Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cooperative Learning: Introduction

Cooperative learning is a theory that students work best when they are in groups, working together to solve a problem, accompish a task or create an artifact. All cooperative learning activties include a measure of accountability, divided but interdependent roles, face-to-face interaction and a common goal of what is to be accomplished.

Cooperative learning has been linked to increases in student engagement (rather than the teacher speaking the entire time), in student achievement, in language development and in self-efficacy.

Despite these findings, many teachers do not structure lesson plans to include cooperative learning activities. For some, any type of group activity is a classroom managment nightmare. For others, it is a control issue. How can they guarantee the students learn the information if no teacher seems present? For others, it is simply too much of a jump from the traditional class of students in rows and the teacher speaking up front.

It is a misnomer to call cooperative learning "group work." The following list describes the differences between cooperative learning and group work:

  1. In group work, all people have the same job, task and role. In cooperative learning, students have a defined role with a respective task.
  2. In group work, students engage in a task that they could do individually. There is a sense that they don't "need" one another. In cooperative learning, students depend upon one another for each learning activity.
  3. In group work, there is rarely any sense of accountability. In cooperative learning, individuals hold one another accountability.
  4. In group work, there is little training ahead of time. Groups are created and students must figure out how to get along. In cooperative learning, students have recieved instructions in how to handle conflict, divide tasks, use metacognition and set their own goals.

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