Making Cooperative Learning Work for Teaching and Learning

Abstract

This article is a continuation of the previous article entitled, “Let’s have Cooperative Learning for Lessons!” In this article, how to plan, organize and conduct productive cooperative learning in the primary social studies classroom will be featured. Suggestions on managing challenging student behaviours for successful cooperative learning and the assessment and reflection of such lessons are also highlighted.

Planning Cooperative Learning Lessons

Cooperative learning refers to a set of instructional modes that requires students to work and interact together in small groups for the promotion of individual and group members’ learning. It is useful in the promotion of academic achievement and the development of thinking and interpersonal skills and dispositions such as appreciation of individual differences.  When planning a cooperative learning lesson, we need to take into consideration the content, lesson objectives, concepts and generalizations, unit questions, students’ prior knowledge or experience with the topic, task(s), cooperative learning models to adopt or adapt, and resources, time and space available. These considerations are generally no different from the planning considerations for other non-cooperative learning lessons. But the big difference is that for cooperative learning lessons, cooperative learning structures or models are integrated into the lessons.

For primary social studies teachers attempting to incorporate cooperative learning into their lessons for the first time, it is best to select a familiar lesson or topic so that they can focus on mastering the cooperative learning model and process and not the lesson content (Abrami, Chambers, Poulsen, De Simone, D’ Appolonia & Howden, 1995). Before choosing the cooperative learning model, it would serve them well to ask the question, “Would group work help my students achieve the academic goals and develop particular social skills?” If the answer is yes, then consider the appropriate type of structure or model to use. Alternatively, they can modify an existing structure or model. Refer to Strategy Example 1 in the article entitled, “Let’s Have Cooperative Learning for Lessons!” They should start with simple informal cooperative learning structures such as think-pair share, round robin or numbered-heads-together before moving to more complex models like the Jigsaw, Group Investigation and Structured Academic Controversy which require more planning, are more demanding and are more suited for upper primary students. When complex models are adopted, it is important to ensure that the content chosen is substantial and challenging to offer students scope for self-directed, independent and constructive learning with their peers.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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