Making Cooperative Learning Work for Teaching and Learning, pp. 3 of 9

Johnson, Johnson and Holubec (1998) have suggested decreasing group size based on the following criteria: if the instructional time is short, if there are abundant instructional resources for sharing, if group cohesion and social support need to be strengthened or if groups are diagnosed lacking in social skills. 

c) Length of Group Life

The nature of the task (Johnson, Johnson & Holubec, 1992) is an influencing factor for the length of group life. Generally, the group duration for informal cooperative learning tasks is short because these tasks are simple. But the group duration for formal cooperative learning tasks can be longer because of their more complex and demanding nature. In that case, it is advisable to keep the groups long enough for about four to eight weeks so that the members are comfortable and bond with each other to form a group identity and they have the chance to overcome difficulties which they face as they work together (Jacobs et al, 1995). Groups should not be kept together if cliques form (Jacobs et al, 1995). Disbanding the groups if they do not work well is not advisable as students need to learn how to deal with conflicts and disagreements with their teammates. Teachers can use teambuilding activities to bond the groups (Kagan, 1994). Ideally during the school year, students in the class should have a chance to work with every other student in cooperative group tasks (Zarrillo, 2008).

d) Room Arrangement

For informal cooperative learning activities, there is no need to move desks or chairs. For longer activities, students can shift their chairs and meet around a desk. Alternatively, students can sit in groups on the floor for their discussions. To accommodate formal cooperative learning activities, the table arrangements in Figure 1 can be made. Such arrangements enable students to huddle close to one another to promote face-to-face interaction, a cooperative learning element, and to discuss at close range to keep the noise level down. Teachers can also have eye contact with all students in such arrangements (Kagan, 1994).

e) Role Allocation 

Roles need to be clearly defined and every student needs to understand exactly what he or she is expected to do (Zarrillo, 2008). Task roles refer to roles associated with the specific tasks derived from the main task that have to be done in order for the main task to be completed successfully. For example, if the main task for the Primary 3 social studies unit on housing in Singapore is for the group to plan a housing estate that serves the needs of the residents, then the specific task roles would include researchers, planners, scribes and presenters. Everyone in the group will research to find out residents’ needs and the kinds of facilities and living environment that people want, and all will brainstorm, plan and design   the housing estate together. The scribe and presenters amongst them will additionally need to take down the major decisions made by the group and to present on the group’s behalf respectively. Unlike task roles, process roles are roles that ensure the smooth functioning of the group. These include time-keeper, encourager, quiet captain, resource manager and task manager. 

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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