Implementation of Cooperative Learning
There are three phases of the implementation of cooperative learning.
- The first phase is the pre-implementation phase, which includes: specifying instructional objectives, determining group sizes and assigning students to groups, arranging room, planning instructional materials to promote interdependence, assigning group roles, assigning tasks, explaining the criteria for success, structuring positive interdependence and accountability, and specifying desired behaviors.
- The second phase is implementation which includes: monitoring behavior, intervening if needed, assisting with needs, and praise.
- The third phase is post-implementation which includes: providing closure through summarization, evaluating students’ learning, and reflecting on what happened.
After deciding to implement cooperative learning, the biggest challenge will be planning and readying the classroom and students for CL. According to Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991), there are several tasks that an instructor must accomplish before implementing cooperative learning in the classroom. This section will detail those responsibilities.
Specify Instructional Objectives (academic and social) of CL– The instructor must explain why she is using CL, describe its benefits, and the results typically found from using CL. To aid in this explanation, the instructor might produce and distribute a handout that describes collaborative learning.
Determine Group Size and Assign Students to Groups– Group size can range from two to four students, depending on the CL task. These groups can be homogeneous or heterogeneous. Groups can be formed by putting students together who share common strengths, interests, etc, or they can be randomly assigned. Once the groups are assigned, though, they should not be changed too often; students need time to develop a cohesive group and work together for a while before moving to a different group.
Arrange room– Instructors should optimize the space in their classroom so that students/groups can interact and move about the room easily. It is essential that a group’s seats face one another. Further, research tools should be made easily available either in the classroom or in another room near the classroom (see, Resource-based Learning chapter for a more detailed discussion of this).
Plan instructional materials to promote interdependence– The instructional methods and materials that an instructor chooses must allow each individual to contribute to the group’s success in a unique and meaningful way. Without these unique contributions, a group’s structure and cohesion will be put in jeopardy.
Assign group roles– There is some debate about whether or not the instructor should play a role in this decision. Whether or not an instructor chooses to assign roles within a group, they should make sure there is a distinct role for each student. Also, the instructor should choose or assist the students in choosing roles that use their strengths and improve their areas of weakness. Instructors should also oversee that students don’t choose the same role over and over again. Some of the roles that could be chosen or assigned include facilitator, timekeeper, recorder, checker (for understanding), summarizer, elaborator (on prior knowledge or discussion points), research-runner (gets materials), and wild card (does anything else that needs to be done).
Assign task– When picking an assessment task (product to be produced), the instructor should choose one standard to address and match it to the learning approach. The cooperative learning group’s task should be interesting, challenging, and motivating. It should also be a performance driven and authentic task. The instructor should clearly explain procedures for the task, provide structure (especially useful for inexperienced CL students), and set a specific time frame for each part and the whole task. Finally, the instructor should question the students to check for understanding of the task and its procedures.
Explain Criteria for Success– The instructor should communicate the group-work skills that will be evaluated. A rubric should also be created, possibly with the students’ assistance, which will be used to evaluate the group-work skills as well as the assessment task.
Structure positive interdependence and accountability– Group size should be kept small so that each member participates and contributes uniquely to the group. Instructors should also “test” groups and individuals by asking questions of both. A group should be asked to collectively explain its results and individuals should be able to defend their own position as well as the group’s as a whole.
Specify desired behaviors– An essential part of cooperative learning’s success is teaching students how to work in a group. To accomplish this, the instructor can conduct mini-lessons on ways to respect others (i.e. praise, taking turns, and shared decision making). Students also need to be trained in conflict-resolution. Finally, it would be wise to use icebreaker activities before beginning so that students find that they have something in common.
Before the actual implementation of cooperative learning, students also have several tasks. First, they can help the instructor generate an evaluation rubric, and they could possibly help design the assessment task if the instructor is willing to let the students participate in this capacity. By playing a part in the production of these items, students will have a greater motivation to participate in the group work (see Six C’s of Motivation chapter about choice and control as methods to increase motivation).
Finally, the students’ most important role at this point in CL is to question the instructor if anything is unclear to them. Without students’ complete understanding of the goals, objectives, and procedures, cooperative learning will not be a success.
