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Chapter 7 – Cooperative Learning

April 13, 2008 by acft · 27 Comments · Marzano

This chapter discusses one of the most popular and one of the most effective classroom instructional strategies: cooperative learning. Like all strategies in this book, it is not always used successfully. Using your own experience and the research and recommendations from this chapter, describe the type of cooperative group work that is likely to lead to enhanced learning for all students. Then describe some reasons that cooperative learning breaks down and actually interferes with students’ learning.

27 Comments so far ↓

  • JHutton

    When addressing IEP objectives, we work in a group. While one student is working, the other students observe and even imitate what that one student is doing. It is a form of modeling, and yet a form of cooperative learning. We are one group of 5 students with a moderator (me) and they are each learning from the others. It has been most effective, and frankly I can’t see any drawbacks in it from my standpoint. While I work with one student, the others not only benefit from watching what we are doing, they are learning to (1) sit in a chair for a certain period of time without getting up, (2) wait their turn, (3) be quiet at appropriate times–all parts of learning to be in school. It is a win-win situation for my SELF students.

  • BShier

    Cooperative learning – one of my personal favorite strategies! I did an action research project for my Master’s in Elem. Ed. back in 1996 on cooperative learning versus whole group instruction in learning to play the recorder and music reading. My own action research in my classroom proved to me that it was a much more effective instructional strategy once the basics were covered and children understood the expectations. I agree with the book’s research on heterogeneous grouping, that has worked well for my students. Someone always emerges as the “teacher” in the group and can tutor a newer or less proficient student. However I attended a workshop just yesterday where the leader told us how she uses ability grouping for her recorder ensembles. I have never done this intentionally, but she had her reasons and I guess it works well for her.
    When students are beginning this group work, we do a lot of modeling of the process and cooperative jobs. I let them pick a partner, and I put partners together so they have sets of 4 (so they get a choice and I get a choice in the grouping). When beginning this group process, it is probably more of a formal grouping, but as the kids get more proficient and understand the expectations, it turns into more of informal grouping (sometimes in partners, most of the time just for that class period). I remember in my research in the mid-90′s reading Johnson and Johnson’s research about the intergroup competition, and use that strategy at times with our recorder groups.
    I use informal grouping often in just about every grade level as students work with each other for just short periods of time to check for understanding, or to give each other feedback. I love listening to the kids as they are working in groups or with partners, listening to their cooperative language as they are teaching and learning from each other. I frequently let the class know the cool things I am hearing from them as they are teaching each other.
    Probably the kinds of groups that lead to enhanced student learning are small in size, using a variety of criteria to form the groups, clear expectations of each person’s responsibility, clear expectations of what is expected in the group’s work or final product, giving the kids some type of choice in their work, including group reflecting on their work as part of the work, and not overusing the groups. Cooperative learning can break down and be detrimental if it is overused, as in Ms. Mandrell’s example on page 91, if the groups are too big, if there are no clear expectations, and if there is no group or individual accountability for the work.
    I will probably always use groups in some form, I have just seen it work so well in many different contexts and I know it is an effective instructional strategy. I appreciated this chapter as I will be more aware of the potential problems as I continue to refine my own pedagogy.

  • sgrosenbach

    Cooperative learning provides some of the most postive input and feedback from the kids. Mixed abililiy grouping provides so many opportunities for kids to learn how to work with a variety of people which is a life skill that is mandatory in any profession they may end up in. i often learn things or am led to deeper meanings of subjects from the insights the kids bring to the table in thier cooperative groups. Plus, the ownership of the product is valid for each member even those who could only contribute a little. They were still part of the learning and sharing.
    As with any strategy of teaching it must be used in a balanced manner with other stategies. Kids get tired of things just like we do and need a variety of measures to learn by.
    One way I enjoy using cooperative learning this year is with the linking to literacy charts in our SS topical books. The kids have a focus and goal to meet and not every group comes up with the same vocabulary or questions to learn from, but every group should come up with the same main ideas. This gives us a sort of check and balance system and frees me up to roam and assist and even contribute some directed teaching where necessary depending on my grouping. This is one strategy that will be around for a long time becasue it is effective and engaging!

