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What Is It? How does it work? How does it differ from what is happening in my classes? Why should I introduce cooperative learning into my classes? these are some of the questions you may have asked yourself about cooperative learning. Educational research indicates that when students are actively engaged in the learning process, they will learn more and retain more of what they have learned, and will feel good about the learning experience and themselves.
What is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperative learning fosters both academic and social advantages: improved attitudes about school and learning; increased motivation to learn; increased self-esteem; decreased negative competition; decreased dependence on the teacher, and acceptance of others' differences, to name a few. All of these, as part of the cooperative learning experience, promote increased interaction, interpretation and inquiry. (Vacca, Vacca, and Gore, 1991, p. 466-7.)
How to Achieve
Grouped students should then be given a task designed to promote working cooperatively (together) to complete the task. The task (assignment) should result in a product which can be heard, viewed, or, in some way, shared with the entire class.
At the onset, when the task is initially given to the groups, each member of a group has a specific role in completing the task. The usual roles are those of reader, reporter, recorder, and manager. Students decide among themselves who will do what. It should be stressed that all roles jobs are of equal importance and that there is no boss in the group. The distribution of specific roles or (jobs) within the group in and of itself promotes cooperative learning and inclusion rather than exclusion of some participants.
At first, there may be students who do not want to "carry their weight," but as they become more familiar with the non-threatening aspect of cooperative learning, every student can bring something to the learning experience, and, once the reluctant student realizes that (s)he has something to offer, (s)he does.
After students share what they have learned or created with the class, there should be some discussion about this "lesson." If time does not permit, the discussion can become a written homework assignment or carried over to the next day. The teacher may ask students for their initial reactions and/or comments or how they felt during the process or what was different about this lesson. This discussion will serve to start students to think about themselves as responsible learners, to think about the learning process, and to think about different ways of learning.
Subsequent introductory cooperative learning activities may follow the next day or several days later. In addition to the assigned task, routines associated with cooperative learning, such as immediately Joining their groups on cooperative learning days or stopping group work on a given signal so that class sharing can take place etc., should be introduced. Students should remain in their initial groups until the teacher feels that they understand the basic concepts of cooperative learning.
Once this basic understanding occurs, the teacher may then want to change the composition of the groups so that each group consists of students of varied abilities, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In addition, the teacher serves as a facilitator, resource, and observer during all cooperative learning activities. It is expected that the teacher will remain actively involved by circulating among the groups and by joining groups for brief periods of time to facilitate, not to dominate. It is the teacher who signals closure to the cooperative learning activity by initiating sharing.
Finally, be prepared for noise levels above those to which you are normally accustomed. Cooperative learning at its best generates lots of discussion, sometimes all at once. However, the excitement generated by students who are taking an active and responsible role in their learning is infectious and wonderful to behold and to hear.SIMULATIONS
The following guidelines will help you conduct effective simulation exercises.
Another teaching strategy involves the use of response groups. In order to ensure the success of group work, effective classroom arrangement is critical. Arrange desks so that students can talk and listen to each other. An overhead transparency or a flip chart should be prepared which contains a seating diagram. List group members' names so that students know where to sit and who is in their group.
Be patient, but expect your students to get it right!
Select a facilitator and a recorder for each group. Quickly explain the roles of each. In the beginning, when you use response groups set a relatively brief time limit to Promote focused discussion.