Cooperative learning is a method of learning that encourages student participation and activity. It results in high levels of satisfaction amongst students with a high degree of retention of the learning content and increased student productivity. In addition, it leads to an improvement in the self-esteem of the individual student as well as in their critical thinking abilities and social behavior (Trempy, 2005).
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Cooperative learning though an effective method of learning needs to be well organized with the students being prepared to handle the responsibilities that come with cooperative learning. First and foremost the students need to know why the cooperative method of learning is being used. This can be done by first engaging the students in a brief cooperative learning activity and then explaining or letting them explain how beneficial it was to them. The students should also be taught appropriate skills of interaction in a group. These examples include contributing ideas, helping other students to learn, participation and encouraging other students to participate, staying on the problem to be solved, bing respectful and listening to others carefully.
Further preparation involves selecting the group members. This is because allowing the students to choose their own group members will lead to students choosing their friends making it impossible to stay on the task. The students should be able to have good working relationships with their fellow class members. This can be done through random assignment of the students to groups with frequent changes so that as many positive working relationships as possible are developed. This means then that the cooperative activities should be done frequently enough so that the student’s positive habits developed from cooperative activities are reinforced.
The teacher should also make the learning goal as clear as possible and measurable. The task given should not just emphasize completion but should also include accountability. This prevents one or a few of the individuals from doing the actual work while others do nothing. Giving a follow-up quiz, individual assignment or class presentation will help the students maintain some commitment to the task and therefor learn as much as possible (Campbell and Campbell, 1999).
The students also need to learn how to coordinate their efforts with others and keeping everybody included in the learning process. This needs to be practiced by starting with short activities done under the eye of the teacher and for which prompt feedback is given until the students have developed automatic cooperative learning skills.
When starting a cooperative learning activity it is important to place emphasis on how powerful positive relationships can be on the achievement of students. Every learning session should therefore start with a period of getting to know the members of the group. Initial successes can be built in by reviewing previous assignments and slowly increasing the complexity of the tasks as the students find greater confidence in their capacity to work together. For the groups to be effective monitoring needs to be conducted so that any misconceptions can be corrected. Reinforcement of effective teamwork skills should also be done at this time the teacher is monitoring as well as assisting the students to understand the task and what is expected of them(Instructional Innovation Network, 2007 ).
Cooperative learning has five elements that distinguish it from regular group work. These elements include positive interdependence which means that members in a team are required to have some reliance on one another to reach a goal. Individual accountability, interaction, group processing and an appropriate utilization of collaboration skills are the other elements which make cooperative learning an effective learning tool. When students can exhibit these skills they are then well prepared for cooperative learning.
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Campbell ED and Campbell DD, 1999, Choosing Democracy, A practical guide to multicultural education, Prentice Hall Publishers.
Instructional Innovation Network, 2007, Fifteen Common Mistakes In Using Cooperative Learning — And What To Do About Them. Web.
Trempy JE, 2005, The Nuts and Bolts of an Inquiry Based Cooperative Learning Environment. Web.