Cooperative learning is a teaching and learning method that engages learners in small groups, fostering positive interdependence to realize individual and shared group goals.
Cooperative learning effectively engages discussion, which is essential for learner understanding.
A study by Keeler on course completion and performance showed that the percentage of students completing the course and attaining passing grades was higher in cooperative classes.
As a teacher, you may establish different kinds of groups for different situations, and balance some key elements to distinguish cooperative learning from competitive or individualistic learning.
This article explores cooperative learning, its benefits, and the various strategies teachers can use to incorporate it successfully.
What Is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperative learning is an instructional method that involves placing learners in small groups with the intention of optimizing their individual and collective learning.
Through this method of teaching and learning, the group's success determines each member's success.
These cooperative learning groups work face-to-face as a team in a structured activity.
The core element of cooperative teaching and learning is to showcase the positive effects of interdependence while emphasizing the significance of personal responsibility.
Benefits of Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning has many benefits when correctly applied, increasing learner achievement. Here are some of the benefits;
Promotion of Social Interaction
Cooperative learning is essential in developing several social benefits in students.
By working together in groups, learners grow their communication and interpersonal skills – they learn to listen and resolve conflicts arising among them, skills they apply even in their lives after school.
As a teacher, you can help your students acquire social skills by;
Setting the rules of language and engagement- You must teach students how to clarify concepts, paraphrase, disagree constructively, and build on what others have contributed.
Teaching the learners how to listen to one another- Since active listening is not a natural skill that learners have, take time to teach them how to grow it. Also, teach them how to make eye contact, avoid interruption, and repeat essential points for maximum development of listening skills.
The Buildup of Student Self-Confidence
When learners collaborate in groups, they learn about themselves and their abilities.
They discover their leadership abilities; they learn to overcome their fear of ridicule and rejection and grow their confidence.
As a teacher, you can use cooperative learning to build learner confidence through activities such as;
Assigning roles to all learners in a group – With roles delineated, learners appreciate their responsibility to the success of each teammate. They gain the understanding that their success depends on the group's success. Roles may include; organizer, timekeeper, conflict resolver, liaison to other groups, skeptic, checker, summarizer, recorder, and spokesperson. Cooperative learning promotes positive interdependence in which students learn how to promote each other's success.
Learners should participate in goal setting– Setting goals with your student is critical in building learner confidence. By enlightening them on the guidelines, expectations, and desired learning goals, students grow their confidence in their abilities and their educators. To help them prepare adequately and establish personal goals, you can guide them into reflecting on past experiences in group settings.
Improvement in the Collaborative Skills of Students
When students work together in cooperative learning groups, it enhances their social interaction skills and allows them to develop collaborative skills.
It forces students to interact socially and grow their collaborative skills.
To help grow collaborative learner skills, create lessons that include positive student collaboration.
They should include clear directions and explicit expectations for students.
Improvement in Student Decision-Making Skills
When your cooperative learning lessons are planned out efficiently, they allow for the development of decision-making skills in learners.
As the learners collaborate in groups through discussions, planning, and debating, they build on their decision-making skills.
Here’s what you can do to encourage the development of decision-making skills in your learners;
Create group lessons with tasks that allow learners to collaborate and share their thoughts as they seek the suitable course of the task.
Tasks should require that learners indicate the proposed ideas and the adopted direction. This way, all group members will be forced to share their thoughts as the group recorder records them and then indicate their preferred course of action.
Positive Personal Interdependence
Positive interdependence is the value created in working together that allows individuals and collective learning outcomes to be fostered through collaboration.
Learners understand that better individual and collective results will be realized through collaboration.
Enabling the development of positive interdependence in learners will foster collaboration and social skills.
Let’s look at what you can adopt to establish positive personal interdependence in learners:
Establish the rules and norms of interaction- These should be explicit and specific to govern the group member's operations and establish consequences. They could include guidelines on; respectful interactions, following directions, assisting each other, and focusing on the task.
Foster learner's accountability- This ensures that every member is responsible for their learning and can demonstrate acquired skills and understanding.
You can also require that learners self-evaluate and that each group member is rewarded for contributing to the group task.
Types Of Cooperative Learning
Different cooperative learning methods can work to ensure that learning is productive and fun.
1- Formal Cooperative Learning
Formal cooperative learning is when learners work together for one or several class sessions to realize shared goals and jointly complete defined tasks and assignments.
Assignments may include problem-solving, completing a curriculum unit, writing an experiment report, learning vocabulary, or conducting a survey.
