What is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperative learning is an instructional method based on past research of the theory that people who work together to achieve shared goals are more successful in achievement of goals(Alport Watson Shaw and Mead). The theory was established before the onset of World War One. Philosophers and Psychologists John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Morton Deutsh further developed the theory helping to establish it in the educational setting. Later David and Roger Johnson actively promoted the theory from 1974 to 1994. It has proven to be a popular and successful instructional method.
With the cooperative learning method, the teacher’s role becomes that of facilitator rather than just instructor. Learning occurs naturally as students interact among themselves. Students work together to create a common project or assignment by sharing opinions, knowledge, and skills. The success of each individual in the group is reliant upon the success of the whole group as a unit.
What Are the Positives of Cooperative Learning?
Research shows several positive outcomes when using cooperative learning. Studies show retention of learned material increases. Students will have greater recall of skills and facts covered in the activities.
The method has been shown to increase social skills that help students prepare for good citizenship and successful living in society. It is thought that cooperative learning can set the stage for students to experience greater success in the world of work. Most jobs and professions require employees to cooperate and work together toward a common goal.
Finally, cooperative learning encourages respect among students for one another when working in groups of varying abilities and ethnic groups. Acceptance and respect for diversity will be important all through life.
Implementing Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning can be implemented in lessons in any subject and in grade levels from kindergarten to college. It can be as simple as a group brainstorming a list of writing or research topics or as complex as a project for a science exhibit.
Grouping learning disabled or other special needs students with non-disabled peers is a valid and useful accommodation. It can become a part of the student’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 plan. It can be a useful way to accommodate students with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Work can be “chunked” for students to complete. A long set of math problems can be a daunting task for the ADHD student. Divided and shared between four students the task becomes more manageable for them.
Although good research exists proving the advantages of cooperative learning, educators may be finding themselves reluctant to use the method. Some claim that students socialize too much and often get off-task. They favor more direct instruction. While it is true that many students benefit more from direct instruction, cooperative learning may be well worth giving a second chance. A few strategies could help in making it successful.
The teacher will need to monitor and decide when and how to make adjustments. Do the students need to be rearranged within the groups? Is the activity either too easy or too hard? Begin with these questions. Keep in mind that motivation is a key underlying factor for learning to occur. Teachers may need to find ways to motivate students. This could be accomplished by allowing them to choose from a list of activities.
Strategies for Implementing Cooperative Learning
1. Begin with less complex tasks when first implementing cooperative learning. Pair lower ability students with higher ability.
2. Establish a set of rules within the other class rules. Make sure students understand the procedures and take a few minutes to go over them directly. Have the rules posted. Implement the same consequences for not following them as with the other class rules.
3. Keep groups small, no more than 4 to 6 students. Doing so will ensure that each member of the group will have to participate and be accountable for the finished product. Use a rubric for grading and always give grades.
4. Assigning a certain role for each member of the group will give guidance and direction making each student feel important. If they tend to argue over roles, then have them to draw numbers.
Roles to consider:
Leader- checks each member for understanding. reports problems in understanding or materials to the teacher
Recorder- records responses.
Reporter- reports findings to share with the rest of the class. reports problems in behavior to the teacher.
Monitor- can keep time for timed assignments. reminds others to stay on task.
5. Switch members of cooperative groups occasionally keeping in mind who does or does not work together well. Also switch roles occasionally.
6 Assign each student one fourth of a lesson to study. then have them take turns “teaching” their part of the lesson to the other students. Have a list of ways to share to choose from.
Ideas for sharing:
compose a song, poem or rap
draw an illustration
write a summary
give an oral report
write true/false questions for the other students to answer.
7. Students enjoy hands-on activities. Let them work together to create projects such as making a Frosty the Soap Man.Each student can be responsible for one part of creating the whole project. The leader can be responsible in making sure that each part is completed for putting the project together.