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Learning and Teaching should be Flexible:

Co-operative Learning
 

 
 
Gender
Peer/Self Assessment
Co-operative Learning
Target Setting
Accelerated Learning
Differentiation
Flexible Learning
Feedback and Marking
Study Skills
Skills and Knowledge
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 Co-operative small group learning is an approach to organising classroom activity so that pupils can interact with and learn from each other as well as the teacher and the world around them.   Various names have been given to this form of teaching: co-operative learning, collaborative learning, collective learning, learning communities, peer teaching and peer learning.   But all in all, there are three general types of group work: informal learning groups, formal learning groups and study teams.

Points Arising from Research

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Pupils working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats

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Pupils also appear more satisfied with their classes

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This learning fosters stronger feelings of self-worth

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Pupils feel accepted by peers and more able to learn

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Pupils assume greater responsibility for their actions and develop co-operative skills

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They learn values such as respect and caring for others, responsibility, helpfulness and empathy.   It is important that learners have specific opportunities to work co-operatively as groups rather than simply in groups and are encouraged to do so

Key Elements of Co-operative Learning

Discipline/class management issues

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Pupils need to be given a considerable amount of freedom to work through tasks, with relatively infrequent intervention by the teacher

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Pupils need to develop responsible attitudes to this kind of work, since such skills are extremely important in the world of work

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By circulating from group to group, the teacher can maintain a presence in the activity, showing interest in pupils’ progress

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In such an environment, pupils’ interest in the task is an important element in motivation

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Providing clear structure to group tasks is important

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Pupils usually arrive in Secondary schools familiar with group work approaches

Size of group

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A group of three is small enough to encourage each individual to participate fully. The lines of communication are fairly simple

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A group of four can provide a good balance of views, knowledge and skills

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With a group of five or more the lines of communication may become too complex, individuals may easily opt out, or the group may in practice split into a pair and a threesome

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The less skilful the group members, the smaller the groups should be

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The shorter the time available, the smaller the groups should be

Composition of groups

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Low attainment groups may require a great deal of support.   Individuals may not gain much from other members and there may be little collaborative discussion

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High attaining pupils may proceed quickly and explore in depth but don’t assume they have effective co-operating skills or that there are no benefits for them in mixed attainment groupings

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Mixed attainment groups enhance the self-esteem of low attainers and provide opportunities for high attainers to explain ideas, organise investigation etc.

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Decide how groups will be formed - e.g. self-selection or pupils can express a preference and teacher makes the final decisions

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Give pupils the opportunity to experience a variety of groupings as individual learning strengths and difficulties can become apparent

Teacher’s role

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Clearly explain the broad goals and objectives

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Create group tasks that require interdependence

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Create assignments that fit the pupils’ skills and abilities by assigning relatively easy tasks at first and increasing the difficulty level as pupils become more knowledgeable

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Assign group tasks that allow each group member to make an equal contribution and ensure that there is a fair division of labour

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Create an environment where there are plenty opportunities for learners to talk, and where they feel safe to share their emerging ideas and incomplete understandings

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The teacher adopts a facilitating role, managing resources and overseeing progress

Training in co-operative skills

Specific skills need to be discussed, modelled and reinforced such as:

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active and tolerant listening

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helping one another in mastering content

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giving and receiving constructive criticism

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managing disagreement    

Other examples of co-operative skills are:

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Contributing ideas

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Staying on task

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Summarising for understanding

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Asking questions

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Expressing support

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Showing appreciation

Pupils need specific instructions about kinds of co-operation, e.g. one person to record results and another to check the answer etc.

Assessing group work

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Interviews after the task is completed

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Video or tape-record the group at work

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Observe the group at work

Reflection and Discussion

Which areas of the above do you recognise in your current school/classroom practice?

Are there any strategies that you would consider adopting to encourage co-operative small group learning in your school/classroom?

Some Activities Relating To the Issue of Co-operative Learning

Key element

Objective

Action

 

Some examples and suggestions

Discipline/class management issues

Pupils usually arrive in Secondary schools familiar with group work approaches 

Consider how your approach with S1/2 matches with what your pupils experienced in their Primary schools.  Do they have skills on which you can capitalise?  Try asking them what they think about Primary/Secondary approaches.

Composition of group 

Ensure that children experience working alongside a range of others. 

Rainbow Groups:  Give each pupil in a group a number, or a colour. When the group has worked together, all the pupils of the same number or colour form new groups to compare what they have done.

Teacher’s role

Create an environment where there are plenty of opportunities for learners to work together.

Arrange resources so that they are easily accessed by pupils themselves and that there are areas set aside for small group working.

Training in co-operative skills 

Giving pupils an opportunity to express understanding, and to respond to the views of others in a supportive way.

Twos to fours or snowballing.

Pupils work in pairs then join with another pair to explain what they have achieved, and to compare this with the work of the other pair. 

Assessment

Group members assess their collaborative efforts and target improvements

Give spot quizzes to be completed individually and calling on individual pupils to present their group’s progress.

Selected References


Further Reading

The following are suggested as starting points.   They contain references to other work, which could be useful.

 

Davies, B.G.(1993) Collaborative Learning: Group Work and Study Teams from ‘Tool For Teaching’  Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco

 

Hopkins, D. & Harris, A. (2000) Creating the conditions for Teaching and Learning.  David Fulton Publishers

 

Ngeow, K. (1998) Enhancing Student Thinking through Collaborative Learning ERIC Digest ERIC Identifier: ED422586

 

Panitz, T. (1996) Collaborative Learning: Some points for discussion Deliberations http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/deliberations/collaborative-learning/panitz-discussion/

 

SCCC (1996) Teaching for Effective Learning. Dundee SCCC

 

SCCC Developing Co-operative Groupwork Math 5-14 Exemplification

 

SCCC (1998) Working With Others
 

Tinzmann, M.B. et al(1990) What Is The Collaborative Classroom? North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.  info@ncrel.org      


 


Websites

Searches for “Cooperative Learning” will produce a variety of results such as:

http://www-acad.sheridanc.on.ca/scls/coop/cooplrn.htm
Site of the Canada-based Cooperative Learning Network, which provides a number of links.  The site draws attention to the name of Spencer Kagan, who is associated with developments in this area.

www.learntolearn.ac.uk/
Associated with the Cambridge University Education Dept, this site offers material of a general nature, which might be found helpful in the current context.


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Last updated 20/08/2010
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