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What are Learning Teams? - Definition & Characteristics

Instructor: Jaclyn Scotto

Jaclyn is a high school English teacher and college professor. She has a doctorate in Education.

Learning teams are collaborative groups of teachers intended to improve teaching methods and increase students' learning. This lesson describes the how learning teams are formed and work.

Collaborating to Improve Teaching

Susan is a veteran teacher who has recently switched schools. At her former school, Susan worked mostly independently by creating and submitting her own lesson plans, activities and assessments. However, her new school utilizes learning teams. Susan is very interested in discovering how learning teams and collaboration can help her become a better educator.

New trends and research support a more collaborative approach to teaching. One method is by using learning teams as Susan is finding out. A learning team is a group of teachers who collaboratively work to improve teaching and instruction.

Characteristics of Learning Teams

Learning teams vary somewhat in grouping, goals, how they collaborate and scheduling of meetings. Let's take a closer look at these team characteristics.

Grouping

Learning teams are typically small in size (fewer than ten people). The goal is for teams to be small enough so that each member plays an integral part in the team. Learning teams can be grouped in a number of ways, such as by grade level, subject or need; they can also be interdisciplinary or randomly selected. One school may have all teachers who teach ninth grade social studies together on one learning team but another school may have an interdisciplinary team consisting of ninth grade teachers but including multiple subjects.

In Susan's new school, she is placed in a learning team with four other teachers. All five team members teach seventh grade.

Goals

A learning team creates goals determined by members' needs and concerns, which may relate to test scores, teacher observations or other performance indicators. For example, if one member notices a decline in unit test scores, the team might make it a goal to help that teacher create new strategies to improve student performance. Usually, goals are completed using an action research or inquiry cycle. In this cycle, teachers begin by collecting and analyzing data, and examining student work and their own instruction methods. Then, after new methods are applied, student progress is assessed and teachers reflect on changes.

Susan's learning team's first goal is to create more interdisciplinary activities. This goal came about based on a team discussion about how many of the topics in the seventh grade history curriculum could be linked to other subjects like art, English and science.

Collaboration

A main benefit of using learning teams is the opportunity for collaboration. The most obvious way this takes place is through small group discussion of teachers' needs and concerns. However, other opportunities include peer mentoring and observation, and group planning. For example, teachers who are on the same learning team have the chance to create lessons, activities and assessments together. Also, if a teacher on a learning team requests assistance, another teacher on the team can offer to observe or co-teach.

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