Collaborative competence

It is possible to consider teamwork from a Vygotskian notion of a ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD).

The zone of proximal development is the gap between what a student can achieve working alone and when aided.

The theory posits that education is most effective when it is neither too easy nor too hard; when tasks challenge an individual to stretch past existing competence while support or scaffolding the learner to advance.

ZPD theory traditionally assumes an expert – a teacher or more competent peer – provides educational support to a novice learner. The collaborative peer group activity fostered by the IM2C has more egalitarian relationships, but teams are striving to go beyond the established boundaries of their knowledge, and so create authentic experiences of doing mathematics under conditions of uncertainty.

Each team member brings some relevant knowledge and skills, but requires others’ contributions to build on or refine these attributes for effective group progress to be made.

Importantly within such teams, when the direct influence of the teacher is removed, students must take personal responsibility for the ideas that they are constructing and testing, so that authorship of mathematical knowledge is then vested in individuals and their partners.

If recognition of peer contribution to a common task doesn’t happen, the team cannot function properly. It therefore follows that social factors involving relationships and respect between group members are also factors in constructing effective teams.