Thursday, January 19, 2012

Factors to consider when implementing a cooperative lesson

Johnson, D. et al. (1994) provides some guidelines about how to plan and implement an effective cooperative lesson as follows:
The basic rule is “the smaller the better”. Typically groups range from three to four students. Larger groups need more resources for the group work but also more skills required by pupils.
Heterogeneous groups in which there is more discussion, justification and clarification is considered more enriching for pupils than a homogeneous group where there may be consensus right from the start without any adequate discussion.

Members should be seated close enough and in such a way that materials can be shared, eye contact can be maintained that allows everyone to participate and talks can be quiet enough so as not to disrupt other groups.
This is determined by the type of task students must complete. Materials should as far as possible be distributed in such a way as to send a clear signal to students that they are in “sink or swim together situation” and so everyone should participate.
Clear instructions need to be provided to pupils about the objectives of the lesson and about the materials (books, concepts, past topics and experiences) to be used or referred to. This will give a proper direction to pupils so they do not waste time on unnecessary tasks.
Students need to know what level of performance is expected of them. It is recommended to use criterion reference for cooperative learning and inform students in advance about the grades. In addition, it is also recommended to brief pupils on the desirable set of behaviours that is expected from them during the class for effective learning to take place.
It is important for the teacher to closely monitor how well pupils are behaving and groups are functioning. This will allow the teacher to provide feedback and support where needed. Monitoring also ensure all pupils are participating and discussions are in the right direction. Also, this will allow the teacher to make proper decisions if he finds something that he planned is not working.

Methods of Cooperative Learning

There is a large variety of methods that can be used for a cooperative learning lesson. This large variety of methods has no doubt contributed a lot to the popularity of cooperative learning.

the widespread use of cooperative learning is the variety of cooperative learning methods available for teacher use, ranging from very concrete and prescribed to very conceptual and flexible ….  Almost any teacher can find a way to use cooperative learning that is congruent with his or her philosophies and practices.

(Johnson, D., et al., 2000)

Below is a list of some cooperative learning activities that can be carried out in a classroom.

Jigsaw: All groups receive the same unique task which is divided into small units. These units are distributed among group members in each group for personal study. Pupils from each group having the same unit join together to learn as a group and become experts. They, then, go back to their respective groups to teach other group members.

Think-Pair-Share: Students are invited to ponder personally over a question asked by the teacher. Then, they are invited to pair with another student to share their answer. After that, the pair of students is asked to share their answer with the whole class. This strategy encourages responses from the pupils.

Group Investigation: The work of the group is divided into different units and each group member takes a unit for personal study. All units worked are then put together to form the group’s work.

Numbered Heads Together: In groups of 4, each member is given a number from 1 to 4. When the teacher sets the question, all members work together but the only one who will answer for the group will be the one whose number the teacher calls at the end. This strategy promotes random individual accountability.

Team Pair Solo: Students are allowed to tackle a problem in a team. Then they move on to work as a pair after which they are required to work individually.  This follows what Vygotsky said: What children can do together today, they can do alone tomorrow (Johnson, D. et al., 1994).

Three Step Interview: This is done in three steps where each member of a team is paired up with another member. In step one, one member interviews his partner. The role is reversed in step two. In the last step, each member shares his partner’s response to the team.

Round Robin Brainstorming: Each team consist of 4 to 6 members with one of them being the recorder. The teacher puts the question and allows the students time to think. Then he allows them time to share their answer with their team. Each member, starting by the one next to the recorder, gives his answer in order. Meanwhile, the recorder records each one’s answer. This goes on in order until time ends.

Three minute review: Teacher stops lecture anytime for three minutes and asks a team to summarise what has been taught or puts a question.

Circle the sage: The teacher puts a difficult question about a topic. Through responses from pupils, the teacher identifies those pupils who have good knowledge of the topic, each of whom become a sage. Each sage is then surrounded by a group of pupils and explains what he knows to them. The pupils then go back to their respective team to discuss and compare what they have learnt since they have each been to a different sage. In case there is disagreement, they stand up as a team to resolve it.

