Let’s cooperate

20 Mar

Over the years ample research has confirmed that establishing a classroom environment that supports cooperative learning supports expanded learning. Cooperative learning is even mentioned in the Put Reading First Report released by the National Reading Panel as being a “proven strategy” in comprehension instruction. However, if you have ever  tried to just leap into the use of cooperative learning, you may have discovered a few snags along the way. One surefire way to reduce the number of snags you’ll encounter in teaching students how to work cooperatively is to initially lay a firm foundation in what it means to work cooperatively. In the research done by Bob Slavin he cites 5 standards for cooperative learning. By front loading instruction and spending time teaching what each of the standards look like, sound like, and even how they can make a classroom feel, teachers will reduce many potential problems.

Here are the standards:

1. Everyone participates. When you put students together into a group they need to understand that the work of the group isn’t just designated to the “eager beaver” or the “brain”.  The work of the group is everyone’s work.

2. Help and encourage each other. Students (particularly younger students) will need help coming up with verbal prompts to encourage each other. Teachers and students can co-create charts of helpful language, with questions such as, “What do you think? Do you agree? Is this what you were saying?, etc.” Students may also need help understanding how to respond to encouragement from each other and receive help.

3. Complete tasks. It is important for students to understand that the work of the group is not optional. Students need to know that the work of the group is important and that there is a system of accountability in place.

4.  Listen actively. Perhaps more than any of the other standards, this one will need ample time and review. Brainstorm with students what they would be doing if they were actively listening. What would they see in a classroom of students who were actively listening? What would they hear? How does it make us feel when someone actively listens to us (or when they don’t?). Engagement will improve if a classroom has a clear idea of what active listening is.

5. Share your ideas and tell why.  Setting a standard that establishes that everyone will talk and explain their thinking ensures that everyone will participate. Moreover, it  values the contribution of each and every group member. By requiring students to explain their thinking, they will have the opportunity to verbally clarify what they are thinking.

Teaching students the standards for cooperative learning will demonstrate the value that you place on cooperative learning and will smooth the way for continued learning.

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