United We Stand, Divided We Fall!

flickr photo shared by Dewolf Family under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license


In the present educational (and overall societal) system, we are inclined to believe that competition is crucial for motivation, improved learning and success in general. But in this immensely competitive environment, what we have become oblivious to is that the human being is a social creature and as such, mutual aid and cooperation among us are much more important for our survival than competition.

Moreover, studies demonstrate that children learn better in cooperative environments and the competitive grading system actually reduces students’ interest in learning itself, restricting creativity and critical thinking. “One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward”.

Beyond the traditional teaching setting of an authoritarian teacher, chalkboard and rows of pupils regurgitating, there exists a plethora of participatory and actively engaging teaching methods that leave space for egalitarian teaching, children creativity and motivation, independence, decision-making, youth empowerment and co-leadership skills (think Montessori, Steiner/Waldorf, Harkness, Reggio Emilia, Sudbury etc.)

In this activity, we will examine a combination of some of these alternative teaching methods with focus of collaborative learning rather than individualistic/competitive.

Activity Type

Group / Experiential


2 hours +

Learning outcomes

  • To improve the learning process by employing collaborative learning, equality-oriented teacher/student interaction, discussion rounds, peer review and teacher review

  • To empower youth with co-leadership skills by more participatory and engaging learning processes


Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. The participants sit at an oval discussion table (aka Harkness table). It is important that the table is oval (not round) so that eye contact can be established with everyone present. In lack of an oval table, participants can draw one on the floor or improvise otherwise. Youth workers are encouraged to do the activity in the outdoor environment as it is proven that the outdoor environment can be more inviting for learning than a traditional classroom.

  2. It is important that the youth worker/teacher sits together with the youth as their equal. An introductory text is read or a video is presented by the youth worker on the topic at hand (for example this video). The youth worker then opens up the discussion round with an open-ended question on the topic that is to be learnt/discussed, the youth worker is not restricted. A talking stick can be applied to ensure everybody’s participation. Raising hands should be avoided; participants monitor each other’s body language or use a talking stick instead.

  3. After the discussion, each participant writes a short summary of what they thought the most important concepts learnt are. Encourage participants to focus less on facts, but more on their critical opinion. The papers are assessed anonymously by other participants via short, narrative peer-review, no grades are used.

  4. At the end of the session, participants write a 1-minute evaluation paper on the youth worker/teacher and the lesson in general. These types of teacher feedback papers can be extremely useful for improving teacher performance, but also for encouraging youth to be more engaged. The youth feels more inclined to participate if they see their suggestions are taken into consideration next class.

  5. Close the session with a few minute mediation round – meditation has soothing effects and it can actually improve students’ performance!

OPTIONAL: as an alternative, the Socratic method with Socratic circles can be used instead, with which "the weight and the value of student voices and teacher voices are indistinguishable from each other." First, students read a passage or a text and are then divided into 2 concentric circles: the inner circles discusses the text critically for 10 minutes and the outer circle listens to the discussion. After 10 minutes, the outer circle provides feedback; now it is the inner circle that is silent. Then the 2 circles switch roles and the whole activity is repeated, with a new inner and outer circle. The outer circle must be silent while the inner circle dialogues and vice versa, the inner circle must be silent while the outer circle provides feedback. 



  • What were the biggest challenges when doing the activity?

  • Do you find participatory, collaborative methods as more engaging for the youth?

  • Do you think participatory methods can be used from a tender age to empower children with leadership skills?

Instruction for Submission

Answer the questions under the Reflection section and submit them in Moodle. Instructions on how to submit things in Moodle can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading

Instruction for Assessment

Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback

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