Partners: Pupils pair up together as partners to work on a presentation. Then they share their work with the team.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Types of Cooperative Learning

There exist four main types of cooperative learning, namely formal cooperative learning, informal cooperative learning, cooperative base groups and cooperative learning scripts (Johnson, D. et al. 1993).

1. Formal cooperative learning

Students work continuously for one class or for a series of classes in order to achieve common goals or complete a group assignment. Formal cooperative learning is teacher controlled. The teacher:

·         States the objectives of the lesson

·         Makes pre-instructional decisions

·         Explains the task and the positive interdependence

·         Monitors learning and provides assistance

·         Evaluates and provides feedback to pupils about the functioning of the group.

2. Informal cooperative learning

This type of cooperative learning does not last for long. It is usually undertaken in between lectures, demonstrations or projections. Given informal cooperative learning is short term, it is not as structured as a formal one. It can simply be among pupils sitting next to each other or in front or behind. It is useful especially to split lectures  and allow time for pupils to discuss, explain and check understanding of lessons being taught among themselves.

3. Cooperative base groups

These are permanent groups that can last up to a full academic year or even more. The groups are heterogeneous and stable. The purpose is to enable students to have permanent commitment towards each other with respect to mutual support, help, encouragement and assistance so far as learning is concerned.

According to Johnson, D. et al. (1993), the use of base groups tends to improve attendance, personalise the work required and improve both quality and quantity of learning.

4. Cooperative learning scripts

This type of cooperative learning involves the use of standard procedures which result in repetitive actions in lessons and classroom management. Once planned and conducted several times, cooperative learning scripts become automatic activities that pupils will do with respect to specific tasks given.


Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Johnson Holubec, E., 1993. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom. Minnesota: Interaction Book Co.

Other materials on Cooperative learning:

Essential Components of Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning is a type of group work. However, it does not only imply putting pupils into groups. For example:

o   Talking in groups while working individually the assignment is not cooperative learning.

o   Working in group while alienating one member is not cooperative learning.

o   Leaving the tasks to only one or few members of the group is not cooperative learning.

Educators sometimes fail to carry out a proper group work using cooperative learning because some essential components were missing.

 Johnson, D. et al. (1994) explain five essential components of cooperative learning as follows:

Essential Components of Cooperative Learning

(Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Johnson Holubec, E., 1994. p. 26)

1 Positive interdependence

This is the first essential component of cooperative learning. Students need to be aware of the responsibility of learning and ensuring that other group members learn the assigned material. They need to be conscious that their success depends on the success of the others and vice versa. As Johnson, D. et al. (1994) rightly pointed out, it is a “we sink or swim together” situation.

Johnson, D. et al. (1994) mention four ways in which positive interdependence can be established within a group:

i.        Positive goal interdependence: The teacher structures a clear group goal in his lesson which makes students feel they will achieve their learning goal only when all group members attain their goals.

ii.      Positive reward/ celebration interdependence: The same reward is given to each group member when the group goal is achieved. Alternately, when assessments on the lesson are done individually, all members of a particular group may be awarded bonus marks if all members of the group attain a predetermined score, for example at least 80%.

iii.    Positive resource interdependence: The teacher may distribute the resources necessary for a particular assignment in such a way that it is necessary for members to pool the resources together to be able to work. For example only one copy of the assignment task given to the group or giving the reading material to one member and the writing material to another.

iv.    Positive role interdependence: Each member is assigned complementary and interconnected roles. Such roles may be as reader, recorder, editor, checker of understanding or even group coordinator.

2 Face to face promotive interaction

As positive interdependence is established, it brings a second essential component of cooperative learning: promotive interaction. This refers to students helping each other to succeed thus fostering a caring and committed relationship towards others. They may even go beyond helping and where the need arises encourage and accompany other members towards success.

