The experience of working together can be messy and problematic. We sometimes wonder whether we reinforce a false impression of group work when a group of pupils is observed painstakingly sticking to ‘each taking a fair turn at holding the pen and writing something down’ or when they see their group as having a negative experience of social construction because there were disagreements.
Perhaps, as teachers, we need to draw our pupils’ attention more explicitly to the intuitive behaviours that facilitate social construction: that adults working together make positive, encouraging utterances, they think aloud, they say only half a sentence, they ask questions they don’t know the answer to, they take risks and they go down blind alleys. In sharing this, pupils might begin to recognise that it is all right if this way of working is sometimes frustrating, daunting, chaotic and spontaneous. These feelings and experiences don’t have to lead to failure and can, in fact, drive the group forward.
Cognitive acceleration provides an opportunity for pupils to appreciate the range and complexity of roles undertaken during group interaction. The person who asks a question to make sense of what is going on is just as vital (if not more so) than the person who tries to lead the group forward. The teacher has a crucial role throughout, watching, listening, facilitating and addressing difficulties experienced by groups without passing blame but through encouraging pupils to reflect upon and evaluate social construction regularly within their groups and in other groups and to set themselves targets based on this.
This chapter has offered an authentic, theoretically informed account of social construction in the primary classroom. The questions and implications raised throughout aim to stimulate pedagogical change both for the individual teacher and also for a community of teachers seeking to develop a better awareness of the complexity of social construction and to broaden their repertoire of strategies to facilitate social construction in the classroom. Do not be put off if your early attempts to generate this sort of social construction appear to be unsuccessful. Persevere – it takes time.