Friday, December 4, 2009

The Magic of Cooperative Learning

When we do group work, we typically ask students that we have placed together to now "work together in pairs, or trios or quads and complete a particular task." We frequently find that in each group, some students work harder than others.

The extra "bounce to the ounce" in cooperative learning is that students work on a common activity and they feel they need each other in order to succeed. They can't hide behind their partners. What do I mean? The group activities are organized in such a way that all students within the group have to positively discuss with one another, all students are held individually accountable, and the students are constantly communicating with one another. Dr. Spencer Kagan calls the activities for every part of how students are to communicate with one another - STRUCTURES. Let's start with the top 4 STRUCTURES that I have found to be very effective.

1. Jigsaw - Groups with five students are set up. Each group member is assigned some unique material to learn and then to teach to his group members. To help in the learning students across the class working on the same sub-section get together to decide what is important and how to teach it. After practice in these "expert" groups the original groups reform and students teach each other. (Wood, p. 17) Tests or assessment follows.

2. Think-Pair-Share - Involves a three step cooperative structure. During the first step individuals think silently about a question posed by the instructor. Individuals pair up during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third step, the pairs share their responses with other pairs, other teams, or the entire group.

3, Numbered Heads Together (Kagan) - A team of four is established. Each member is given numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4. Questions are asked of the group. Groups work together to answer the question so that all can verbally answer the question. Teacher calls out a number (two) and each two is asked to give the answer.

4. Roundtable
---Roundtable structures can be used to brainstorm ideas and to generate a large number of responses to a single question or a group of questions.
---Faculty poses question.
---One piece of paper and pen per group.
---First student writes one response, and says it out loud.
---First student passes paper to the left, second student writes response, etc.
---Continues around group until time elapses.
---Students may say "pass" at any time.
---Group stops when time is called.
---The key here is the question or the problem you've asked the students to consider. It has to be one that has the potential for a number of different "right" answers.
---Relate the question to the course unit, but keep it simple so every student can have some
---Once time is called, determine what you want to have the students do with the lists...they may want to discuss the multitude of answers or solutions or they may want to share the lists with the entire class.

5. The Human Thermometer
A teacher says aloud 10 statements connected to the day's lesson. It is important to poll how the students feel by asking them to physically move to the side of the room that represents their opinion on the topic. Think of it as an anticipation guide. More importantly it will cause students to either AGREE, DISAGREE or be NEUTRAL. Have students stand in the center line in the classroom. As you say the statement students are to move to the side of the room that has the sign AGREE on it or DISAGREE on it. They are given 30 seconds to discuss and then select speakers from within the group to students indicate why they support that viewpoint. The more students are able to provide evidence from notes, or from the text then the higher the points.

To quote a famous detective, Monk, "Now here's the thing." Always explain the task BEFORE students go into groups.
1. Don't assume students know how to work together.
2. Practice going over the directions
3. Teach students how to get into groups, distribute materials, share, and use academic language
4. Define the roles and keep a reminder chart in the classroom.
5. State your expectations about the behavior when students are in groups

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