Appendix 4

Cooperative Learning



Comments: Teachers learn best when they have an opportunity to share with each other and apply concepts through activities before implementing them in the classroom. Cooperative learning is an instructional methodology that promotes both. Further, by employing cooperative learning strategies within the training sessions, facilitator can model techniques that have proven quite effective for students as well.





The Importance of Cooperative Skills
(Part I)

Teachers are not born instinctively knowing how to cooperate with others. Interpersonal and group skills do not magically appear the first time teachers are placed in contact with others. Many teachers lack basic social skills such as correctly identifying the emotions of others and appropriately discussing an assignment.

Since many teachers have never been taught how to work effectively with others, they cannot do so. Thus, the first experience of many facilitators who try structuring "lessons" cooperatively is that their "students" cannot collaborate with each other. Teaching cooperative skills becomes an important prerequisite for concept attainment and application since achievement will improve as teachers become more effective in learning from each other. It is within cooperative situations where there is a task to complete that social skills become most relevant and should ideally be taught. All students need to become skillful in communicating, building and maintaining trust, providing leadership, engaging in fruitful controversy, and managing conflicts (Johnson, 1986, 1987; Johnson & F. Johnson, 1987).

Teaching Cooperative Skills: Assumptions

There are four assumptions underlying teaching cooperative skills. The first is that prior to teaching the skills a cooperative context must be established. The intent of cooperative learning is to create a perception that students "sink or swim together" and, therefore, must be actively involved in maximizing their own learning while at the same time maximizing the learning of group-mates. It is not to "win." When these overall cooperative goals are lacking, interaction among students becomes competitive, hostile, divisive, and destructive. Students who are competing want to "win," not learn the skills to cooperate. It makes little sense furthermore, to teach students how to work more effectively with each other if they are expected to spend the school day working alone without interacting with classmates. Student's awareness of the need for collaborative skills is directly related to their being in cooperative situations. Implementing cooperative learning is vital to increasing students' collaborative competencies.

Second, cooperative skills have to be directly taught. Structuring lessons cooperatively is not enough. Students are not born with the interpersonal and group skills required to collaborate with each other, nor do the skills magically appear when the students need them. Learning how to interact effectively with others is no different form learning how to use a microscope, play a piano, write a complete sentence, or read. The same basic process is required for all skill learning.

Third, while it is the facilitator who structures cooperation within the training session and initially defines the skills required to collaborate, it is the other group members who largely determine whether the skills are learned and internalized. Facilitators should rely on the teacher's peers to cue and monitor the use of the skills, give feedback on how well the skills are being enacted, and reinforce their appropriate use. Peer accountability to learn cooperative skills must always be coupled with peer support for doing so. Peer feedback will occur subtly while the groups are working and directly in formal feedback sessions structured by the facilitator.


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What Skills Need to Be Taught?
(Part 2)

John Dugan, in his 11th-grade English class in Suffern, New York, begins a unit on grammar with teaching students a set of leadership skills. He structures positive interdependence by giving students the assignment of (1) mastering the leadership skills and (2) ensuring that all members of their group master the leadership skills.

The process he uses to teach the skills is as follows. First, he explains the skills. Second, he models the skills by demonstrating them. Third, he asks the class to generate a series of phrases that could be used to engage in the skills, such as "One way we could do this is..." and "Another answer is...." Fourth, he next selects three students to role-play a group session in front of the class in which the leadership skills are used. After the role-play, the whole class discusses each of the skills again. Fifth, students are told to complete the first grammar assignment while using the three leadership skills as frequently as possible. Individual accountability is structured by observing each group to verify that each group member engages in at least two of the three targeted leadership skills. John circulates throughout the room, systematically observing each group recording how frequently each leadership role is engaged in. Groups in which each member engages in at least two of the leadership behaviors receive five bonus points on the first grammar assignment (positive reward interdependence).

There are numerous interpersonal skills that affect the success of collaborative efforts (Johnson, 1986, 1987; Johnson & R. Johnson, 1987). What cooperative skills facilitators emphasize in their classes depends on what teacher groups have and have not mastered. As facilitators observe and monitor teachers working in cooperative learning groups the teachers will notice where students lack important skills. The following list of required behaviors might give facilitators a starting point in examining how skillful their "students" are. There are four levels of cooperative skills:

  1. Forming: The bottom-line skills needed to establish a functioning cooperative learning group.
  2. Functioning: The skills needed to manage the group's activities in completing the task and in maintaining effective working relationships among members.
  3. Formulating: The skills needed to build deeper-level understanding of the material being studied, to stimulate the use of higher quality reasoning strategies, and to maximize mastery and retention of the assigned material.
  4. Fermenting: The skills needed to stimulate re-conceptualization of the material being studied, cognitive conflict, the search for more information, and the communication of the rationale behind one's conclusions.


