The classroom can be a student's first experience for practicing skills for college or career, but also for citizenship. Teachers who deliberately create opportunities for students to cooperate with their peers also give students the chance to share the responsibility to make choices, solve problems among themselves, and deal with conflicts of ideas.
These deliberately created opportunities differ from competitive learning where students work against each other or individual learning where students work alone.
Cooperative learning activities are those that require students to work in small groups to complete a joint project. Students work together as a team to not only learn the material but also help each other succeed. Much research has been conducted over the years to show the benefits of cooperative learning. Robert Slavin reviewed 67 studies concerning cooperative learning and found that overall 61% of the cooperative-learning classes achieved significantly higher test scores than the traditional classes.
An example of cooperative learning strategy is the jigsaw method of instruction:
- Students are organized into small groups of 3-5 students each
- Divide the lesson into segments and assign one segment of the lesson to each of the students
- Provide all students with time to become familiar with their segment
- Create temporary “expert groups” with one student from each jigsaw group joining other students assigned to the same segment
- Provide materials and resources necessary for students to learn about their topics and become "experts" in temporary groups
- Reconvene students back into "home groups" and provide guidelines as each "expert" reports the information learned.
- Prepare a summary chart/graphic organizer for each "homegroup" as a guide for organizing the experts' information report.
- All students in that "homegroup" members are responsible to learn all content from one another.
During the process, the teacher circulates to ensure students stay on task and work well together. This is also the opportunity to monitor student understanding.
So, what benefits do students derive from cooperative learning activities? The answer is that many life skills can be learned and enhanced through teamwork. Following is a list of five positive results from the effective use of cooperative learning in the classroom setting.
Source: Slavin, Robert E. "Student Team Learning: A Practical Guide to Cooperative Learning." National Education Association. Washington D.C.: 1991.01of 05
Sharing a Common GoalPeopleImages/Getty Images
First and foremost, students who work together as a team share a common goal. The success of the project depends on combining their efforts. The ability to work as a team towards a common goal is one of the main qualities that business leaders are looking for today in new hires. Cooperative learning activities help students practice working in teams. As Bill Gates says, "Teams should be able to act with the same unity of purpose and focus as a well-motivated individual." Sharing a common goal allows students to learn to trust each other as they achieve more than would be possible on their own.
In order for a group to truly succeed, individuals within the group need to show leadership abilities. Skills such as dividing out the tasks involved, providing support, and ensuring that individuals are meeting their goals are all leadership skills that can be taught and practiced through cooperative learning. Typically, leaders will show themselves fairly quickly when you set up a new group. However, you can also assign leadership roles within a group to help all individuals to practice leading the team.03of 05
Effective teamwork is all about good communication and a commitment to the product or activity. All members of the group need to practice communicating in a positive manner. These skills should be directly modeled by the teacher and reinforced throughout the activity. When students learn to talk with and actively listen to their teammates, the quality of their work soars.04of 05
Conflict Management Skills
Conflicts arise in all group settings. Sometimes these conflicts are minor and easily handled. Other times, though, they can rip a team apart if left unchecked. In most cases, you should allow your students to try and work out their issues before you step in and get involved. Keep an eye on the situation but see if they can come to a resolution on their own. If you do have to be involved, attempt to get all individuals of the team talking together and model effective conflict resolution for them.05of 05
Decision Making Skills
Many decisions will need attention while working in a cooperative environment. A good way to get students to start thinking as a team and make joint decisions is to have them come up with a team name. From there, the next decisions that need to be made are which students will perform what tasks. Additionally, even though students are working in a group, they will also have their own responsibilities. This will require them to make many decisions that could affect their entire team. As the teacher and facilitator, you should stress that if a particular decision will affect other members of the group then these need to be discussed together.