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As these comments imply, cooperative learning does not happen automatically, and requires monitoring and support by the teacher. Some activities may not lend themselves to cooperative work, particularly if every member of the group is doing essentially the same task. Giving everyone in a group the same set of arithmetic problems to work on collaboratively, for example, is a formula for cooperative failure: either the most skilled students do the work for others (freeloading) or else members simply divide up the problems among themselves in order to reduce their overall work (overspecialization). A better choice for a cooperative task is one that clearly requires a diversity of skills, what some educators call a rich group work task (Cohen, Brody,&Sapon-Shevin, 2004). Preparing a presentation about medieval castles, for example, might require (a) writing skill to create a report, (b) dramatic skill to put on a skit and (c) artistic talent to create a poster. Although a few students may have all of these skills, more are likely to have only one, and they are therefore likely to need and want their fellow group members’ participation.
Although this description may make the requirements for cooperative learning sound somewhat precise, there are actually a variety of ways to implement it in practice. Error: Reference source not found summarizes several of them. As you can see, the strategies vary in the number of how many students they involve, the prior organization or planning provided by the teacher, and the amount of class time they normally require.
Strategy | Type of groups involved: | What the teacher does: | What the students do: |
Think-pair-share (Lyman, 1981) | Pairs of students, sometimes linked to one other pair | Teacher poses initial problem or question. | First, students think individually of the answer; second, they share their thinking with partner; third, the partnership shares their thinking with another partnership. |
Jigsaw classroom, version #1 (Aronson, et al., 2001) | 5-6 students per group, and 5-6 groups overall | Teacher assigns students to groups and assigns one aspect of a complex problem to each group. | Students in each group work together to become experts in their particular aspect of the problem; later the expert groups disband, and form new groups containing one student from each of the former expert groups. |
Jigsaw classroom, version #2 (Slavin, 1994) | 4-5 students per group, and 4-5 groups overall | Teacher assigns students to groups and assigns each group to study or learn about the same entire complex problem. | Students initially work in groups to learn about the entire problem; later the groups disband and reform as expert groups, with each group focusing on a selected aspect of the general problem; still later the expert groups disband and the original general groups reform to learn what the expert students can now add to their general understanding. |
STAD (Student-Teams-Achievement Divisions) (Slavin, 1994) | 4-5 students per team (or group) | Teacher presents a lesson or unit to the entire class, and later tests them on it; grades individuals based partly on individuals’ and the team’s improvement, not just on absolute level of performance. | Students work together to insure that team mates improve their performance as much as possible. Students take tests as individuals. |
Project-Based Learning (Katz, 2000) | Various numbers of students, depending on the complexity of the project, up to and including the entire class | Teacher or students pose a question or problem of interest to other students; teacher assists students to clarify their interests and to make plans to investigate the question further. | Students work together for extended periods to investigate the original question or problem; project leads eventually to a presentation, written report, or other product. |
Looking broadly at this chapter, you can see that choices among instructional strategies are numerous indeed, and that deciding among them depends on the forms of thinking that you want to encourage, the extent to which ideas or skills need to be organized by you to be understood by students, and the extent to which students need to take responsibility for directing their own learning. Although you may have personal preferences among possible instructional strategies, the choice will also be guided by the uniqueness of each situation of teaching—with its particular students, grade-level, content, and purposes. If you need to develop students’ problem solving skills, for example, there are strategies that are especially well suited for this purpose; we described some. If you need to organize complex information so that students do not become confused by it, there are effective ways of doing so. If you want the students to take as much initiative as possible in organizing their own learning, this too can be done.
Yet having this knowledge is still not enough to teach well. What is still needed are ideas or principles for deciding what to teach. In this chapter we have still not addressed an obvious question: How do I find or devise goals for my teaching and for my students’ learning? And assuming that I can determine the goals, where can I find resources that help students to meet them?
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