  • mmccormick

    This was a very informative chapter. Cooperative learning can be a very effective educational strategy. The suggestions for use of…and types of cooperative learning were explained very well. The important choice for a teacher using cooperative learning is to make sure that it is a real learning experience. The “design a product” exercise is a type of cooperative learning that I have experienced myself in school. That is a major project. I like the idea of using other informal types, too. Many teachers use this every day. It is true that if a peer gives info, it may make a impression and be a positive learning experience.
    One of the negatives of formal cooperative learning is lack of participation by one or more members. It seems as though that was the biggest problem faced by those involed in that particular
    type of assignment.

  • cpavlovich

    When used correctly, cooperative learning can provide a powerful means of learning for young students. This grouping strategy provides students with social interaction and increased motivation for learning. When implementing cooperative groups in kindergarten, it is important for teachers to guide students by taking small, incremental steps until the students have obtained the skills needed to work together successfully. This I begin this process early in the school year, by assigning small groups of students to a task involving manipulatives, and carefully monitoring their interactions with the materials and with each other. After a short period of time, we meet back on the carpet to discuss what went well, and what problems occurred. The students and I use this opportunity to brainstorm ideas and become “problem solvers.” We discuss, model, and role play various solutions until we come up with ways to solve the problems. Eventually, the students are able to work together for longer periods of time to provide a group product. This process is very time consuming. If the teacher rushes the process, cooperative groups can break down and become detrimental to learning.

  • Beverly Ellis

    The type of cooperative learning groups that lead to enhanced learning are the ones that are small in size, consistent and systematic, use a variety of criteria when grouping the students, and are taught in formal and informal ways.
    Cooperative learning breaks down when the groups are too large and when it is overly used. The book also talked about being careful in grouping students by ability. Figure 7.2 showed that ability grouping was better than no group at all. However, figure 7.3 shows that students with low abilities performed worse when they were placed in homogeneous groups of students with low ability, as opposed to students of low ability placed in heterogeneous groups. That was interesting to me because when I group my students for reading, I look at their reading levels and group them according to their levels. The students are grouped this way because research also says that students need to be reading on their instructional level to make strides in their reading. There are certain skills needed to be taught at each level of the reading continuum. Thus, it is important to group these students with other students within the classroom, at a medium ability for paired reading, and put them with higher students for other groups across the curriculum.
    At the same time, I have put a few students in the higher grades in groups that were reading books above their level, but also sent home books for them to read at their independent level so that they would not become frustrated. I have seen success with these students.
    Lastly, I definitely see the importance of keeping the groups small. I like to have time in the group setting with individual students to do running records so that I can monitor and give suggestions to each of my students. When the groups get too large, it is hard for me to give the individual attention I need to my students.

  • dhillhouse

    Kindergartners are very social and love to work together. Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy that is very effective if used correctly and not overused. My students are heterogeneously grouped in fours at each table. They often work on projects together at their table, usually informally, but sometimes formally to ensure more time and structure for specific projects. When they are allowed to, kindergartners will form themselves into informal groups to work together in a variety of situations. This can be a drawback because one of the things we try to teach them to do in kindergarten is to become more independent and to be responsible for their own learning. If they are always in groups, they become too dependent on their friends and sometimes fail to develop confidence in their own individualized abilities. I really liked the author’s suggestion for creating groups based on random criteria such as birthday months, special interests, etc. I think this would really be an effective way to get students to interact in different ways and not just with the friends they are comfortable with. All in all,
    I think cooperative learning is a powerful strategy as long as we don’t overdo it and make sure our students also develop their individual talents and independent thinking.

  • Veronica Bustamante

    Cooperative Learning is a tool that I enjoy using with Pre-kindergarten students. I enjoy watching them learn from each other and modeling after each other. In PK we mainly learn to develop social skills and acquire more language skills. The two concepts can be done thru cooperative learning in a non stress environment. Students are sponges at this age and thru modeling from their peers they learn. Cooperative learning is used in small groups, thru centers with no more than four students. I try to move my students around to were everyone is given the opportunity to be the leader and not the dependent student in which it is the drawback in cooperative learning.

  • Rebecca

    Cooperative learning can be very useful in the classroom if it is done the right way.
    When I taught first and second grade I used this with the students and sometimes it was successful, and sometimes it wasn’t.
    Looking back on one of the reasons that it wasn’t successful was I used larger groups. It caused some problems with being able to manage and monitor such large groups. I would find that some students would get too distracted and not interact with the larger group.
    When I used the smaller groups in the cooperative learning there was more interaction between the students and they worked better and were more in control.
    I thought that it was a positive experience for some of the more shy students to get to interact and let their voice be heard in the smaller group and to not feel so overwhelmed when speaking out in front of the class.

