Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a type of collaborative learning in which students work together on specific structured activities to learn a concept. The instructor holds each student accountable for his individual work, and the instructor also evaluates the group as a whole. According to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (1998), "cooperative learning is a generic term for various small group interactive instructional procedures.” This learning concept allows small groups of students to work together to help themselves and their teammates to learn. Students may also be assigned to a group to work on long-term classroom goals. These groups are called base groups. "Base groups are cooperative groups that last the entire semester or school year; they provide a means through which students can clarify assignments for one another, help one another with class notes, and provide one another with a general sense of support and belonging in the classroom" (Ormrod, 2004, p. 413). Students work together on common tasks or learning activities that are best handled through group work. These are characteristics of cooperative learning:
•     Students work together in small groups containing two to five members.   
•    Students are positively interdependent.
•    Activities are structured so that students need each other to accomplish their common tasks or learning activities.
•    Students are individually accountable or responsible for their work or learning (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 1998). 
     Cooperative learning groups can consist of two to five students, but groups of three to four are also effective. Classes can be divided up into several groups. The groups should contain high achievers and low achievers. These common features enhance the effectiveness of cooperative learning groups:
•    Students work in small, teacher-assigned groups.   
•    Groups have one or more common goal toward which to work.  
•    Students are given clear guidelines about how to behave.
•    Group members depend on one another for their success.
•    A structure is provided to encourage productive learning behaviors.
•     The teacher serves primarily as a resource and monitor.
•    Students are individually accountable for their achievement. 
•    Students are rewarded for group success.  
•    At the completion of an activity, each group evaluates its effectiveness (Ormrod, 2004, p. 414-15).

There are five basic elements in cooperative learning that when structured, helps positive efforts and helps the cooperative learning group achieve their goal.
1.) Positive interdependence:  This will be achieved only when all individuals of the group feel that they cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds. “If there is no       positive interdependence, there is no cooperation.”
2.) Promotive interaction:  Student’s need to do work where they help each other understand by encouraging, supporting and helping one another.
3.) Individual and group accountability:  The group should be responsible for achieving its goal and each student should be responsible for his or her share of work.
4.) Teaching students the required interpersonal and small group skills: Social skills must be taught . “ Leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management skills empower students to manage both teamwork and task work successfully”
 5.)  Group processing:  Group members can discuss between each other how well or how bad they are achieving their goals within their group.  Groups need to describe what proceedings can be changed in order to have a successful working relationship.
Importance of Cooperative Learning
     When activities are designed and structured appropriately, cooperative learning can be very effective. According to Ormrod (2004), “students of all ability levels show higher academic achievement; females, members of minority groups, and students at risk for academic failure are especially likely to show increased achievement” (p. 417).  This learning concept can promote advanced level of thinking skills:
•    Students essentially think aloud.
•    Students are able model various learning and problem solving strategies for one another.
•    Students are able to develop a greater meta cognitive awareness as a result.
Usage and Applications
      Cooperative learning allows the teacher to actively involve students in discovering knowledge through a new learning process. The learning process takes place through dialogue among the students. Dialogue can be achieved through formulated questions, discussions, explanations, debates, writings, and brainstorming during class (Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA), 2010).  Projects that require a wide range of talents and skills can be assigned to each group member,  contributing to the group’s overall success (Ormrod, 2004, p. 417). Assigning different roles to different students and providing scripts for interaction is another  application of cooperative learning.

Advantages / Disadvantages
     There are many advantages to cooperative learning. According to Ormrod (2004), "Students have a higher self-efficacy about their chances of being successful, express more intrinsic motivation to learn school subject matter, participate more actively in classroom activities, and exhibit more self-regulated learning" (p. 417).  This allows students to engage in prosocial behaviors, perspectives of others, divide task equally, resolve interpersonal conflicts, and provide encouragement and support to each other. Students will have an increased number of friendships with racial groups, ethnic groups, and persons with disabilities. Cooperative learning concepts provide an array of learning tasks and are preferred over competitive and individualized learning.  A number of schools are adopting this style of classroom learning.  Cooperative learning concept is effective and allows students to tutor each other on information being studied (North Central Regional Education Laboratory, 2004).
     Disadvantages of cooperative learning are that “students may sometimes be more interested in achieving a group reward with the least possible effort and so will focus more on getting the “right” answer than on ensuring that all group members understand the subject matter being studied” (Ormrod, 2004, p. 417). If one student does more talking and work, that student has the tendency to learn more than the others in the group. If incorrect information, strategies, or methods are suggested by one student, then the whole group is at risk.  It is important for the teacher to follow the group’s discussions and lesson plans. The teacher should provide structure and guidance to promote the utmost learning and achievement possibilities (Ormrod, 2004). Operant conditioning involves reinforcement that results in a behavioral change that is based on the consequences that follow the behavior. In cooperative learning, a student and the group learn because they are rewarded by information learned and the information they provided to the rest of the group (College of Saint Benedict Saint John’s University, 2009).
     The social cognitive theorist point of view suggests that students are able to perform tasks with greater self-efficacy when they know they are helping other group members. Cognitive learning is when mental association permanently changes due to the experiences and results in an internal change which can not be observed. Alberta Bandura evolved behaviorism and cognitive theories. Social learning emphasizes the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Self-regulation is incorporated in this theory, and its ability to maintain one’s own behavior with internalized standards (College of Saint Benedict Saint John’s University, 2009). In cooperative learning, the teacher would provide the stimulus for the group to promote self- instruction, self-motivation, self-reinforcement, and self-imposed stimulus control.
 My opinion:
Cooperative Learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other learning. Cooperative learning groups work best when they meet the following criteria:  “ Groups should be heterogeneous and, at least at the beginning, should be small, perhaps limited to two to six members” . There were more advantages than disadvantages in Cooperative learning.  Cooperative learning can be an extraordinary teaching strategy if utilized correctly.  Cooperative learning gives students motivation and interest where other teaching strategies wouldn’t.  It helps build an individual’s competition streak because the student always wants to be the facilitator instead of the follower. Students that are normally shy can overcome their shyness in a cooperative learning group.  Students can sometimes explain things better to a group of students that a teacher cannot.  A student can make it more interesting or more understandable because they would probably use words students their own age are accustomed to listening.  Motivation and group work are the key words in making cooperative learning a success in your classroom , so reach out and make your classroom a cooperative learning class.                             


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