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How Do You Teach Cooperative Skills?
(Part 3)

Learning cooperative skills is first of all procedural learning, very similar to learning how to play tennis or golf, how to perform brain surgery, or how to fly an airplane. Being skilled in managing conflicts involves more than simply reading material for a recognition-level or even a total-recall level of mastery. It requires learning a procedure that is made up of a series of actions. Procedural learning exists when individuals:

  1. Learn conceptually what the skill is and when it should be appropriately used.
  2. Translate their conceptual understanding into a set of operational procedures (phrases and actions) appropriate for the people they are interacting with.
  3. Actually engage in the skill.
  4. Eliminate errors by moving through the phases of skill mastery.
  5. Attain a routine-use, automated level of mastery.

Procedural learning involves breaking a complex process into its component parts and then systematically learning the process until it becomes automatic. It differs from simply learning facts and acquiring knowledge by relying heavily on feedback about performance and modifying one's implementation until the errors of performance are eliminated. It is a gradual process-- one's efforts to perform the skill will fail to match the ideal of what one wishes to accomplish for a considerable length of time until the new strategy is over-learned at a routine-use, automated level. Failure is part of the process of gaining expertise, and success is inevitable when failure is followed by persistent practice, obtaining feedback, and reflecting on how to perform the skill more competently. Any complex process is best learned if it is proceduralized. The ultimate goal of procedural learning is to have students perform the skill without having to think about it.

Learning a cooperative skill results from a process of:

  1. Engaging in the skill.
  2. Obtaining feedback.
  3. Reflecting on the feedback.
  4. Modifying one's enactment and engaging in the skill again.
  5. Repeating steps 2, 3, and 4 again and again and again until the skill is appropriately used in a more and more automated fashion.

Gaining expertise takes "learning partners" who are willing to trust each other, talk frankly, and observe each other's performance over a prolonged period of time and help each other identify the errors being made in implementing the skill. Unless teachers are willing to reveal lack of expertise to obtain accurate feedback, expertise cannot be gained. In other words, procedural learning, and the master of all skills, requires cooperation.

One of the most important aspects of conducting cooperative learning lessons is identifying the teachers who are having difficulty in arguing effectively because of missing or underdeveloped cooperative skills. The part of the facilitator's role dealing with monitoring highlights the importance of gathering data on teachers as they work and intervening to encourage more appropriate behavior. Facilitators often assume that teachers have the social skills necessary for working cooperatively with others. This is often not the case. The exciting part of teaching teachers to be more effective working with others is that the teachers not only gain a valuable set of skills for life, but have an excellent chance of raising their achievement as well.

There are five major steps in teaching cooperative skills:

  1. Ensuring teachers see the need for the skill.
  2. Ensuring teachers understand what the skill is and when it should be used.
  3. Setting up practice situations and encouraging mastery of the skill.
  4. Ensuring that teachers have the time and the needed procedures for processing (and receiving feedback on) how well they are using the skill.
  5. Ensuring that teachers persevere in practicing the skill until the skill seems a natural action.


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Nothing we learn is more important than the skills required to work cooperatively with other people. Most human interaction is cooperative. Without some skill in cooperating effectively, it is difficult (if not impossible) to maintain a marriage, hold a job, or be part of a community, society, and world. This section discussed a few of the interpersonal and small group skills needed for effective cooperation. For a more thorough and extensive coverage of these skills see Reaching Out (Johnson, 1986), Joining Together (Johnson & F. Johnson, 1987), Human Relations and Your Career (Johnson, 1987), and Learning Together and Alone (Johnson & R. Johnson, 1987).

The following information describes specific strategies for grouping teachers cooperatively and has been adapted from Cooperative Learning by Robert Slavin.


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The Methods/Techniques

Do you remember being on a softball team, up at bat, with your teammates behind you shouting, "Hit it a mile!"? You knew you would do your best because your peers depended on you. The thrill of coming through for the team, of being the star even for a day, is one that few people forget. Being on a team, working for a cooperative goal, can be one of the most exciting experiences in life.