  • Kathy Thomas

    I wanted to chuckle when I read the experience from Ms. Mandrell. She confessed to using cooperative learning too much and stated when she learned something new, she tended to overuse it. I know the feeling.

    In my third grade classroom, I like to change things up as much as possible. If the students have been sitting, we move. If we have been doing a pencil paper task, we do the next lesson completely different. If we have been doing lessons independently, then we switch to group work. Once a day I use cooperative learning. Math is the easiest subject to quickly move through a productive cooperative lesson. Often times we make teams out of the group. I have seen better results with groups of three. I always pick team captains who would have not been picked as a team member. This way, the “discarded” student is not put in the position of being picked last. Sometimes I pick the groups as well. The teams have been “coached” by me all year about the ground rules of being on a team or in a group. I remind them of these rules every time we start a cooperative learning activity.

    I am usually pleased with the results of group learning. I have been the Ms. Mandrell, however, and am guilty of overusing group work. I know to limit this style of learning now.

  • EGowing

    Cooperative learning is a wonderful tool if it is used effectively. In kindergarten I use cooperative grouping a lot in math and literacy centers, however I do try not to overuse it. Like Mrs. Mandrell in this chapter I have also had the experience of children getting frustrated while working in groups. I always try to pair the children heterogeneously and some of the children were getting frustrated because their partner or group could not keep up with them. After reflecting on this experience I have definetly tried to monitor how much I put the children in groups and which way I group them. I always try to mix it up by having all the girls stand up and pick a boy partner or vice versa or all the children wearing red shirts stand up and pick a partner. I have found that giving the students more choice in who their partner is rather than me always picking seems to work the best.

    Overall, I do find cooperative learning to be a very powerful and effective strategy.

  • TBingham

    Cooperative learning is a great tool to use when teaching. In my first grade classroom I use cooperative learning when making my guided reading groups. In these groups the students are paired by their ability level because they need to be reading at an instructional level. In this case it seems that my students learn the best. I also use groups in other subjects and I just pick students at random to be in the groups or on occasion let my students decide who they want in their group. I enjoy using cooperative groups in my classroom and my students enjoy them, but I agree that they can be over used. I’ve found that when I sometimes use groups too often my kids get frustrated with each other and things seem to get a little chaotic, so i try not to use them all the time.

  • vlopez

    Cooperative learning groups offer many advantages in the Dual Language classroom. Heterogeneous language grouping promote the acquisition of the second language. Children gain confidence communicating with their peers. The classroom represents a safe learning environment.

    Because of the multicultural aspect of the Dual Language classroom, cooperative grouping increases socio-cultural awareness. Learning both languages enhances the mind of the children and their vision of the world and opens their minds.

    Cooperative leaning groups facilitates the learning. Students learn scientific vocabulary using cognates. They become aware of the similarities and once they understand these words in their native language, transitions to the second language becomes easily.

    Cooperative learning groups facilitate conversations and understanding of all content area subjects that are taught in both languages.

  • Linda Schimpf

    I have always thought that cooperative groups were beneficial to learning. My goal has been to limit my groups to 3 or 4 students to promote confidence. I call one group: L, M, N, O – this group is primarily ability grouped for subjects such as reading, etc. My second group: W, X, Y, Z – this group is set up for the purpose of making sure that everyone is getting the information in another way. I see to it that a child having lower abilities is placed with peers who are able to help promote understanding. Sometimes it helps to hear the information from a fellow student. (Note: I feel that children are quick to formulate opinions as to others’ abilities with A, B, C, or D titles.) My last group is a randomly-selected group, whose name is given by the group. This group is used for topics that require less academic knowledge, such as: list your three favorite times of day. Each member of each group is assigned a job to do that fits their capabilities and personalities. This way, everyone feels successful. The only time that I could see cooperative groups as being unsuccessful is when they the groups are too large, or when a variety does not exist. I feel that “variety” is the answer.

  • AMagruder

    I use cooperative learning in math as a way to reinforce concepts or to extend learning. I like Linda’s idea of how she names and coordinates the groups. I also agree with her comment about variety. In math, I keep the groups small, but they change with each concept so my goal has always been to change them enough so the students cannot catch on. We also begin to understand as a group that we are not all going to be the best at each concept and I think that is important. I have long-term groups that are for homework and a student earns the right to be part of the group. They must prove that they want to be part of the group by showing their work and trying their personal best.
    I’ve had to limit cooperative learning with TAKS because each student has to learn and understand how to be successful independently therefore I believe a combination of both proves to be successful in my classroom.

