Cooperative Learning26 Jan 2012
What Its Not
Cooperative learning is not the same as ability grouping, where a teacher divides up the class in order to instruct students with similar skills.
Cooperative learning is not having students sit side by side at the same table to talk while they complete individual assignments.
Cooperative learning is not assigning a task to a group in which one student does the work and the others get equal credit.
Benefits of Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning models the scientific experience. Students working in groups learn about the joys as well as the frustrations involved in scientific inquiry. Cooperative learning models real scientific experience in which scientists work together, not in isolation, to solve difficult problems. With cooperative learning, the classroom becomes a fertile environment for ideas and novel solutions.
Cooperative learning empowers and involves students. Cooperative learning raises students self-esteem because they are learning something on their own through cooperation, rather than being handed prepackaged knowledge. It helps students become self-sufficient, self-directed, lifelong learners. In a cooperative learning environment, students are less dependent on you for knowledge.
Cooperative learning serves the heterogeneous classroom. With group work, everyone has the chance to participate, and everyone has a role to play. As students join forces to achieve a common goal, they come to recognize commonalities that cut across differences related to ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and gender. Likewise, cooperative learning provides an excellent vehicle for students of differing ability levels to work together in a positive way. Challenged students can interact successfully with average and advanced students and in so doing can learn that they too have something to
Cooperative learning strengthens interpersonal skills. Group tasks are structured so that students must cooperate to succeed. Students quickly understand that they will sink or swim together by how constructively they interact. Consequently, students develop important interpersonal and social skills that help them function in a group setting and that will ultimately benefit them socially, at work, and in other situations.
Cooperative learning develops appropriate social skills. When doing cooperative group work, students channel their energies into constructive tasks while satisfying their fundamental need for social interaction.
Cooperative learning is an effective management tool. Establishing cooperative learning in the classroom requires you to relinquish some control, so the students themselves can become responsible for building their own knowledge. Working in groups to probe and investigate ideas, answer questions, and draw conclusions about observations allows students to discover and discuss concepts in their own language. When students learn through cooperation, the knowledge derived becomes their own, not just a loan of your ideas or those from the textbook.
Using Cooperative Learning
Although group size will vary depending on the activity, the optimum size for cooperative learning is between three and four students. For students unaccustomed to this learning style, keep the group size to about two or three
Students need to understand what is expected of them. Identify the group goal, whether it be to master specific objectives or to create a product such as a chart, a report, or an illustration. Identify and explain the specific cooperative skills required for each activity.
A learning activity becomes cooperative only when everyone realizes that no group member can be successful unless all group members are successful. The were all in this together part of group work is the positive interdependence.
Encourage positive interdependence by assigning each student some meaningful role or allow students to do this themselves. You can also encourage positive interdependence by dividing materials, resources, or information among group members.
Each group member should have some specific responsibility that contributes to the learning of all group members. At the same time, each group member should reach a certain minimum level of mastery.
With cooperative learning, you can either place students in particular groups or assign students to groups at random. There are advantages to both approaches. At first, however, it is recommended that you assign students to particular
Composing groups yourself lets you create groups that are heterogeneous in terms of academic ability, gender, ethnicity, and cultural background. Heterogeneous groups are preferred because cooperation among diverse
students not only teaches the widest range of interpersonal skills but also promotes frequent exchange of explanations and greater perspective in discussions. This increases depth of understanding and retention of concepts. To create effective heterogeneous groups, balance each group with students who have different strengths. First decide who your resource students are. These are students you think will facilitate group workeither because of their academic
ability or because of their interpersonal skills. Assign at least one resource student to each group. Distribute students who may be disruptive and students who lack academic skills evenly throughout the groups. Avoid putting close
friends together to prevent cliques from disrupting teamwork. Put students who have limited English proficiency in groups with bilingual students who can act as translators.
Random grouping can be especially effective with experienced cooperative learners or if you plan to change group membership often. To create random groups, you can simply have students count off from one to five. All of the ones
form a group, all of the twos form another group, and so on. There are many other fun ways to assign groups randomly. For example, you can hold a lottery in which students pick numbers out of a hat. Numbers one to four form one group, numbers five to eight form another; and so forth. You can also use cards naming sets of a particular type of item. All students who draw items belonging to the same set form a group. For example, all students whose cards name types of flowers belong in one group, students whose cards name farm animals belong in another group, those with cards naming heavy-metal bands form a third group, etc. Students have a fun and lively time discovering who belongs in the same group.
You can also combine lesson content with assigning groups. First decide how many students you want in each group. For each group, write a different scientific term or principle on a flashcard. Then for each groups term, list on
separate cards the definition of the term, a synonym, or an example of what the term means. Mix up the cards and hand them out as students come into the room or once students are seated. Students use the cards as clues to find the
others in their group.
Assign roles at first; students can choose their own later. Assigning roles is very important, especially at first. Consider the behavior patterns of students, and assign roles that will complement those patterns. Group work needs to be
structured so that everyone has a part to play. In other words, there needs to be positive interdependence. Just as members of a surgical team work together, with each person contributing his or her own special skill, students work effectively in teams when everyone has a unique role that is vital to the groups success.
Some examples of useful roles are listed here. Use as many as you need, modify them, combine them, or invent roles yourself.
Facilitator The facilitator is a leadership role. The facilitator keeps an activity running smoothly by presiding over the work flow. He or she manages the group so that all members have a chance to talk, questions are answered, students listen to one anothers ideas, and ideas are substantiated with reasons and explanations.
Recorder The recorder records data and answers questions posed to the group.
Reporter The reporter explains the groups findings to the teacher or the entire class.
Safety officer The safety officer makes sure safety practices are followed and notifies the teacher of any unsafe situations.
Checker The checker makes sure that everyone has finished his or her worksheet or other individual assignment.
Materials manager The materials manager gathers activity materials at the outset, monitors their use during the activity, and organizes the cleanup and return of materials to their proper place after an activity.
Assessing Cooperative Learning
Assessment within a cooperative-learning setting is not as difficult as it may seem. Like any other assessment, you must determine in advance what you would like to assess and to what degree. You will also need to develop some
slightly different monitoring skills.
Resist the temptation to get caught up on paperwork as the groups do their workthis is the time to observe, monitor, and coach. As you monitor the groups, you can reinforce cooperative behavior with a formal observation sheet.
Record how many times you observe each student using a collaborative skill, such as contributing ideas or asking questions.
What to Assess
What should you assess in a cooperative learning activity? Individual success? Group success? Cooperative skills? Actually, many teachers find it useful to evaluate all three. And there are many ways to assess each of these areas.
Individual success can be evaluated by asking students to fill out answers to a worksheet as they progress through an activity; by having them record, analyze, and submit data; or by having them take a quiz. Some activities are structured so that each student turns in a product, such as a report or a poster, that can be individually graded.
Group success is evaluated according to how well the group accomplished its assigned task. Was the task completed? Were the results accurate? If not, were errors explained and accounted for? Criteria such as these provide a framework
for group evaluation.
Cooperative skills are evaluated based on your observations of students behavior in their group. Evaluating students use of cooperative skills will motivate students to use them. If you intend to grade cooperative skills, it is
helpful to use a formal observation checklist as you monitor students at work. Log the frequency with which group members exhibit cooperative skills or disruptive behavior.
If you wish to compute a single overall grade, assign a weight to each of the three grade components, stressing the factors that you consider most important. Use cooperative learning to meet the needs of your students, and enjoy!