The interplay between individual reflection and collaborative learning – seven essential features for designing fruitful classroom practices that develop students’ individual conceptions
Teaching and learning chemistry or science, in general, could be described as building upon learners' existing conceptions. In order to support individual conceptual development, teachers should create opportunities for students to become aware of their thoughts. As this is very demanding in chemistry classroom practice with twenty-five or more individuals, pedagogical approaches and instructional support are needed. We argue for a collaborative learning practice that focuses on sharing and discussing individual conceptions on a chemistry-based phenomenon to build up a joint conceptual understanding. We state seven essential features for integrating this collaborative pedagogy successfully in classroom practice: (1) Becoming aware of one's own conceptions; (2) externalizing individual ideas; (3) initiating comparable situation models; (4) ensuring active involvement of all; (5) offering each learner opportunities to reflect on each other's conceptual understanding; (6) integrating decision-making processes; (7) offering the teacher measures to monitor the learning process. This paper is structured in three parts. Part I gives theoretical evidence to these essential features. Part II introduces the peer-interaction-method (PIM) as one of the possible collaborative learning approaches. The PIM is a pre-structured two-step collaborative learning method with instructional measures to meet the seven features. Part III reports a study with 136 students (grade 8 and 9), learning with the PIM in the context of combustion. The results give evidence to the features as being promising to foster individuals’ conceptual development in science learning. The paper concludes with a discussion, limitations and an outlook for further studies and pedagogies in the context of developing conceptual understanding in collaborative settings.