Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy in which students work together in groups to help each other learn content and kills. In cooperative learning student complete tasks that help them learn individually and to help other group members also learn content. According to Larson and Keiper, research has shown that cooperative learning has positive effects on students not just because it maximizes learning, but that it also has a positive effect on student achievement by providing students the opportunity to interact with one another (Larson and Keiper, 168). More important, cooperative learning has shown that it also increases the potential of classmates to accept students who are usually marginalized due to academic ability, race, social status, or appearance (Larson and Keiper, 169).

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From left to right: Marcus Agrippa, Augustus, and Gaius Maecenas

But what does cooperative learning look like? I’m going to use Agrippa, Augustus, and Maecenas as an example. Augustus, formerly Octavian, didn’t become the first emperor of Rome by himself. Instead, he used the talents of his friends to help him get there. Augustus was brilliant in his own right, but he was far from a military genius. Instead he relied upon the military prowess of his friend Marcus Agrippa to be his main general and lead his men into battle. On the opposite end of being a leader, Augustus relied upon his friend Gaius Maecenas to become his unofficial “culture minister” responsible for crafting propaganda in written and built form which helped and shaped Augustus’s public image. This group of three individuals cooperated to achieve a set goal, much like cooperative learning groups combine together to also achieve goals.

Cooperative learning takes planning and the first thing for a teacher to think about his forming groups. Teachers should shy away from letting students pick their own groups, as they will almost assuredly pick homogeneous groups  that reflect who they are. Instead, teachers should plan to assign groups that are diverse and heterogeneous. Teachers should also think about the strengths each member will bring to the team so that students of different ability levels will be placed in every group. Similarly, Augustus wasn’t strong in military knowledge, so his friend Agrippa compensated for that lack.

A second concern of teachers is to plan and structure group work so that a few students don’t do all the work. Instead, teachers could think of roles to assign each person in the group so that no single person will carry the team. For example, if one student is artistic, that student could be designated in the group to carry out a task to make a poster or a visual for the class presentation. Like student groups in the classroom, Augustus, Agrippa, and Maecenas all had very particular roles in their group that played upon their strengths.

Finally, teachers should think of ways to maximize the interaction between group members. Instead of having large groups, teachers should limit their groups to be around 3-5 people (3 being an optimal number). There are also some common types of cooperative learning that can help teachers maximize interaction: STAD approach, the Jigsaw approach, and Group Investigation. All three structure cooperative learning differently with an eye towards encouraging group cooperation.

In sum, cooperative learning can help teachers maximize content learning within their classroom and can also help them create a stronger classroom community that includes ALL students.

Three Questions

What typical activities will you, as a teacher, participate in on a daily basis?

From what I’ve observed from my time as a student, a college student, as a substitute teacher, and as a field intern, one of the most important aspects of any classroom is consistency. Students who enter through classroom doors expect consistency in their classrooms, which provides them with a sense of stability while other things in their lives might not be consistent. Daily activities on behalf of teachers can establish a sense of consistency in the classroom. Two strategies I will incorporate into my classroom are warm-ups and closures. The teacher I am placed with uses these daily. As students walk in a warm-up, along with instructions, is placed on the board. The warm-up anticipates the coming lesson, often refers back to previous content, and is used as a classroom management technique that gets the students automatically into work. Closure, in the form of things like exit slips or round robins, help students feel that the lesson has ended and often builds/solidifies content they learned in that day.

Why are you a teacher of social studies? What is your purpose?

To me, social studies and the liberal arts in general, have the ability to enrich our lives and experience. The social studies are not subjects that are boring lists of what things happened, they are subjects that enable us to explore how things came to be and understand our own place within that story. As a future social studies teacher, I’m passionate about bringing that emotion into my classroom. For me, social justice is an issue I care deeply about. As an undergraduate I minored in American Indian Studies and completed research on slavery in Revolutionary Virginia; both of those made me realize how much I didn’t learn about them in high school. As I move into teaching I know that my future classrooms will be more diverse than those of my parents and of myself, largely because America is becoming an increasingly more diverse nation. As a future teacher I want to use social studies as a way to not only include all of my students into the classroom, but also as a way to help all of my students understand the histories, beliefs, and worldviews of people from many different backgrounds. But I don’t want the content that I teach to be the only source of this for my students, I also want to use my classroom as a place in which interaction between different people occurs and to help them develop demeanors that facilitate understanding.

What will your social studies classroom become (look like) if you believe what you have just written and previously said?

From what I have previously written I have an idea of what my future classroom will look like. Instead of responding in a paragraph I’ve broken my classroom into two areas, what it looks like and what it sounds like.

Looks Like:

  • On the walls of the classroom are posters and pictures that reflect content and reflect diversity. I can imagine things like an LBJ campaign poster, a large map of the Native nations within the United States, a poster of MLK or President Obama, a reproduction “Votes for Women” sign, etc.
  • On the Smart Board is a warm-up for my students to complete or learning objectives for the day and standards for the lesson.
  • My classroom is arranged in assigned seats, equally dispersing students from all backgrounds throughout the room because I don’t want my students to form homogeneous groups within my classroom.

Sounds Like:

  • My students and I use language that is respectful of each other. It is fine to disagree on controversial issues, but we should disagree in amicable ways that recognize our differences.
  • I leave silent time after asking questions to allow my students to think and formulate responses.
  • Students ask questions that go beyond yes or no. Questions often start with why or how and they ask questions not only of me, but also to each other.
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