The learning space that I have designed focuses on supporting the needs of a year 9 student with depression within a mainstream classroom. Depression is defined as a mental illness in which a person experiences intense feelings of sadness, loneliness, worthlessness, hopelessness and guilt for long periods (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2001). Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in children and adolescents. However, very often it remains unidentified and untreated. If left undetected and untreated, it can have serious long-term effects on a child or adolescents social relationships, academic performance and physical and psychological well being (Huberty, 2010). It is important to note that teachers are not qualified to counsel a student suffering from depression. However, teachers can support the needs of children and adolescents with depression by creating school and classroom environments that are sensitive to their needs (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2001).
Symptoms of Depression (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2001)
- Intense feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness and worthlessness
- Decreased energy and motivation
- Quick-tempered and easily irritated
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Loss of interest in hobbies or everyday activities
- Thoughts of death or harm to oneself or others
Adolescents who have been diagnosed with depression are more likely to have difficulties engaging with their schooling, completing assignments, concentrating and feeling motivated to participate in the classroom, often causing poor academic performance compared to peers who do not suffer from a mental disorder (South Australia Department of Education, 2019). Depression affects 1 in 20 adolescents aged 12-17. 5.6% of females in years 7-12, and 4.1% of males in years 7-12 have been been diagnosed with depression (Young Lives Matter, 2017). Therefore, it is very likely that at least one (if not more) student in each high school class is suffering from depression. Ultimately, schools will not be able to achieve their academic objectives, if they do not take every measure possible to ensure that their students are healthy both physically and mentally (Young Lives Matter, 2017).
Along with a moral obligation to ensure the participation of all students with diverse learning needs, we as educators have a legal obligation under the Disability Standards for Education 2005 to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made for students diagnosed with depression. The standards were created to ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunities to participate in education on the same basis as their peers without a disability (Australian Government Department of Education and Training, 2014). Similarly, Professional Teaching Standard 1.6 ensures that education providers offer support for students with disabilities by designing and implementing activities that foster the active participation and support the learning of students with disabilities (AITSL, 2017).
After reading my peer review feedback, I only made one drastic change to my original plan because my choice of the collaborative learning space for my chosen learning need was agreed upon. The feedback reinforced the importance of creating a supportive environment for students with depression in the mainstream classroom, and the importance of awareness on mental illness for 21st century teachers. One of the points made in my feedback was that as teachers we need to ensure that the classroom is a safe and supportive environment, free from psychological and physical bullying for all students but particularly those with depression (Fraser, 2001). After reading this comment, I made the decision to focus solely on the collaborative learning space. Originally I aimed to also focus on the personal learning space. While, I see the importance of focusing on this learning space for students with depression, this comment reinforced the importance of encouraging supportive social interactions and situations for students with depression.
Socially, adolescents with depression often withdraw from social situations, experience social skill deficits and have difficulties maintaining friendships as a result of mood fluctuations (Huberty, 2010). Therefore, by focusing on the group and collaborative learning space, I aim to provide students with multiple opportunities to engage in social interactions with peers in a safe and supportive environment. The success of cooperative group work is based on the belief that students learn more by working collaboratively than by working independently or passively absorbing information delivered by the teacher (Killen, 2015).
The use of collaborative activities in the classroom distributes the cognitive responsibility among peers, alleviating some of the stress experienced by students with depression about engaging in and completing work independently (Crundwell & Killu, 2010). Collaborative activities foster peer mentoring and offer students with depression an opportunity to participate in a group context without having the pressure of having to contribute in a whole class or large group setting. In comparison with individual learning or direct instruction, cooperative learning ‘typically results in higher achievement and greater productivity, more caring, supportive, and committed relationships; and greater psychological health, social competence, and self-esteem,’ all aspects which are particularly important for adolescents with depression (Laal & Ghodsi, 2012, p.489). As students actively interact with each other in the cooperative learning space, they become better accustomed to dealing with social problems and differences which may arise. This creates a stronger social support system in the classroom (Laal & Ghodsi, 2012).
Potential Challenges for Educators & Solutions
The cooperative learning space can have various benefits for teachers and students, but it can also introduce challenges that the teacher should consider carefully. In the classroom, cooperative learning is effective because students learn more from one another. However, if students do not know how to effectively learn through cooperative activities, this method of learning becomes less effective than direct instruction (Killen, 2015). Educators cannot assume that students possess the social skills needed to work cooperatively and effectively delegate tasks and responsibilities. Therefore, teachers must:
- Teach students how to work proactively in groups by helping develop the skills they need to help one another learn. The teacher should start with a discussion on the rules and expectations of working cooperatively and the purpose and learning objectives of the activity specifically
- The teacher must discuss and model effective listening skills and appropriate methods of giving and receiving constructive criticism
- The educator must discuss appropriate methods to manage conflict and disagreements within the group (Burke, 2011).
Cooperative learning can be time-consuming. It requires rigorous structure and careful planning. Teachers need to plan the instructions of the activity, choose group members purposefully and develop marking guidelines. However, teaching is a collaborative process. It is important that teachers share resources and ideas that have been effective to alleviate some of the planning required to implement cooperative activities.
