Promoting Cooperative Learning in the Classroom

The adage “two heads are better than one” could be part of the cooperative learning process of collaboration of two or more individuals seeking the answer to a given problem. This old, but newly renowned technique, gives each student the opportunity to be a bigger part of the picture. As students work cooperatively with each other in a group, each one is accountable for a part of the end goal which will represent the team as a whole. This strategy changes the roles of the classroom teacher and students to one of equal learning. Teachers take on the role as facilitator as students take on more roles of leadership within this learning strategy. 

Within today’s educational realm and No Child Left Behind, educators are earnestly seeking ways to help students learn within the school setting. School aged children ranging from kindergarten to the twelfth grade inculcate the Common Core State Standards by teachers in the classroom and are under scrutiny to take and pass state-mandated testing once a year pertaining to these standards. Innovative teaching ideas are in need to be able to reach the goals intended by the educational leaders for student success. Promoting cooperative learning in the classrooms will assist teachers taking on a learning role as well as a leadership role; and for students to take on more leadership roles and accountability of their own learning. This cooperative learning strategy is a win-win situation for educational leaders, teachers, and students to reach success within the educational setting. 

Cooperative Learning Strategy

The Office of Education Research Consumer Guide (1999) defines cooperative learning as “a strategy consisted of small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, that use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject.” Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what the information taught, but also for helping teammates learn with an end result of achievement. Cooperative learning is relatively easy to implement and inexpensive with huge rewards of student improvement in academics, behavior and attendance, an increase in self-confidence and motivation, as well as increased liking of school and classmates. “Cooperative learning will also promote the development and use of critical thinking skills and teamwork; positive relations among different ethnic groups; implementing peer coaching; and establishing environments where academic accomplishments are valued and equal,” (The Office of Education, 1999). The cooperative learning strategy promotes group goals as well as individual accountability for students to meet success within the classroom.

Leading Theorists of Cooperative Learning

According to the author Neff (n.d.), in 1962, Lev Vygotsky, a Russian teacher and psychologist, stated that we learn through our interactions and communications with others and examined how our social environments influence the learning process. As we seek cooperative learning in the classroom, we lean toward Vygotsky and his philosophy that our social environments influence the learning process. When implemented well, cooperative learning within the classroom motivates achievement, student discussion, active learning, student confidence, and motivation (Cooperative Learning, 2007). Students who work independently versus collaborating with a group are learning different skills. When students are verbalizing and justifying ideas, handling conflicts, collaborating, building consensus, and disagreeing politely this builds character within the individual and the individual is becoming more valuable and useful. Modern day philosopher, Robert Slavin was part of the John Hopkins research on cooperative learning in the 1980s during the peak of the ongoing cooperative learning strategy. During the research in the 1970s cooperative learning groups incorporated two key elements which included group goals and individual accountability (Slavin, 2008). When groups are categorized in this fashion, the behavior of students’ interests to teach each other, assess each other’s learning and ask for help from each other assist in learning gains. The strategy of cooperative learning is to produce success for all students in any grade level. As Slavin and Cooper list the instructional methods as structured to give each student a chance to make substantial contributions to the team, so that the teammates will be equal, at least in the sense of role equity assisting in students realization of everyone is equal (Slavin & Cooper, 1999). 

The cooperative learning strategy has spiraled in and out of American education since the 1900s. The focus from teacher-centered to student-centered is what evolves the cooperative learning strategies according to authors Johnson and Johnson (n.d.). The authors continue with, “In contrast to traditional teaching methods where students are perceived to be empty vessels awaiting the teachers’ knowledge, Cooperative Learning theory recognizes the importance of the student’s existing knowledge and puts that knowledge to work.” Within today’s ever evolving classrooms, teachers need the tools to capture student’s attention and the want to learn. In 1994, Johnson and Johnson produced five elements of cooperative learning which includes positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, social skills, and processing to be a necessity to effective group learning, achievement, and higher-order social, personal and cognitive skills (1999).

Effectiveness of Cooperative Learning

The author Kagan points out an important cornerstone approach to cooperative learning is to distinguish between “structures” and “activities” (1989). He continues with stating, “Accordingly, structures can be combined to form “mulitstrucutral” lessons in which each structure- or building block-provides a learning experience upon which subsequent structures expand, leading toward predetermined academic, cognitive, and social objectives.” When including meaningful cooperative learning into lessons incorporated through standards and objectives all year, students can further their academic progress in any subject area. Kagan also explains how cooperative learning can increase the equality of and amount of student engagement within the classroom (Kagan Publishing, n.d.). Social skills and behavior are viewed as a positive through the structure of the cooperative learning strategy. 

Johnson and Johnson (n.d.) point out the great controversies over the choice of academic achievement and constructive development and socialization implemented with the need for instructional strategies to formulate a winning combination for student success. Promoting cooperative learning within a classroom is not giving students the free will to sit where they choose and talk with their neighbors. It promotes a learning community which engages student in the learning of five elements: positive interdependence, face-to-face interaction, individual accountability, interpersonal & social skills, and group processing (Van Dat Tran, 2013). The theoretical perspectives emphasize the important role of reciprocal interaction between students to create collaboration within the learning community communicating the knowledge learned from one another. In other words, teamwork promotes the individual contributions to the end goal which equals student achievement. 

Conclusion

Teachers who continually seek ways to better the learning process for students are earnestly looking for cooperative learning. The implementation process of cooperative learning within a classroom setting is at a peak of curiosity and engagement which students are seeking from an educational perspective. The learning from this strategy is two-fold component of student learning as well as teacher learning. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) once said, “I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Hence, we have cooperative learning a process in which we aim to organize classroom activities with academic and social learning.