Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning

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Term2.png COOPERATIVE LEARNING
Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams, each with learners of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for their own learning but also for helping teammates to learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. In essence, cooperative learning aims to develop and share common goals; contribute to the understanding of problems; and empower other individuals to speak and contribute.

This form of learning can take place at any time that learners work together, for example when they help each other with assignments or when they work on a structured project in small groups. Having small groups is a key element for implementing cooperative learning because they provide a place where:

  • Learners actively participate;
  • Teachers become learners at times, and learners sometimes teach;
  • Respect is given to every member;
  • Questions interest and challenge students;
  • Diversity is celebrated and all contributions are valued;
  • Research tools such as Internet access are made available;
  • Learners learn to relate to their peers;
  • There are more opportunities for personal feedback.

A group of individuals discussing a lecture, or learners from different backgrounds working together over the Internet on a shared assignment are also examples of cooperative learning. In particular, mixed-skills groups can be especially helpful to learners in developing their social abilities.In a world where being a “team player” is often a key part of business success, cooperative learning is a very useful and relevant approach.It differs from traditional approaches because learners work together rather than compete. Of course, for some assignments individual work may be most efficient, while for others cooperative work best.

The conditions under which cooperative efforts may be expected to be more productive than competitive and individualistic efforts are:

  • Positive Interdependence: learners feel that they need each other in order to complete the group’s task;
  • Face-to-face interaction: learning becomes active rather than passive;
  • Group accountability: learners feel that they are each accountable for completing a task;
  • Interpersonal and small-group skills: skills for working together effectively also encouraging each other;
  • Group processing: group members discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships.


See also: Collaborative Learning, Collaborative Tools, Learning Styles, Social Learning.


Contents

Why use cooperative learning?

Research has shown that cooperative learning techniques:

  • Promote individuals’ learning and academic achievement;
  • Increase learners’ retention;
  • Enhance individuals’ satisfaction with their learning experience;
  • Help learners’ develop skills in oral communication;
  • Develop learners’ social skills;
  • Promote learners’ self esteem;
  • Help to promote positive relations;
  • Help to develop learners’ weaker skills;
  • Empower learners’ ability to deal with conflicts;
  • Improve individuals’ teamwork skills.[1]


Toolkit.png Using Cooperative learning in the classroom

Cooperative learning can be used across a wide range of classroom settings ranging from small to large lectures, as well as in online classes. Exercises can be of different levels of complexity:

  • Low: less than 15 minutes, simple and informal, in class;
  • Medium: 1 to 2 meeting sessions, more formal, in or out of class;
  • High: complex, formal, in and out of class.

To create an environment in which cooperative learning can take place, three things are necessary. First individuals need to feel challenged; secondly, groups need to be small enough that everyone can contribute. Third, the task must be clearly defined.

At the beginning, the facilitator designs meaningful tasks that require active participation of each learner in the group toward a common end. As groups work on tasks, he/she has to move from group to group to monitor the learning process. He/she also provides learners with on-going feedback and assessments on the group’s progress.

Instructions

  • The facilitator establishes the specific cooperative learning technique to be used and lays the foundation for effective group work;
  • The facilitator sets up groups of 3 to 5 people. In larger groups, it is difficult to keep everyone involved. Each group should reflect a mix of diverse skills, background and experiences so that each individual brings his/her strengths and the learning process benefits from a diversity of perspectives;
  • Group members share responsibilities, including the commitment to attend, prepare and be on time; avoid personal criticism and take responsibility for a share of the tasks.
  • The facilitator assigns tasks to the groups and explains what the criteria are for success (e.g. goals, define how often and with what means you will communicate, evaluate progress, make decisions and resolve conflicts… );
  • The facilitator or an assistant facilitator begins by facilitating discussion and suggesting alternatives but does not impose solutions on the team;
  • The facilitator monitors the group work, collects observation data, gives immediate feedback…;
  • Once the group finishes the task, the work should be assessed by both the facilitator and group;
  • Groups are asked to rate their own performance and set goals for themselves to improve their cooperative work.

Examples of class activities

Cooperative learning techniques can be categorized by the skills that each enhances, e.g. discussion, reciprocal teaching, graphic organization, writing and problem solving.

Discussion: communicating effectively

  • Think-pair- share: learners reflect on a question posed and then practice sharing and receiving potential solutions.
  • Three-step interview: learners are first paired and take turns interviewing each other using a series of questions provided by the facilitator. Peers then match up and learners introduce their original partner.

Reciprocal teaching: explaining, providing feedback, understanding different perspectives

  • Jigsaw: learners are responsible for teaching each other material. Each member is assigned a part of a reading/material becoming the expert of the area. “Experts” from different groups meet together to discuss their areas. They then return to their teams and take turns teaching.
  • Note-taking pairs: learners are required to summarise their understanding of a subject based on notes taken. Feedback from their partners provides learners the opportunity to find critical gaps in their written records.

Graphic organization: discovering patterns and relationships

  • Group grid: learners practice organizing and classifying information in a table.
  • Sequence chain: learners are provided with items to be organized and provide a visual representation of a series of events, actions, roles or decisions.

Writing: organizing and synthesizing information

  • Peer editing: learners are paired up at the beginning of the task and provide feedback throughout the process.
  • Dyadic essays: learners develop an essay question and model answer based on assigned reading. They then exchange essay questions and write a spontaneous answer essay. Learners then pair up, compare and contrast the model answer and the spontaneously generated answer.

Problem solving: developing strategies and analysis

  • Send-a-problem: learners participate in a series of problem solving rounds and contribute their solution. After a number or rounds, learners are asked to develop a solution developed by their peers, evaluate the answer and develop a final solution.
  • Three-stay, one –stray: learners periodically take a break from their work and send one group member to another group to describe their progress. The role of the group is to gain information and alternative perspectives by listening and sharing. The number of times the group sends a representative to another group depends on the level of complexity of the problem.

Cons and weaknesses of Cooperative Learning

Critics of this technique often point to problems related to vague objectives and avoidance of teaching. Dividing the class into small groups can mean that the teacher avoids taking responsibility. Other weaknesses are related to the fact that making members of the group responsible for each other’s learning can place too great burden on some students. The result is often that stronger students are left to teach weaker students and do most of the work. On the other hand, a list of recommendations is available below to help trainers address issues:

  • Identify clear questions at the outset;
  • Resolve small-groups conflicts as soon as they arise and show learners how to prevent a trouble in the future;
  • Create rubrics at the beginning of any assignment and use them for guiding the learning process;
  • Help learners reflect on their progress on a regular basis;[2]

Job Aid

Pdf.png Using Cooperative learning in the classroom.pdf‎


Link icon.png Web Resources
Find below additional information and resources.
Link Content
Free cooperative learning resources Laura Candler Teaching Resources website on free resources and printables for the classroom
Examples of cooperative learning exercises Starting Point- Teaching Entry Level website collecting different resources for teachers and facilitators.

References

  1. www.publicschoolreview.com (15 October 2012), www.thirteen.org (14 September 2012), www.gdrc.org (14 September 2012)
  2. www.thirteen.org (14 September 2012), www.studygs.net (14 September 2012), www.serc.carleton.edu (14 September 2012), www1.pgcps.org/ (14 September 2012)