Make it Happen in Your Classroom
Providing “practice” activities to complete a task co-operatively is one way to get learners working in small groups. Through teambuilding exercises where learners construct something together, brainstorm a topic of interest, or solve a problem, they can practice the skills they need to be successful when working in groups. These activities help to establish norms of desired behaviour and provide necessary feedback to the groups. Taking the time to teach learners how to get the most out of working with peers can make co-operative learning more efficient and productive.
Co-operative learning groups may last for one lesson or the course of a long-term project. These group interactions can be embedded into an everyday classroom learning experience. To get started in a more formal co-operative group, the teacher would:
- Introduce the lesson
- Assign learners to groups
- Assign roles
- Set expectations for individual contributions to the group
- Make sure learners have the necessary materials and resources
The teacher then explains the process and information needed to complete the activity. The learner groups work on the activity until all group members have successfully understood and completed it.
The role the teacher plays during this co-operative structure is very important. While the groups are working, the teacher moves from group to group monitoring the interaction, asking and answering questions, and redirecting attention. This is also a good time to take anecdotal records of individual learners on how they are performing in their group. Once the activity is completed, the teacher evaluates the performance of each learner, and learners evaluate their own contributions as well as those of their group members.
In an informal co-operative group, the teacher might set up groups:
- To focus learner attention
- Have learners get another point of view
- Help to ensure learners are processing the material being taught
ICT can play an integral role in supporting learners as they work co-operatively on projects. Learners can communicate with other learners and connect to experts in the field. For example, while learners are studying poetry from around the world they can connect to published poets through email and websites, get feedback from experts, or share ideas. They then can create group products using multimedia software and share their final project with an e-pal.
By using co-operative learning strategies in the classroom, Johnson and Johnson (1999) found that teachers are providing learners with:
- Positive interdependence
- Face-to-face interaction
- Individual and group accountability
- Interpersonal and small group skills
- Group processing
The positive benefits of cooperative grouping far outweigh any of the negative. Using these strategies will benefit not only learners but teachers by creating a learner-centred environment where people interact and work together successfully.
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