Good interaction in teaching and learning is not self-evident

December 7, 2016 by Irmeli Halinen

This guest blog is a part of our Christmas season blog series

Italian professor of physics, Carlo Rovelli (2016) writes in his book that according to the best understanding based on the newest knowledge, the space consists of extremely small particles, called loops. The name is derived from the fact that these particles are not separate but linked with each other. Together they form a network of interaction, and the structure of the whole universe consists of that interaction. So, the world is made of interaction and relationships rather than physical objects.

Rovelli’s idea dazzled me – interaction is the core of the whole universe! I had just been reflecting for my book (Halinen et al. 2016) the importance of interaction in education, and especially for the development of thinking skills and learning to learn. I was wondering why the culture of working alone is so strong is school when at the same time the world around the school requires more and more collaboration, sharing and producing knowledge together. The typical school culture has been developed through centuries: the teacher plans lessons alone, enters his or her own classroom and closes the door behind. The teacher teaches and tries to solve problems in teaching and learning alone. In pupils’ work, the highest grades have been given to those who are best able to work and produce answers - the right ones - alone. Questions and problems have not been reflected together. It has been a strong belief that this is the best way of learning.

#Interaction promotes thinking and learning

The tradition is luckily breaking down. The newest brain research and research on learning tells us that interaction promotes thinking and learning. The warmth and richness of interaction as well as the reciprocity or dialogical nature of discussion are crucial. Warm attitude and connections can be traced for instance in the eye contacts, tone of voice and use of language – and also, in how much space there is for pupils’ questions and ideas. Richness of interaction is enhanced by wide and various learning environments, materials and methods as well as by relationships and connections among pupils and adults. Today we have digital tools and methods in education, and they multiply our opportunities for interaction, collaboration and networking. They also provide tools for pupils in making their thoughts and ideas visible.

In real dialogue, all participants are equally important. Discussion is goal-oriented, and the aim is to construct common understanding. Participants are listening to each other, expressing their own thoughts, arguing and explaining them, asking questions and reflecting issues from different perspectives. All this improves their ability for problem solving and creating something new. Persistent and structured work in teams provides opportunities for sharing, succeeding and experiencing joy in learning. Positive emotions strengthen pupils’ learning motivation and self-efficacy – thus opening the cycle of success.
Good interaction in teaching and learning is not self-evident, it does not develop without effort. National core curricula and local curricula have just been reformed in Finland. The essential role of interaction is described in the value bases and learning conception of education. It is emphasized that interaction and collaboration are crucial elements in the culture of a school that functions as a learning community. Interaction is also a part of transversal competences, and it is a skill that must be developed. If we are not well able in that yet, anyway, we are moving to the right direction.


  • Halinen, I. et al. (2016) Ajattelun taidot ja oppiminen (Thinking Skills and Learning). PS-kustannus. Jyväskylä.
  • Rovelli, C. (2016). Seitsemän lyhyttä luentoa fysiikasta (Seven Short Lessons about Physics). URSA. Helsinki.

Irmeli Halinen

Irmeli Halinen, MA in education, Head of Curriculum Development, Counsellor of Education (emerita) in the Finnish National Board of Education. Retired 1-9-2016 and works now in Metodix Ltd. She is a former teacher, school principal, and municipal education officer. She has extensive international experience as a curriculum expert and lecturer, and she is an author of several publications

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