Cooperative learning holds a place near and dear to my heart. I know I spend a lot of time talking all about my love of cooperative structures, but it recently occurred to me I have never written about the basics of what makes cooperative learning what it is. It is not a bunch of cooperative activities you throw at your students. Nor is it group learning or work. However, it is a GREAT way to up student engagement and build classroom community all while getting into content-rich learning.
Cooperative learning strategies are an amazing way to build community within your classroom. Due to the inherent nature of cooperative learning structures, students work with many of their peers to accomplish a common goal. By working with one another, students build relationships and trust spills over into all areas of the classroom. The completion of a common goal also builds positive interdependence amongst students.
Do you ever look at your students and wonder where in the world basic social skills went? Sometimes watching interactions between students makes me want to pull my hair out. This is because they are lacking the basic social skills which come so automatically, or so I thought.
Cooperative learning structures build the social skills right in. Instead of having to give explicit instruction on how to greet another human being each day, students are able to practice greeting one another while staying engaged in the process of learning content. For example, every time students work with a partner during a cooperative learning strategy they greet one another, make eye contact, encourage one another, and thank each other for their thoughts.
Now, of course, this all has to be modeled, but it is done within the scopes of the cooperative learning strategy and becomes automatic for students. Soon you will be thrilled to see your students taking part in these social norms both within and outside of cooperative learning strategies successfully.
The only thing I love more than cooperative learning is hearing my students communicate their thinking. It just so happens they go hand in hand. Throughout the use of cooperative learning strategies, students are able to explain why they think the way they do. Additionally, open yet structured communication give students the opportunity to “talk out” their thinking and develop their skills.
This means when you are completing a math task they are using math language. The same goes for science, reading, or any other subject. I LOVE to hear my students explain their thinking to one another as I travel around the room. Some of my favorite classroom moments are lingering just within earshot of a table group trying to convince the one holdout of a correct answer during the cooperative learning activity showdown. In order to convince them they have to pull out all the stops, and they always impress me.
Through cooperative learning, all parties are held accountable. There is room within each activity for individual and group accountability because each student has their own job.
Individual accountability happens through peer feedback, or by holding one another responsible for completing the task. Collaborative learning allows students to really feel the value of their peers which drives accountability.
If you would like to learn more about using cooperative learning strategies in the classroom check out this post on Cooperative Learning Strategies to Check for Understanding, this one on Cooperative Learning Strategies for Test Prep, or check out our Ultimate Guide to Cooperative Learning Strategies.
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