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INITIATING COOPERATIVE LEARNING IN THE CLASSROOM

Providing cooperative learning opportunities is not simply a matter of placing students in groups and assigning tasks. Teachers must carefully select student groups, plan cooperative learning activities, set both academic and social goals for group work, and monitor individual student progress and group learning and social processes.

1. Selecting Student Groups:

Several details should be considered when you form cooperative learning groups. Groups may be formed on the basis of academic skill level, interests, personality characteristics, social skills, or a combination of these factors. Groups usually contain students of varying ability levels, who support one another in multiple ways. Traditionally cooperative learning groups were set up to contain one above-average, two average, and one below-average student. One difficulty with this is that it blatantly categorizes students, when all students have areas of greater and lesser ability. In addition, it ignores the importance of considering the whole student. It ignores the fact that coping and social skills affect students’ academic performance and that performance can vary from day to day based on emotional factors.

Cooperative learning groups often remain together for two to six weeks; at that time group membership changes to allow students to experience cooperation and caring with other peers. How long students should stay in a group depends on the characteristics of the students in the class and the nature of the tasks or projects on which they are working.You may assign specific roles to each group member. Typical roles might include group leader (facilitates group discussion, makes sure group sets goals and works to meet them), monitor (monitors time on task and ensures that everyone gets equal opportunity to participate), resource manager (gathers and organizes materials), recorder (keeps a written or taped record of group activities), and reporter (shares group findings and plans in whole class discussions). Setting student roles allows teachers to influence the workings of the group, to capitalize on student strengths, and to encourage students to take risks by assuming new roles. On the other hand, group roles often evolve, with students falling into natural roles. While this may create spontaneous and natural interactions, it may also lock students into negative roles based on behaviors and social status. Keep in mind, it will take from three to nine weeks of experience before à class begins to maximize the benefits of cooperative learning.

2. Planning Cooperative Learning Activities

Many types of learning can take place in cooperative settings. You, as the teacher, must decide if the particular skills and concepts to be taught are best learned in cooperative or individual settings. Many learning activities allow for both individual and collaborative work, for small- group interaction followed by whole-class discussion and analysis. For example, students might read a history text and articles as individuals, then convene in small groups to review the materials and discuss the causes of the Great Depression, then share their findings with the whole class to generate a comprehensive list of causes. Later, students might be asked to write individual essays to show their understanding of the causes of the Great Depression.

3. Setting Academic and Social Goals

You must carefully set academic and social goals for cooperative groups and articulate these goals to students on a daily to weekly basis. Especially when first using cooperative learning, students will need specific training and monitoring. Seasoned teachers suggest that it is essential to teach social skills within the classroom and to model these before cooperative groups begin their work. In addition, it is helpful to emphasize one or two social skills each day or week and to remind students to practice them within their group. Examples of such skills are listed in the box below.

Benefits of cooperative learning

1) Improve comprehension of basic academic content

2) Reinforces social skills

3) Allows student decision making

4) Creates active learning environment

5) Boosts students’ self-esteem

6) Celebrates diverse learning styles

7) Promotes student responsibility

8) Focuses on success for everyone

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