You should ensure each student is individually accountable and actively involved in the group task by assigning them specific roles. Also, consider learner abilities and strengths in assigning roles. Alternatively, you could allow the students to choose their roles to gain comfort and independence.
Individual tasks may include; timekeeping, recording, spokesperson, encourager, checker, principal research, liaison to other groups, resource manager, and discussion facilitator.
Here’s how to effectively guide learners through formal cooperative learning:
Specify the objectives of the group session– Identify the academic objectives and show the concepts and strategies to be grasped. Include social skills objectives and specify the interpersonal and group skills to be used and mastered in the session.
Create several preinstructional decisions– Decide on the size of the groups, the criteria for allocating learners to the groups, the manner of assigning roles to the learners, the materials they will require, and suitable room arrangement.
Define the task and the positive interdependence– Explain clearly the task requirements, the concepts to be acquired and the strategies of acquiring them, ways of establishing positive interdependence, and individual accountability.
Provide task guidance – As learners progress with their specific group tasks, monitor their learning, and intervene to assist them in accurately completing the task and ensuring that they collaborate effectively. Also, this will ensure the realization of expected interpersonal and group skills.
Evaluate student learning and provide prompt feedback– Establish mechanisms to evaluate student learning and performance. Also, assess how well the groups functioned and worked together effectively.
2- Informal Cooperative Learning
Informal cooperative learning is a cooperative learning method where groups student groups collaborate temporarily. The ad-hoc groups that may last only a few minutes, one discussion or class session.
These informal learning groups aim to focus students on the material to be learned, create an expectation mood, and set the appropriate learning environment.
They are suitable for conducting laboratory experimentation activities since It’s not always possible to provide specimens and materials for each learner.
You can also use them to engage learners in 3- to 5-minute focused discussions before and after a lecture session or during 2- to 3-minute turn-to-your-partner discussions throughout the lecture.
3- Cooperative Base Groups
Cooperative base groups are long-term learner groups that may last for at least a semester or a year. They focus on establishing member support, assistance, encouragement, and guidance through academic and skill development as required.
Positive interdependence is established as group members follow up with the progress of each other in completing assignments and improving academically.
Also, members are responsible for updating absent group members on the learning that happened if and when they miss a session.
Base groups meet frequently, interact within and between classes, discuss assignments and help each other with tasks.
4-Combination of All Types
This method of cooperative learning combines all three methods discussed above. As a teacher, you may establish different groups in the classroom depending on the specific tasks and the assignments.
Cooperative learning is successful when learners realize they are responsible for each other's learning and their own.
Strategies used should focus on establishing positive interdependence where members perceive their success as interlinked to that of every group member.
Whatever cooperative learning strategy you choose should include the following, elements t to be successful. These cooperative learning elements include;
Positive interdependence is the belief that group interactions result in increased value and that collaboration will enhance individual and group learning.
In an environment of interdependence, learners feel responsible for their individual tasks and the group’s success.
Group members help each other accomplish the specific task by explaining their understanding and discussing to share acquired knowledge.
Feedback is essential in enhancing improved interactions. Also, quality results are realized when members challenge one another's ideas and reasoning.
Individual and Group Accountability
Each student's input is significant in realizing the group goal in a group task.
Each member is therefore assigned a task and held accountable for completing their assignment, sharing their gathered knowledge, and playing a significant role in completing the group task.
Individual accountability minimizes the possibility of free riders in a group task. It is the belief that every member is accountable for their individual and collective group success.
One significance of individual accountability is that members can decide on who needs encouragement, guidance, and more support through monitoring role accomplishment.
Cooperative learning demands that students engage in discussions, make eye contact, and support each other toward completing their tasks.
Promotive interaction requires that members converse with each other, exchange ideas, share resources, encourage each other, and applaud each other's efforts toward role completion.
Members should embrace the understanding that critical cognitive and interpersonal developments can only happen through promoting each other's learning.
Interpersonal and Small Group Skills
Behavioral techniques such as interpersonal skills, collaborative skills, and social interaction are essential in working with others.
Encourage students to help, practice, and develop trust-building, leadership, decision-making, communication, and conflict-resolution skills.
Guide your students to acquire the social skills required for high-quality collaboration. Also, ensure they are motivated to use the social skills learned to enhance the success of collaborative learning.
Group processing involves evaluating the effectiveness of a group by analyzing the quality of collaborations.
You can guide your learners into reflecting on the group sessions, describing the roles played by each member and their success levels, and discussing and deciding on which actions were helpful and which ones were insignificant to group success.
Group processing will help your learners clarify and enhance the effectiveness of the members in upholding collaborative learning.
