Benefits of Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement

The classroom often offers a student's first experiences practicing most life skills. Teachers should deliberately create opportunities for students to cooperate with each other, share responsibilities, solve problems, and control conflict.

These opportunities can be found in cooperative learning, which differs from individualistic or traditional learning where students work independently, sometimes even against each other. Cooperative learning activities require students to work together in small groups to complete a project or activity, operating as a team to help each other succeed.

In his book Student Team Learning: A Practical Guide to Cooperative Learning, author and researcher Robert Slavin reviewed 67 studies regarding cooperative learning. He found that, overall, 61% of cooperative-learning classes achieved significantly higher test scores than traditional classes.

Jigsaw Method

One popular example of cooperative learning instruction is the jigsaw method. The steps of this procedure, modified slightly from their original form, are listed below.

  1. Divide a lesson into chunks or segments (totaling approximately the number of students in your class divided by five).
  2. Organize students into groups of five. Assign or have students assign a leader. These are "expert groups".
  3. Assign one lesson segment to each group. Students in expert groups should be studying the same segment.
  4. Decide whether you want them to work together or independently for the next step.
  5. Give expert groups plenty of time to become familiar with their segment, about 10 minutes. They should feel very confident with the material.
  6. Organize students into different groups of five that include a person from each expert group. These are "jigsaw groups".
  7. Provide guidelines for each "expert" to present the information from their lesson segment to the rest of their jigsaw group.
  8. Prepare a graphic organizer for each student to use to record expert information from their jigsaw group.
  9. Students in jigsaw groups are responsible for learning all material from the lesson through their classmates. Use an exit ticket to assess comprehension.

Circulate while students are doing this to ensure that everyone is on task and clear about directions. Monitor their understanding and intervene if you notice students struggling.

Importance of Cooperative Learning

You may be wondering what benefits students derive from cooperative learning. The answer is many! Cooperative learning, of course, teaches a number of social and emotional skills, but it also gives students the opportunity to learn from each other. Studies show that peer learning in which students explain concepts and ideas to each other has the potential to improve comprehension considerably.

In short, cooperative learning produces critical experiences that other learning structures cannot. The following skills that are developed through regular and effective cooperative learning are just a few of many.

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Leadership Skills

In order for a cooperative learning group to succeed, individuals within the group need to show leadership abilities. Without this, the group cannot move forward without a teacher.

Leadership skills that can be taught and practiced through cooperative learning include:

  • Delegating
  • Organizing work
  • Supporting others
  • Ensuring that goals are being met

Natural leaders become quickly evident in small groups, but most students will not feel naturally inclined to lead. Assign leadership roles of varying prominence to every member of a group to help all individuals practice leading.

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Teamwork Skills

Studying in class together
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Students who work together as a team share a common goal: a successful project. This can only be achieved through the combined efforts of the whole group. The ability to work as a team towards a common goal is an invaluable quality to have in the real world, especially for careers.

All cooperative learning activities help students practice working in teams. As Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, says, "Teams should be able to act with the same unity of purpose and focus as a well-motivated individual." Teamwork-building exercises teach students to trust each other in order to achieve more together than would otherwise be possible.

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Communication Skills

Effective teamwork requires good communication and commitment. All members of a cooperative learning group have to learn to speak productively with one another to stay on track.

These skills should be taught and modeled by a teacher before being practiced by students, as they do not always come naturally. By teaching students to share confidently, listen intently, and speak clearly, they learn to value the input of their teammates and the quality of their work soars.

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Conflict Management Skills

Conflicts are bound to arise in any group setting. Sometimes these are minor and easily handled, other times they can rip a team apart if improperly managed. Give students space to try and work out their issues for themselves before stepping in.

With that said, always monitor your class during cooperative learning. Students quickly learn to come to resolutions on their own but sometimes excessive friction gets the best of them before they can do that. Teach students how to work things out with each other when disagreements present themselves.

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Decision-Making Skills

There are many decisions to be made in a cooperative environment. Encourage students to think as a team to make joint decisions by first having them come up with a team name. From there, have them decide who will complete what tasks.

Make sure that each student has their own responsibilities in cooperative learning groups. Much like leadership skills, decision-making skills cannot be developed if students are not regularly practicing them.

Often, leaders of the group are also the ones that make most of the decisions. If needed, have students record the decisions that they propose to their group and limit the number that one student may make.

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