Can this kind of peer support for achievement, the easy acceptance of teammates, and the excitement of teamwork be transferred to the teacher training? A long tradition of research in social psychology has shown that people working for a cooperative goal come to encourage one another to do their best, to help one another do well, and to like and respect one another (Slavin, 1977). But how can team learning be made practical and effective for teacher training?

When facilitators place teachers on learning teams, each student knows that a group of peers supports his or her academic efforts. This is true because team success requires that all members do their best. Think back to the softball game. If you got that hit, your teammates went wild with approval; if you didn't, they consoled you and began encouraging the next batter. Can you remember anything like that happening, in training sessions?

Educational research has demonstrated that heterogeneous teams made up of high and low achievers, males and females, Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics…, can be successfully transplanted from the playing field to the Training environment. Several Team Learning techniques have now been extensively researched and found to significantly increase learning. Some are designed for specific subjects, and some are generic, broadly applicable methods. The latter, which are emphasized here, include Student Teams-Achievement Divisions (STAD), Teams-Games-Tournament (TGT), and Jigsaw.


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Student Teams-Achievement Divisions

In STAD, the simplest of the Team Learning methods, participants are assigned to four- or five-member Learning Teams. Each Team is a microcosm of the entire "class," made up of high-, average-, and low-performing teachers; males and females; and participants of different racial or ethnic background. Each session, the facilitator introduces new material in a lecture or a discussion. Team members then study worksheets on the material. They may work problems one at a time in pairs, take turns quizzing each other, discuss problems as a group, or use whatever means they wish to master the material. The participants also receive worksheet answer sheets making clear to them that their task is to learn the concepts, not simply to fill out the worksheets. Team members are told they have not finished studying until all are sure they understand the material. Following team practice, participants are quizzed on the material they have been studying. Teammates may not help one another on the quizzes; they are on their own. The quizzes are scored in class or soon after; then the teacher forms the individual scores into team scores.

The amount each student contributes to his or her team is determined by the amount the student's quiz scores. An improvement score system gives every student a good chance to contribute maximum points to the team if (and only if) the student does his or her best, showing substantial improvement or completing a perfect quiz. Use of improvement scores has been shown to increase performance even without teams (Slavin, 1980), but it is especially important as a component of Team Learning. Think back to the baseball game, the one problem in that sport is the automatic strikeout, the team member who cannot hit the ball no matter how much he or she practices. In Student Team Learning, no one is an automatic strikeout; and by the same token, no one is guaranteed success because it is improvement that counts.

Student Teams-Achievement Divisions are not difficult to use. Following the steps outlined in this section, facilitators need only assign their participants to teams, allow team members to study together, give regular quizzes, and do 30 to 40 minutes of team scoring after the training session. However, the change in the training is dramatic. Suddenly, teachers begin helping each other learn basic skills instead of resenting those who know the answers and making fun of those who do not. They begin to see the facilitator as a resource person who has valuable information that they need to accomplish something important, more like a coach than a boss. They begin to see learning activities as social instead of isolated, fun instead of boring, under their own control instead of the facilitators. They begin to feel a camaraderie toward their peers that is common on the athletic field but not in the classroom. In the integrated training session, this new sense of camaraderie extends across racial or ethnic barriers to create new friendships less likely to exist in traditional training sessions.


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Teams-Games-Tournament uses the same teams, instructional format, and worksheets as STAD. In TGT, however, teachers play instructional games (e.g. role-playing) to show their individual mastery of the subject matter. Teachers play these games in tournaments in which they compete with members of other teams who are comparable in past performance. The competitions take place at tournament tables of three students. Thus, a high-performing student from the "Fantastic Four" might compete with a high performer from the "Pirates" and a high performer from the "Superstars." Another table might have average-performing students from the Pirates, the Masterminds and the Chiefs, and yet another might have low performers from the Superstars, the Tigers, and the Masterminds. Tournament table assignments change every week according to a system that maintains the equality of the competition. Equal competition makes it possible for students of all levels of past performance to contribute maximum points to their teams if they do their best; in the same way that the improvement score system in STAD makes it possible for everyone to be successful.

TGT uses the same pattern of teaching, team worksheet study, individual assessment, equal opportunities for success, and team recognition as that used in Student Teams-Achievement Divisions, but the use of games instead of quizzes makes TGT even more exciting and motivating than STAD. In fact, Teams-Games-Tournament generates so much excitement that getting teachers to stop can be a problem.