  • Alexia

    Cooperative learning has proven to be a tool that provides success for many students. Research has shown findings that students of all ability levels benefit from ability grouping when compared with no grouping at all. However, cooperative groups should be kept rather small in size. It should only be used maybe once a week to be effective.
    Cooperative learning can be misused and is frequently overused in education when the tasks given are not well structured and when students are not given a sufficient amount of time to practice independent skills.
    My experience has been incorporating cooperative learning when introducing a new objective. I like using this strategy in Math and Science. I found that it’s a great way to promote more interaction and reaches students who would not ordinarily volunteer. Having students who speak another lanugage can also provide some imput from them and feel a since of participation.
    Having students that are disruptive can cause cooperative learning to not work. That’s why it is important to use a variety of criteria for grouping students. Therefore, students can be grouped according to interest, birthday month, colors, alphabetically, or even randomly.
    By using these types of grouping can assisst students to maximize there learning experiences.

  • Sally Frye

    In my class I group students heterogeneously in twos and fours for cooperative learning. They sit at tables of four and each one has a job to take care of for a week (pencils, crayons, scissors, glue and markers). I switch up the table settings each six weeks. They also have a partner for literacy centers. I think Diana is right they too many cooperative groups effects their independent learning. The table groups have been the most challenging for them because at this age sharing and thinking about someone elses needs is not high on their list. We talk on a daily basis about taking care of your own business and how that includes making sure your table job is done so you do not let your group down.

  • Carla Gill

    In my first grade class I use cooperative learning in different ways. At the beginning of the year I set up cooperative grouping by ability level in my reading groups. As the year goes by I try to mix lower to medium level cooperative groups with higher level groups to challenge each student. Sometimes this will help the lower and medium ability groups to begin to read more fluently because children learn by example. The higher level ability groups take on the challenge of being peer teachers. I do agree with everyone stating that cooperative learning groups must be kept small. I like to use cooperative learning groups in other subject areas. I try to set these groups up with a mixture of all ability levels working together so that even a student who is shy will be important in the group. I have had cooperative learning groups that worked beautifully together and then I have had some groups that had to be separated immediately because of personality conflicts. I do love to watch the learning that takes place when groups are involved and seeking to learn more about the subject. Cooperative learning is a tool that teachers can use as a way to help prepare our students for their future in the work place.

  • Laura Snyder

    Cooperative learning groups are wonderful when used correctly. I over-used cooperative learning groups right after we had the Kagan training about four years ago, so I understand about Ms. Mandrell’s comment in the book. Fortunately, my students were vocal and informed me that they were tired of working in groups all of the time.

    Cooperative groups have been a blessing. My students have learned so much while working together. Mrs. Hillhouse wrote that kindergarteners are social and like to work together. I think you can make that statement for any grade level. Children generally like to learn from each other.

    If you look at the business world example, there are many cooperative groups in those settings. However, one of the most successful businesses, Google, allows time during the work week for their employees to develop ideas on their own.

    We should be striving to prepare children to be in the real world. Therefore, the use of successful cooperative groups coupled with independent work time would be ideal for a class situation.

  • tcabano

    Cooperative learning has been proven as an effective strategy to use in the classroom. I believe that cooperative learning encourages supportive relationships among students in the classroom. When they each have their own roles or
    jobs in the group, they each must take ownership of the work or project. When they have ownership, they are encouraged to help each other learn and in turn they learn from each other. I also think when cooperative learning is used correctly, you have a higher level of engagement and your students have an active role in the learning process.
    I agree that cooperative learning groups should be small whenever possible. I also agree that students should be grouped in a variety of ways so that they have an opportunity to learn from a variety of other students in the classroom.
    Cooperative learning, as wonderful as it is, needs to be balanced with other classroom strategies. As mentioned in this chapter, it can be overused. I’m sure we have all been guilty of taking something new that we love and using it a bit too much. We just need to remember that we have many other strategies in our teacher’s bag of tricks. We just need to mix things up every once in a while.

  • Sheri Plankey

    Cooperative learning is an effective tool in Pre K. The children work together in centers where the grouping changes daily and at tables where the groups stay the same. Observing and modeling their peers helps reinforce learning. They get the opprtunity to work togethre toward a goal, problem solve, work on socal skills, and on academic skills they are learning in class.

