Last night I was the guest moderator for the Twitter #NTChat. A big thank you goes out to Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwthsoul) and the @Edutopia crew for giving me the opportunity to follow up on this post and ask teachers to share their tips and advice on how to make cooperative learning more beneficial and manageable in the classroom. In the end, my head was full of new ideas, my Diigo account had tons of new bookmarks, and my heart was full of gratitude for all the spectacular teachers and mentors who joined us and shared their classroom experiences, resources, and tips. Last night’s transcripts can be found at the #NTChat wikispace archives.
Cooperative learning, as most agreed, is defined as an instructional strategy in which small groups of students work towards a mutual goal, and in doing so, maximizes each other’s learning. Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock (2001) list the five defining elements of cooperative learning as the following:
- Positive interdependence – everyone relies on each other to do well
- Face-to-face promotive interaction – everyone can talk things out and make plans
- Individual and group accountability – everyone has an important part to play
- Interpersonal and small group skills – everyone can work together on solving problems
- Group processing – everyone can reflect and evaluate on their individual work and group output
When cooperative learning is properly implemented, there are many benefits including but not limited to: meaningful and engaged learning, celebration of diversity, more opportunities for personal feedback, and interpersonal development. However, if one or more elements of cooperative learning are not in place, most teachers may experience strong resistance from students. In my previous post, I also highlighted several problems with cooperative learning as a student and pre-service teacher. From last night’s responses, I was able to compile some of the major ideas on how to make cooperative learning work.
- Know your objectives and students. Make sure that this particular strategy best fit your learning objectives first. Get to know your students with surveys, questionnaires, and polls. Use the feedback to create effective teams ahead of time. Consider toggling between home groups for long-term projects and informal groups for shorter projects.
- Identify and address prerequisite skills. Some student problems with cooperative learning can be traced down to lagging skills. Demonstrate proper behaviors when working in small groups, model how to develop and use good communication skills, and show students how to troubleshoot problems through conflict resolution management. Scaffold basic skills into more complex skills to help build student confidence and esteem.
- Provide a well-defined project with structured roles and responsibilities. Make sure that the task given to students require synergistic efforts so that they can come together and work towards a common goal. Students should have enough time and access to necessary materials in order to do their research and complete their task. Provide clear roles and responsibilities so that everyone can make significant contributions to the team. Using a group contract may also help teams hold each other accountable.
- Give students opportunities for leadership. Make the teams important for the students. Build community to bring in a sense of belonging and ownership. Encourage students to speak up, reach out, and help each other in their learning. Provide them with options and venues to all become experts and leaders at what they are learning.
- Emphasize not only content but also teamwork. Discourage social loafing by emphasizing active listening, full participation, and interdependence. The team is a success when everyone contributes their strengths.
- Practice, practice, practice! Make cooperative learning a routine, or offer it as an alternative for activities. Provide students with adequate time to practice peer feedback, using a model like PQP (Praise, Question, Polish).
- Give frequent and helpful feedback. Assessment should be based on both individual work and group output. Provide students with time for individual reflections, with rubrics to evaluate their peers, and with rubrics to evaluate the group work. Other variations include team conferences (to assess work process and behaviors), evaluation by other groups, and pairing teacher observations with student assessments.
- Rely on pedagogy, research, and feedback. Sometimes students, parents, and maybe other colleagues are resistant to or skeptical about cooperative learning. Communicate expectations and the processes of cooperative learning. Use sound pedagogy, research, feedback, and student samples to back up your use of cooperative learning and explain its benefits to students.
For more resources on cooperative learning, check out the bookmarks in my Diigo Account!
Marzano, R., Pickering, D.J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.