Another challenge for educators in the cooperative learning space is finding an appropriate and effective grading system. Often students will feel like they are not being marked fairly for their contributions in a group task. Group grades alone can hide significant differences in learning. Therefore, it is most effective to include two separate marks for group tasks, a mark for individual contributions and a group grade. Assessing the groups’ collaboration skills and group dynamic is often more difficult than assessing individual contribution. The use of peer feedback and self-evaluations can assist in developing group grades (Carnegie Mellon University, n.d.). Questions to ask can include:
- How well did your group work together on this task?
- What are three changes the group could make to improve the outcome of the task?
- What are some of the problems that you faced as a group?
Potential Challenges for the Chosen Student Cohort & Solutions
For students with depression, working cooperatively can be a daunting prospect. Students with depression experience difficulties interacting with their peers and their constant mood and energy fluctuation may impact on their participation in the collaborative space (Crundwell & Killu, 2010). Therefore, they may find the cooperative learning space overwhelming, causing them to withdraw and become isolated. Similarly, if a student is dominating the conversation, the student with depression can feel alienated in the group decision process. Furthermore, students with depression may feel pressure from their group members to conform to the majority opinion. The student may not feel comfortable voicing their opinion. Therefore, they simply agree with their group members to avoid standing out (Burke, 2011). To avoid overwhelming the student, the cooperative learning space must be introduced slowly. Start with a think-pair-share or a simple jigsaw activity before transitioning to more complex, assessment cooperative tasks. Teachers must select group members based on the known attributes of the students (Burke, 2011). The student with depression will quickly become overwhelmed if they are grouped several students who have dominant personalities. Instead, choose the groups strategically. For example, group students with dominant personalities together so that they do not dominate the conversation and shy students together to ensure that they feel comfortable voicing their opinions.
In the cooperative learning space, students often feel that not all group members put in the same amount of work and effort and often worry that their contributions will not be marked fairly (University of New South Wales, 2019). Freeriding is a term used to refer to a group member that does not pull their weight and instead relies on the rest of the group to complete the work. Social loafing refers to group members who put in less work and effort because of a reduced sense of accountability associated with cooperative activities. Both free riders and social loafers will decrease group morale and cause conflicts within the group (Carnegie Mellon University, n.d.). To avoid this issue, the instructor (or the group members themselves) must assign a role to each group member, and within each role, each student will have specific tasks or responsibilities which they must complete (Burke, 2011). Use team contracts to set ground rules and encourage students to establish roles and expectations before commencing the task (Carnegie Mellon University, n.d.). Make sure that the team contact includes guidelines regarding individual contributions and steps to take when a group member is not adhering to their roles and responsibilities.
The sad reality is mental illness is on the rise. We must understand that addressing the social and psychological development of students is equally as important as teaching academic content and skills because a student’s emotional well being is a prerequisite for their academic success (Brooks, 2001). Therefore, as teachers, we must create learning spaces to support and nurture the needs of students with mental illnesses.
Australian Government Department of Education and Training. (2014) Disability Standards for Education 2005. Retrieved from https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/dse-fact-sheet-2-dse_0.pdf
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership [AITSL]. (2017). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/teach/standards
British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2001). Teaching Students with Mental Health Disorders: Resources for Teachers. Retrieved from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/kindergarten-to-grade-12/teach/teaching-tools/inclusive/mental-health-disorders-vol2.pdf
Brooks, R. (2001). Fostering motivation, hope, and resilience in children with learning disorders. Annals of Dyslexia, 51(1), 9-20.
Burke, A. (2011) Group Work: How to Use Groups Effectively. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 11(2), 87-95.
Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.) What are the challenges of group work and how can I address them? Retrived from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/challenges.html
Crundwell, R., & Killu, K. (2010). Responding to a Student’s Depression. Educational Leadership, 68(2), 46-51.
Fraser, D. (2001). Developing classroom culture: setting the climate for learning. In C. McGee & D. Fraser (Eds.), The professional practice of teaching (pp. 15-34). Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.
Huberty, T. (2010). Depression: Supporting students at school. Helping children at home and school III: Handouts for educators. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Killen, R. (2015). Effective teaching strategies : Lessons from research and practice (Seventh ed.). Victoria: Cengage Learning Australia.
Laal, M., & Ghodsi, S. (2012). Benefits of collaborative learning. Procedia-social and behavioral sciences, 31, 486-490.
South Australia Department of Education. (2019) Depression. Retrieved from https://www.education.sa.gov.au/supporting-students/health-e-safety-and-wellbeing/health-support-planning/managing-health-education-and-care/neurodiversity/depression
University of New South Wales. (2019). Dealing with Group Work Issues. Retrieved from https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/dealing-with-group-work-issues
Young Minds Matter. (2017). The Mental Health of Australian Children and Adolescents: Educational Outcomes. Retrived from https://youngmindsmatter.telethonkids.org.au/siteassets/media-docs—young-minds-matter/summarybookletweb.pdf