calling the learning experience individualistic. In this lab course, there were no observed instances of students’ comparing test scores in a competitive way, though in interviews teachers cited cases where that happened. Indeed, even if we had observed students’ compar- ing scores, it wouldn’t necessarily merit a judgment of competition as a value of the learning experience on this attribute since what one student earns on the test has no bearing on the score of any other student. It could be argued that



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Puzzling, interesting situation

Explore student reactions

Formulate study task with large


Form subgroups taking a subtask of larger project

Organize, assume roles, plan

Independent work, study

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