As illustrated in the scenario at the beginning of the chapter, the students in Mrs. Solomon’s classroom are very diverse and appear not to get along. Before implementing CL, it will be vitally important that Mrs. Solomon spend some time teaching respect, conflict-resolution, and other group work skills. It is probably a good idea to use some icebreaker activities so that the students learn that they have some commonalities with other class members.
In addition, because of the tension among them, Mrs. Solomon will want to assign students to cooperative learning groups; she may even want to assign each individual their role. As Mrs. Solomon designs and assigns the task to the students, it will be imperative that she chooses a structured, authentic assignment. This will assist the students in remaining on-task, and it will help with transferring their knowledge to real-world applications.
After all the preparations, it is time to begin working. During the implementation phase of cooperative learning, the students play the most important role. Some of their tasks at this stage include:
- Working together
- Listening to one another
- Questioning one another
- Keeping records of their work and progress
- Producing the assessment task (product)
- Assuming personal responsibility/ being involved in the group
The instructor also has responsibilities during this stage as well. Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991) list several roles that an instructor has during the implementation of cooperative learning.
Monitor behavior– During the implementation of cooperative learning, the instructor should circulate throughout the classroom, visiting each group.
Intervene if needed– While circulating, if the instructor notices any group conflict or off-task behavior, she should intervene. Small-group conflict should be resolved as soon as possible, and students should be shown how to prevent problems in the future. The instructor might use a conflict resolution checklist to resolve the group’s conflict. This checklist includes items such as explaining the importance of listening to everyone in the group, defining responsibilities, valuing each person’s gifts, modeling excellence, and promoting humor. Having these listed on a handout for each group could prevent group discord and off-task behavior.
Assist with needs– While monitoring the groups’ work, the instructor should assist groups with their needs. This might involve pointing out additional resources and/or points-of-view, and it also includes helping the students reflect on the work they have completed and their progress.
Praise– Students need to know if they are completing the assignment in a satisfactory manner, especially if they are inexperienced at working in cooperative groups. For this reason, the instructor should let individual students and groups know when they do something right or well.
As the class begins to work on their CL assignment, Mrs. Solomon will need to circulate around the room. It is likely, especially at the beginning of implementation, that her class will still have difficulty focusing on the task and getting along with one another. By moving around the class while the students are working, she will be able to assist any group that is facing these problems, and she can help them resolve the issues. At the same time, Mrs. Solomon must remember to praise the students and teams who are making an effort to cooperate and who are progressing nicely with the group assignment.
After many hours are spent planning for cooperative learning groups, the plan is then put into action. Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991) give three jobs for the instructor to complete after the students have worked together to complete and submit the task.
Provide closure through summarization– The instructor should reconvene the entire group of students. At this point, the instructor can summarize the important points of the lesson/unit. Another suggestion is to have each group summarize their work and points that they think were important. This helps the instructor to know exactly in which knowledge level the groups are working. This is also very much in line with the idea of articulation and reflection in the Cognitive Apprenticeships chapter.
Evaluate students’ learning– The instructor should use a rubric to grade/ evaluate each group’s assessment task. They should also be evaluated on their group work using a rubric. These rubrics should have been created during the pre-implementation phase of cooperative learning, and the students might have had input into their content. After the instructor has completed the evaluations, it is important that they provide feedback to the students about their product and their group performance. Without this information, the students will not be able to improve their cooperative learning skills.
Reflect on what happened– Instructors should keep a record of what worked and why it worked each time they undertake a CL lesson or unit. This information can and should be shared with their cooperative learning support group. The instructor should also adjust their lessons based on the reflection and feedback of the students. This will prevent the stagnation of a CL unit; it will grow and change with each group of students.
After completing the group work and assessment task, the student’s job is to reflect on the work that was accomplished in their group. What worked and what did not work? What would they change or keep next time they work together? The students should also give feedback to their instructor. They should be able to tell the instructor what worked or what was good about this unit, and they should point out what did not work well. This information can be written down or informally discussed in class.
At the conclusion of Mrs. Solomon’s first cooperative learning lesson, it will be important for her to get feedback from the students about how they thought the lesson went. In turn, she will also have to provide feedback to the students about their group work skills and their assignment. This may involve teaching or re-teaching group work skills and/or adjusting the procedures for the next cooperative learning lesson.