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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

Cooperative Learning
Ann Stephenson

Cooperative learning is an instructional method that allows students to work in small groups within the classroom. It promotes positive interaction, interpersonal skills, both group and individual accountability, trust, leadership, decision making, conflict resolution, teamwork, and achievement.

When an adult enters the workforce life becomes one big cooperative endeavor. Companies require a diverse force of workers to implement and guarantee financial success. Learning to work together should be instructed with guidelines just as skills and behavior management are instructed.

In order to test the waters in the classroom start with a simple cooperative activity. Divide the class into small heterogeneous groups and allow them to have fifteen or twenty minutes of study time together for a spelling or vocabulary test. At this point the students may choose a team captain to help coordinate any activities they may execute together. The teacher oversees the groups but does not interfere with them unless a specific behavioral classroom rule is being broken.

At the end of the week the class is given a test and the students are scored individually. A group grade may be give as well as a small prize to the group whose average grade was the highest.

Steps for a cooperative learning lesson:

1) Choose a lesson and teach what needs to be learned along with any background information that is necessary.

Examples of cooperative lessons:

Biographies of people in history (different aspects of their lives)
Water cycle
Different perspectives of characters in a story
How the Civil War changed life in the United States
Adding and subtracting mixed fractions

2) Assign students to small heterogeneous groups. A heterogeneous group enhances learning; high-achieving students increase their understanding of ideas by explaining them to others; and middle and low achieving students will contribute and experience success with lower frustration levels.

3) Brainstorm for ideas. What would be the best cooperative learning techniques to use? These would, of course, depend on the lesson used.

4) Arrange the classroom to fit the needs of the groups.

5) Provide appropriate materials. These may include books, computers, use of the library, rulers, scissors, etc.

6) Explain the goals and expectations and give each group or student a Rubric to follow. The groups discuss what is expected of each member and each group.

One of the biggest arguments against cooperative learning is that it is too difficult to give a fair grade to each student. It is necessary to create a Rubric so that an individual student is accountable for his or her own personal grade and group grade.

Sample Rubric

 

3 points

2 points

1 point

0 points

Listening and discussing with team members

Listens, discusses, speaks in polite manner, taking turns in the group.

Listens, discusses, speaks in polite manner most of the time.

Takes over discussion and doesn’t listen to the others most of the time.

Is disrespectful and argumentative with teammates.

Focusing on task

 

Stays on task.

Stays on task most of the time.

Stays on task some of the time with reminders.

Doesn’t stay on task and produces very little work.

Problem solving

Looks for ways to solve problems.

Solves problems most of the time.

Occasionally helps to solve problems suggested by other members.

Does not initiate problem solving nor helps group with problems.

Finishing all work; both individual and group

Finishes all work in the assigned time.

Completes most assigned tasks.

Completes some work and depends on others to do the work.

Does not complete tasks or depends on others to do the work.

7) Give a detailed timeline. Provide both group and individual due dates for assignments.

8) Monitor the groups. If a particular group needs more instruction, spend time assisting them.

9) Evaluate each group by reviewing and grading the Rubric.

If any children are having difficulty working in the group, the teacher should spend time with them to find out why. The tasks given may be beyond the students’ academic reach. If this is the case they should be given something more suitable to their academic ability or learning style.

Cooperative learning does not take the place of instruction; it reinforces learning and makes it applicable. Try it in your classroom and let me know the results.

Resources

Cooperative Learning
www.context.org/ICLIB/IC18/Johnson.htm

The Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota
www.cooperation.org/

Cooperative Learning Strategies and Children, ERIC Digest
www.ericdigests.org/pre-9211/cooperative.htm

Glossary of Gifted Terms
http://nagc.org/index.aspx?id=565

Rubrics for Assessment
www.uwstout.du/soe/profdev/rubrics.shtml

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail me.

For a cooperative learning lesson plan, see Author Study by Carolyn Hornik.

 

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