|Teaching (IAE - IBE - UNESCO, 34 p.)|
Students often benefit from working in pairs or small groups to construct understandings or help one another master skills.
Research indicates that there is often much to be gained by arranging for students to collaborate in pairs or small groups as they work on activities and assignments. Co-operative learning promotes affective and social benefits such as increased student interest in and valuing of subject matter, and increases in positive attitudes and social interactions among students who differ in gender, race, ethnicity, achievement levels and other characteristics.
Co-operative learning also creates the potential for cognitive and metacognitive benefits by engaging students in discourse that requires them to make their task-related information-processing and problem-solving strategies explicit (and thus available for discussion and reflection). Students are likely to show improved achievement outcomes when they engage in certain forms of co-operative learning as an alternative to completing assignments on their own.
In the classroom
Traditional approaches to instruction feature whole-class lessons followed by independent seatwork time during which students work alone (and usually silently) on assignments. Cooperative learning approaches retain the whole-class lessons but replace part of the individual seatwork time with opportunities for students to work together in pairs or small groups on follow-up practice and application activities. Co-operative learning can be used with activities ranging from drill and practice to learning facts and concepts, discussion and problem solving. It is perhaps most valuable as a way of engaging students in meaningful learning with authentic tasks in a social setting. Students have more chances to talk in pairs or small groups than in whole-class activities, and shy students are more likely to feel comfortable expressing ideas in these more intimate settings.
Some forms of co-operative learning call for students to help one another achieve individual learning goals, for example by discussing how to respond to assignments, checking work, or providing feedback or tutorial assistance. Other forms of co-operative learning call for students to work together to achieve a group goal by pooling their resources and sharing the work. For example, the group might conduct an experiment, assemble a collage, or prepare a research report to be presented to the rest of the class. Co-operative learning models that call for students to work together to produce a group product often feature a division of labour among group participants (e.g. to prepare a biographical report, one group member will assume responsibility for studying the persons early life, another for the persons major accomplishments, another for the persons effects on society, and so on).
Co-operative learning methods are most likely to enhance learning outcomes if they combine group goals with individual accountability. That is, each group member will be held accountable for accomplishing the activitys learning goals (students know that any member of the group may be called on to answer any one of the groups questions or that they will all be tested individually on what they are learning).
Activities used in co-operative learning formats should be well suited to those formats. Some activities are most naturally carried out by individuals working alone, others by students working in pairs, and still others by small groups of three to six students.
Students should receive whatever instruction and scaffolding they may need to prepare them for productive engagement in co-operative learning activities. For example, teachers may need to show their students how to listen, share, integrate the ideas of others and handle disagreements constructively. During times when students are working in pairs or small groups, the teacher should circulate to monitor progress, make sure that groups are working productively and provide any assistance needed.
References: Bennett & Dunne (1992); Johnson & Johnson (1994); Slavin (1990).