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What is Cooperative Learning? - Definition & Methods

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  • 0:02 Definition of…
  • 0:32 Elements
  • 1:43 Methods
  • 3:18 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Mary Firestone
Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Find out what cooperative learning is and learn about its different elements. Examine how to apply cooperative learning methods in the classroom. After the lesson, you can test your understanding with a quiz.

Definition of Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a teaching method where students of mixed levels of ability are arranged into groups and rewarded according to the group's success, rather than the success of an individual member. Cooperative learning structures have been in and out of favor in American education since the early 1900s, when they were introduced by the American education reformer John Dewey.

Cooperative learning is sometimes thought of simply as 'group work,' but groups of students working together might not be working collaboratively.

Elements of Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning researchers David and Roger Johnson have identified five elements that define cooperative learning:

Face-to-Face Interaction

Students are promoting each others' learning through face-to-face activities where they discuss and explain assignment topics with each other.

Positive Interdependence

Students have the sense that they're 'in this together,' feeling that each member's individual effort will not only help him, but the whole group. The grade of each student is dependent upon the effort of other group members.

Individual Accountability

Each student is accountable for their own contribution to the group. Clearly described goals ensure that each student knows what she is responsible for and what the group is responsible for.

Group Processing

Students are given a means for analyzing their group for how well the group has learned and whether or not collaborative skills are being used.

Collaborative Skills

Students learn not only the subject matter, but interpersonal skills and how to work in teams. Students are taught skills of communication, leadership, and conflict management during the early stages of cooperative learning sessions.

Cooperative Learning Methods

Before collaborative groups are formed, it's important to teach skills of collaboration. During the lesson, a teacher should circulate around the classroom to make sure all students are participating in their individual groups. Shy and introverted students might not find the cooperative process helpful and shouldn't be forced to be in the group. Some techniques for cooperative learning are as follows:

Reciprocal Questioning

This method is used after a teacher has presented a lecture or lesson, and students work in groups of two or three, where they ask and answer each others' questions about the material. Teachers provide prompts or 'stem' questions that help students develop lesson-specific questions, such as: What would happen if...? or What is the meaning of…?

Jigsaw

This is a cooperative learning approach where one member of the group is responsible for teaching something to one other member of the group. Each member is first given a part of the material to learn, and after it's learned, he is the designated expert on that part. When each expert teaches another student, they eventually all learn the whole lesson.

Scripted Cooperation

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Additional Activities

Cooperative Learning

Activity 1:

Cooperative learning involves putting together mixed-ability students in one group for an assignment. Most people have experienced cooperative learning at some point in their educational and academic lives. Write a reflective journal entry on your experience of cooperative learning. First, describe your experience (e.g., I remember doing a group project in 7th grade with four other people on the water cycle in science). Next, describe at least three pros and three cons of your experience. For example, you may feel that it was important to learn how to work with other people cooperatively because that is a good life skill for future work (pro), but you may also feel that there were some members who "coasted" and brought the group down because they did not pull their own weight (con).

Activity 2:

Imagine that you are a specialist in the cooperative learning methods you learned about in this lesson: reciprocal questioning, jigsaw, and scripted cooperation. You have been invited to an elementary school to provide an in-service to the teachers, describing these techniques for group learning. Write two to three paragraphs briefly summarizing the techniques, and detailing what population and under what circumstance each method might be maximally effective. For example, scripted cooperation may be very useful for students who have difficulties paying attention, since it is one-on-one with one student being the summarizer and the other student being the listener.

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