Two heads learn better than one. This variation on the classic saying is very true for students in a classroom. Cooperative group work is an important part of an effective classroom. However, there is much more to group learning than just having students “work together.” The primary goal of group work is to get students actively involved in their learning where there is an accepted common goal. This grouping allows students to work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning.
“In a cooperative learning situation, interaction is characterized by positive goal interdependence with individual accountability.” (Johnson & Johnson, 1998)
One frustration many teachers, students, and parents have with cooperative groups is that many times the high-achieving students do most of the work. In order for cooperative grouping to be effective and make good use of classroom time, group work must have clear role responsibilities, goals, and individual accountability.
In a classroom setting, cooperative groups give students opportunities to learn from and teach one another under “real” world conditions. “By the 1990’s, teamwork became the most frequently valued managerial competence in studies of organizations around the world” (Goleman, 1998). We can prepare our students to enter the working world by giving them these valued opportunities to work together to create products and solve problems.
By organizing a classroom around cooperative group work, the ultimate goal is to get students actively involved in their learning. Grouping students in pairs or small groups, increases their chances of involvement. Students feel less pressure when asked to complete a task with a peer than they do completing it independently. Cooperative learning should be used strategically. "Research has established that the cooperative structure outperforms competitive and individualistic structures academically and socially, regardless of content or grade level” (Kagan 1997). Students often view school as a competitive enterprise where they try to outdo their classmates. Research shows that students are more positive about school, subject area, and teachers when they are provided structure to work cooperatively (Johnson & Johnson).
With time and patience, any teacher at any grade level can incorporate cooperative learning into instruction. The keys to success are maintaining high expectations, keeping students individually and collectively accountable, and creating a classroom environment where cooperation is encouraged.
Many types of cooperative grouping strategies are supported by research and can be used across grades and subject areas.
Reciprocal Teaching >
A cooperative grouping strategy that calls on students to become “the teacher” and work as a group to bring meaning to text.
A cooperative learning technique that allows greater amounts of content to be studied and shared by students in a group.
A cooperative discussion strategy made up of three stages of student action where students talk about the content and discuss ideas before sharing with a whole group.
Brainstorm Groups >
A cooperative learning strategy that calls upon groups of students to brainstorm thoughts and build upon eachother's flow of ideas.
Goleman, D. (1998). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review. November-December, pp. 93-102.
Johnson, D. & Johnson, R. (1998). Cooperative learning and social interdependence theory: Cooperative learning. www.co-operation.org/pages/SIT.html*
Kagan, L., Kagan, M., Kagan., S. (1997). Cooperative learning structures for teambuilding. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Cooperative Learning.