Cooperative learning is the practice of placing students into groups and having them work together to complete assignments. If you ask ten different teachers their opinions about cooperative learning, you will find a wide variety of answers. Some teachers rely on it heavily, while others barely — if ever — use it.
The fact is that effective cooperative learning takes a lot of time on the teacher's part. It is quite easy to get students into groups and have them complete a worksheet together. However, this is not true cooperative learning. Instead, students need to be given roles to fulfill in their group. The information presented must be interesting and challenging at the same time.
Overuse of cooperative learning can lead to boredom and issues between students. Most people have experienced working in a group where one or more members refuse to do anything. Unfortunately, in cooperative learning many teachers have a difficult time differentiating between students within a group.
Instead, they just give the entire group the same grade regardless of whether only one person did the work or all of the students contributed. On the other hand, if teachers do try to differentiate between students, this can lead to hard feelings and further problems.
In the business world, being an effective team member is a necessary skill for advancement. Companies look for people who can effectively work in a cooperative environment. Effective cooperative-learning activities in the classroom can help teach students the important components of teamwork.
Tips and Techniques
So how do you effectively use cooperative learning? As previously stated, you should give each student a role to fulfill in the group. Each role should contribute a art of the overall project. This will help students understand what they should be doing and it helps you divvy out the grades at the end of the lesson.
You should also provide students with a means for presenting their feelings about the efforts of each team member. You might pass out a form that asks each student to rate her own and her team members' work; each student would complete this form privately. If numerous members of a team agree that someone did not participate in the group, this can be combined with your own observations to determine grades.
It is also important to keep cooperative learning groups on task. Divide your cooperative-learning lesson into chunks and tell your students when they should be moving to the next part of the lesson. Also, make sure to circulate through the room and directly observe what each group is doing.