  • Linda Prisoc

    When students are given opportunities to work in cooperative learning groups, it is amazing to watch the growth that happens to each individual. It gives opportunities for a shy student who is reluctant to share in a whole class setting to feel confident enough to participate and share their ideas. It allows that born leader to use those leadership skills, yet also learn that listening to others is necessary as well.

    We have always used small reading groups for instructional purposes. However, reading groups have drastically changed through the years. This year, for example, we have incorporated the Daily 5 concepts and grouping strategies. The students love choosing their reading partner for EEKK reading (Elbow to Elbow, Knee to Knee) and through the process, they have learned to choose a good partner, not just a friend. It has been very successful.

    I enjoy watching the learning that takes place when groups are researching and learning together. It often gives opportunities to positively point out the development of good social skills, caring attitudes, and varying strengths and gifts of individual students. My students know that I am “artistically challenged” and that’s okay because they encourage my efforts anyway. In small cooperative learning groups, however, certain students who are artistically gifted are recognized and given an opportunity to use those skills for their group; so are the students who have beautiful handwriting, the students who love to speak, or the students who love to organize. Cooperative learning is a tool that teaches our students to use their own unique gifts, appreciate the variety of talents in others, and learn the critical skills of working together.

  • MMorales

    Cooperative learning is a highly effective practice for second language learners, especially in the Dual language classroom. This method is essential and offers many advantages for our students such as: exchanging knowledge and ideas, and learning language in a low-anxiety environment.

    Cooperative learning also gives our students the opportunity for constructing their own learning in a fun way where both language groups interact together to use each other as resources. Students are “experts” because they model and help others learn the language.

    I strongly believe that cooperative learning is the best approach for dual language students because of the many advantages it has to offer in which every students is an active participant.

  • Sabrina

    Cooperative learning is awesome and I love that we teach children early on how to work in groups to accomplish a specific goal. Cooperative learning is how so many businesses, including the business of education, are able to continue to be innovative, creative and meet the needs of their customers.

    We utilize cooperative learning groups on our campus often–grade level teams, vertical teams, site-based teams, design teams, etc. It is vital to our students that we continue to work in teams to determine how to best educate our them every day. When our teams meet they have one goal in mind–successul students. Each time a team meets there may be multiple objectives–funding, resources, curriculum, etc.–to reach our goal but everyone has a voice in how we may best obtain the goal set before us.

    Cooperative learning does not work if each person does not put effort into the objective at hand. Groups won’t work if one person wants to “take-over” and not listen to others voices. Cooperative learning works great when each person owns the group objective and knows what their role is within the group and gives their 100% to complete their task. Each task that is completed individually, then meshes with the groups’ objective, and assists with the best and most innovative ideas to move forward.

    I am thrilled with the way our teachers at ACFT work together to continually meet the ever changing needs of our students, their families, and society! That is part of what makes ACFT such an awesome place to work and learn!

  • DGoodwin

    As we prepare students for the future we must not only think about collaborating in the classroom or the teacher next door, but we must train our students to think globally. With communication tools like Skype which is free video conferencing software ( we can communicate with classrooms around the globe. How wonderful would it be to talk about the American Revolutionary War with a classroom in Britain? They might have a different perspective and insight about those rebellious colonies. Think about a current event class in which you could connect with a person serving in Iraq and hear about the war from a person actually there. What a wonderful tool to engage students.

  • Suzanne

    My favorite time is buddy work or group time. That is our cooperative learning time. I put the kids in groups of 2, 3 or4. The kids love working with each other in their groups. They really love to see it when someone who is a struggler in class makes an important contribution to the group. That is a winning situation for everyone!
    I know that some of my kids prefer to work by themselves and don’t get as excited about cooperative learning. I think part of that has to do with the fact that some kids prefer to do things as an individual rather than as a group. I do push them to get out of their comfort zone and do the group activity and it I think that helps them grow as a better worker.

  • Buddy Bill

    Based on the Priniciples Approach I think the three Scholarly Behaviors that we use here at ACFT that could best be integrated would be 1. Listen Respectfully, 2. Ask Many Questions, 3. Excercise their intellect. Integrating these “accademic” behaviors with the rules approach along with the consistency mentioned I believe builds true scholarly classrooms where learning takes place the best.

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