Teachers use instructional strategies to aid students to become strategic and independent learners. They become learning strategies when the student independently selects one and uses them fruitfully to meet goals. One of these strategies is cooperative learning. It involves students working to complete tasks and projects in small groups. These tasks are organized so that every member participates in the completion of the task. Success is attained based on the group performance rather than individual students. Cooperative learning aids in promoting students’ respect for and understanding of each other’s needs and interests.
In cooperative learning, the teacher should keep the groups small and diverse; this will allow for everyone to learn from each other. It should be structured so that success depends on every group member and is responsible for some part. This will be easy by grouping students and assigning roles. The learners should be taught basic routines like management of the classroom and respecting and encouraging peers (Davidson et al., 1990). The teacher should monitor the students’ behavioural expectations by scanning groups, revisiting expectations, and re-teaching them. Ensure all the students know their roles and responsibilities within the group. It should involve discussing and modelling collaborative skills and completion of tasks within the given time. Students need to practice these skills and receive feedback.
One of the strategies involved in cooperative learning is think-pair-share. In these steps, the teacher poses a question, students are given time to think about it privately. Each student then pairs with a partner to discuss the question allowing students to clarify their thoughts. Next, each pair is allowed to share their answers with the whole class. This strategy provides opportunities for students to: learn from others and make connections. Another strategy is forming learning groups. Students pair up with someone in the same category as them, like pairing with someone with the same shoes. Use cards to form groups and distribute them randomly and ask students to find others with matching cards. The last strategy for forming groups is the use of a chalkboard list. It is a good strategy when students are finishing their work at different times.
The roles assigned in a cooperative learning group depend on the task. The teacher should review the task and determine what roles are necessary for the group to be successful. The roles could include: a checker to ensure that everyone understands the work in progress, a timekeeper, questioner, recorder, reporter, encourager, a material manager, and an observer. Explain the roles to the students and model them. Students need many opportunities to work in small groups to improve their ability to be team players. Most people fail at their jobs due to the inability to cooperate with their co-workers. Cooperative learning creates opportunities for students to learn and apply important social and communication skills. It enhances perspective, encourages higher reasoning, and provides students the opportunities to participate in a meaningful and thoughtful activity.
Students sometimes run into difficulties like all groups of people working together. One way of overcoming such obstacles is by brainstorming. The class should brainstorm to see how groups could have handled a situation differently. Use a checklist to help resolve conflicts and assess how students are working together and respecting each other. Make sure that roles are clear and have guidelines for each student role. Establish a noise level and award points to groups working quietly. The last is to have students use their journals to record how they would implement a specific collaborative skill. They could also reflect on why the skill is important to them and the group.
Davidson, N. (1990). Cooperative Learning in Mathematics: A Handbook for Teachers. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., Addison-Wesley Innovative Division, 2725 Sand Hill Rd., Menlo Park, CA 94025 (Order No. 23299, $25.20)..
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