According to Johnson, D. et al. (1994), face to face promotive interaction results in individuals:

·         Providing efficient and effective help and assistance to each other

·         Exchanging needed resources such as information and materials

·         Processing information efficiently and effectively

·         Providing feedback to subsequently improve performance

·         Challenging each other’s conclusion to promote higher quality decision making

·         Encouraging each other to achieve mutual goals

·         Acting in trustworthy ways

·         Striving for mutual benefit

·         Supplying a moderate level of arousal with low levels of anxiety and stress.

3 Individual accountability/ Personal responsibility

The purpose of cooperative learning is to enhance the learning both for the group and for the individual. This purpose is achieved when each member, as an individual, does his fair share of the work. Therefore, it is essential to assess not only the group but also the individual and his personal contribution to learning both for the group and for himself.

According to Johnson, D. et al. (1994), common ways to structure individual accountability include:

·         Keeping the size of the group small for greater individual accountability

·         Give individual assessment to pupils after having learnt in group

·         Randomly calling a student to present the group’s work orally

·         Observe and record frequency with which each members contributes to the group’s work

4 Interpersonal and group skills

Cooperative learning requires students to interact with each other. However, they might not know instinctively how to interact with each other correctly. Johnson and Johnson (1991), as quoted by Johnson, D. et al. (1994), rightly stated that teachers  giving more importance to teaching and rewarding the use of social skills leads to higher achievement in cooperative learning.

Use of social skills can easily be assessed while assessing individual accountability. Simple rewards may be in the form of bonus marks when for example all members of the group use at least 4 of 6 social skills that the teacher taught.

Johnson, D. et al. (1994) listed the following social skills that are essentials for cooperative learning to be efficient:

·         Students must get to know and trust each other

·         Students must communicate accurately and unambiguously

·         Students must accept and support each other

·         Conflicts to be resolved constructively

5 Group processing

It is important for teachers to allocate some time for groups to have a reflection on how well they have functioned. This will allow pupils to assess each other’s  actions in the groups and make decisions about whether to maintain current working relationships which are effective or to change certain behaviours to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the group in achieving its goal. This reflection also allows members to:

·         Assess the participation of the other members in the group’s work

·         Receive feedback on their own participation

·         Maintain their involvement in the reflection process

·         Communicate clear expectations about the group work


Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Johnson Holubec, E., 1994. The new Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom and School. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Other materials on Cooperative learning:

 Cooperative Learning: A Learner-Centred Teaching Strategy

Cooperative Learning: A Learner-Centred Teaching Strategy

Cooperative learning is a strategy that interests more and more people. As proof, Barry, K. and King, L. (2002) state that several reviews of research on cooperative learning has appeared in recent years and give as examples Davidson (1990), Good and Brophy (1997), Good, Mulryan and McCaslin (1992) Slavin (1991), Johnson and Johnson (1994) and Mulryan (1989).

The use of cooperative learning dates back before the start of the 1st century itself. Johnson, D. and Johnson, F. (2009) mention the Talmud (a collection of Judaism’s holy books) which states that in order to learn, one must have a learning partner. Roman philosopher Seneca advocated cooperating learning through such statement as: Qui docet discet, which means when you teach, you learn twice.

Cooperative learning refers to a teaching strategy in which small heterogeneous groups of pupils share the responsibility of learning and teaching each other to achieve a common goal.

In cooperative learning, students are put into small groups and after instructions have been given to them by the teacher, they work through the assignment until all group members successfully understand and complete it.

In cooperative learning, students perceive that they can only reach their learning objectives if and only if other students in the learning group achieve their learning goals. There is an interdependence among pupils of the same group. It is a “your success benefits me and my success benefits you” situation (Johnson, D. et al., 1993).
List of References:
1.      Barry, K. and King, L., 2002. Beginning Teaching and Beyond. 3rd ed. Australia: Social Science Press.
2.      Johnson, D. and Johnson, F., 2009. Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills. 10th ed. New Jersey: Pearson.
3.      Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Johnson Holubec, E., 1993. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom. Minnesota: Interaction Book Co.

Other materials on Cooperative learning:

Essential Components of Cooperative learning
Types of Cooperative Learning