All good things come in threes. This is not only a rule in writing but in education as well. A story has a) a beginning, b) a middle, and c) an ending. Teaching, according to Comenius (1) , allows for i) comprehension, ii) practice, and iii) repetition. Dewey, another founding father of modern pedagogy (2), grounds learning in the interplay of i) engaging with experiences, ii) problem solving, and iii) reflection. (and a bit more). A third key person in “leading the child”, Vygotsky, established the prominence of i) manipulating things, ii) talking about it, and iii) changing the level of support while doing it. For the sake of argument: what would happen if there were only “two”, that is, if we would take out one of the key ingredients? Well, a story would not finish, remain undetermined, which is ultimately unsatisfying. Because it needs a completion, the third ingredient. It would be nice to know if teaching and learning operate the same way. It is a kind of looking for “the third man” (3), the confidence in knowing what should be there is really there.
To be more concrete: a Swedish study looked at how individual students learned from group work. Of interest here is the setting: physical education. The gymnastic group task made it possible to externalize, i.e, make visible through bodily interaction, what is happening when one is learning from others. Learning was interpreted from a (post)Vygotskian perspective; therefore three ingredients had to be in place (i) social interaction, i.e, students engaged in talking to each other about the task; (ii) challenges given to each other during group activities, and (iii) incorporating, internalizing what is learned – in this case of group work- by reaching an agreement. The study concluded: two is not enough, reaching agreement is “the third man” to complete an individual understanding. Talking about and doing the activity will not be sufficient (as the alternative condition in their study made it clear).

The core idea the study brings to us is that learning happens when students working in groups will i) engage in activities and ii) interact with each other in ways that iii) they find appropriate or acceptable. To admit: that it “comes in threes” is not the essence; that it is complete is. It seems difficult to envisage that what we are trying to achieve in learning and teaching comes in bundles of ‘ingredients’. It is in the interactivity of our (teaching and learning) actions that confidence is found to complete a task successfully.

D. Barker, M. Quennerstedt & C. Annerstedt (2015) Inter-student interactions and student learning in health and physical education: a post-Vygotskian analysis, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 20:4, 409-426, DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2013.868875
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