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STAD and TGT were developed at Johns Hopkins University. Jigsaw, however, was originally designed by Elliot Aronson and his colleagues at the University of Texas and then at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In the Jigsaw method, teachers are assigned to six-member teams; material is broken down into five sections. For developing classroom rules, it may be divided into beliefs, expectancies, rewards, consequences, and teaching styles. First, each team member reads his or her unique section. If no participants are absent, two participants share a section. Next, members of different teams who have studied the same sections meet in "expert groups" to discuss their sections. Then participants return to their teams and take turns teaching their teammates about their sections. Since the only way participants can learn about sections other than their own is to listen carefully to their teammates, they are motivated to support and show interest in each other's work.

Jigsaw II is a modification of Jigsaw developed at Johns Hopkins University. In Jigsaw II, participants work in four- to five-member teams, as in Teams-Games-Tournament and Student Teams-Achievement Divisions. Instead of each participant having a unique section, all students read a common narrative, such as a topic. However, each participant receives a section of the topic on which to become an expert. Participants meet in expert groups to discuss them, and return to their teams to teach their teammates what they have learned. Then participants take individual quizzes, which are formed into team scores using the improvement score system of STAD. Jigsaw II is easier to use than original Jigsaw because the teacher need not write separate readings for each topic.


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Team Accelerated Instruction

Team Accelerated Instruction (TAI) is a combination of individualized instruction and team learning designed for use elementary and middle school mathematics classes. In TAI, students work in the same heterogeneous teams as in the Student Team Learning methods (STAD, TGT, and Jigsaw II). However, whereas in Student Team Learning all students study the same materials at the same rate, in TAI students are placed in individualized mathematics materials anywhere from addition to algebra, according to a placement test, and then work at their own levels and rates. Teammates check each other's work against answer sheets, except for final tests, which are scored by student monitors (who change each day). Team scores are based on the average number of units completed each week by the team members and the accuracy of the units; teams that meet a present criterion receive attractive certificates or other rewards. The teams and the monitors manage all the routine checking, assignment, and materials-handling parts of the individualized program, freeing the teacher to work with individuals and homogeneous math groups. Because it is an individualized program, TAI is especially appropriate for use in heterogeneous math classes-such as those containing mainstreamed, low-achieving students and/or gifted students.


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Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition

The newest of the Student Team Learning methods is a comprehensive program for reaching reading and writing in the upper elementary 7 grades (Stevens et al., 1987). In Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC), teachers use basal readers and reading groups, much as in traditional reading programs. However, students are assigned to teams composed of pairs of students from two different reading groups. While the teacher is working with one reading group, students in the other groups are working in their pairs on a series of cognitively engaging activities, including reading to one another; making predictions about how narrative stories will come out; summarizing stories to one another; writing responses to stories; and practicing spelling, decoding, and vocabulary. Students work in teams to master main idea and other comprehension skills. During language arts periods, students engage in writing drafts, revising and editing one another's work, and preparing team or class books for publication.

In Jigsaw II, the initial information input is from textual materials instead of (or in addition to) teacher instruction. Each team member receives an expert topic. After reading, students discuss their topics in expert groups composed or all other students in the class who have the same topic. After the discussion, students report to their teams. Then everyone is quizzed, and improvement points and team scores are computed as in STAD.

Which method should you use? No single instructional method can be used in all subject areas and for all purposes equally well; Student Team Learning is no exception. However, there are different methods based on cooperative, heterogeneous teams for almost all instructional circumstances. Student Teams-Achievement Divisions and Teams-Games-Tournament can be used to teach any material in which questions with one right answer can be posed. This includes most material taught in mathematics, language arts, science, foreign language, and some parts of social studies, such as geography, graph or map skills, and any knowledge-level objectives. Jigsaw II is used most often in social studies, but it can also be applied to literature or parts of science in which students learn from narrative materials. Team Accelerated Instruction is restricted to mathematics in grades two through eight; it is most needed in heterogeneous math classes, where all students should not be taught the same materials at the same rate. Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition is restricted to reading, writing, and language arts instruction in grades two through six. Besides subject matter, there are other reasons teachers may choose one Student Team Learning method over another.

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[ Appendix 4 ]    [ Table of Contents ]

Copyright ©, 2000. Lee R. Clark. All Rights Reserved.
Not for dissemination without permission of Project Director.
Last modified 2001-03-21.