Cooperative Learning & Students
Cooperative learning plays a significant role in improving learner performance. For instance, in small groups, learners share their strengths and develop weaker interpersonal skills.
It is essential to establish a clear objective in creating a group task. Clarity of expectations ensures learners improve their focus on individual tasks and enhance their understanding of the subjects explored.
Some elements are vital in ensuring the success of cooperative learning. These include;
Roles should ensure that students feel safe but challenged.
Groups should be small enough to ensure all members participate.
Student roles should be clearly defined.
Through cooperative learning, learners grow their social skills while enhancing learning.
Cooperative Learning & Teachers
The teacher's objective of cooperative learning is to keep learners focused on the task.
You can collaborate to ensure learners are well supported to do all they can in cooperative learning groups.
For effectiveness, you should create a list of specific cooperative learning strategies they want to use with their learners.
Also, you can create a structured approach to cooperative learning in your classroom. This will make it easier for learners to stay focused, maintain focus, or go off-topic.
Recommended Cooperative Learning Strategies
There are many best practice strategies to consider when using a cooperative learning approach in the classroom.
Cooperative learning can enhance classroom learning, making the sessions more interactive and fun when combined with individual learning assignments.
Some of these include pair-share, quads, and mixed-skill groupings.
This collaborative learning strategy requires that learners discuss concepts, topics, or questions with their “elbow” partner and then share with the whole class.
The strategy effectively enables learning because it helps students think individually about a topic or concept.
Also, learners build their social skills and confidence by sharing their ideas with the whole class. This strategy helps focus learners' attention and engages them in comprehension of the course content.
To implement the pair share strategy:
Determine the concepts you want your learners to acquire and create a set of questions and prompts from the key points.
Clearly explain the goal of the strategy and provide guidelines for the sharing session.
Role-play with one student to ensure that students understand what is expected.
Support learners and guide them as they collaborate through the task.
Quads are groups of four students. The strategy allows four diverse learners to share diverse thoughts, and grow their decision-making skills while enhancing their socialization.
To apply the strategy:
Determine the effectiveness of discussions by determining which students fit into the same quad.
Establish the concepts or topics you want them to discuss.
Explicitly explain the objective of the session and establish interaction norms.
Assign roles to the quad members to ensure that individual accountability is attained.
Monitor learners in the collaboration sessions offering support where necessary.
Mixed Skills Grouping Strategy
The mixed skills strategy involves grouping learners of differing intellectual abilities and educating them at the same pace in the same learning environment.
The strategy focuses on creating equal expectations for all learners by offering them the same resources and learning conditions.
The benefit of the mixed skills grouping strategy is that it teaches learners tolerance and understanding through the established opportunities for them to hold discussions.
It also pushes learners of low intellectual abilities to increase academic achievement and provides a platform for them to grow socially, academically, and emotionally.
To successfully implement the mixed skills grouping develop a deep understanding for each student. Understand their background, academic capabilities, and social abilities to enhance grouping success.
How to Prepare a Classroom for Cooperative Learning
As a teacher, you have a lot of flexibility when incorporating cooperative learning into your teaching and learning sessions.
Maintaining focus in cooperative learning is critical since it ensures learners do not deviate from the task.
Most teachers in our community start lessons with bell work. This involves activities such as; completing a quick worksheet, setting goals and objectives for the lesson, or working on introducing learners to a computer lesson to align their thinking to the lesson.
Cooperative learning activities involve projects, discussions, exercises, and learner interactions.
Conflicts are healthy. They help learners develop their appreciation of diversity while growing their tolerance and conflict-resolution skills.
As a teacher, your role is to guide learners to solve their conflicts effectively without affecting the realization of the group goal. This you can do by teaching them how to:
Communicate– Teach them how to express their feelings about the conflicting situation effectively. Sticking to the facts in letting the other member know how they feel.
Actively listen– Guide the learners to understand the significance of listening to the other person's words without interrupting. How to be objective and ask open-ended questions to ensure the other person understands how the other person feels and thinks.
Review the options-Learners should review the options and see what solution benefits everyone. They should also ask for your guidance once it is deemed necessary.
Conclude with a win-win solution– Group members should agree on the option that benefits both sides of the majority. Members should not have their ideas win through aggressive behavior but through discussion and deliberations.
Start Incorporating Cooperative Learning in Your Classroom
Cooperative learning is an impactful teaching and learning strategy for teachers and students.
This strategy improves learners' learning outcomes while growing their social skills and confidence.
To learn more and gain skills in creating better, engaging, interactive classrooms, check out our professional development courses by SimpleK12.
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