This week, I chose to focus on cooperative learning rather than effort and recognition because, while I can always work on improving how I communicate the expectations of hard work with my students and increase the amount of specific, tailored recognition, I cannot think of a situation in which my group work has met the criteria for cooperative learning. When it comes to cooperative grouping in my classroom, I do not believe I take the time necessary to look ahead and plan larger-scale group work. While I often employ the use of think-pair-share or buddy work, the cooperative work that goes on in my classroom so far does not fit the criteria set forth by Dean et al (2012) as something that constitutes cooperative learning. The authors say that the key components of cooperative learning were that there is positive interdependence, or that success can be obtained by all members of the group, and individual accountability, or students are each held accountable for their learning and receive feedback on their efforts in relation to the overall goal. These criteria are much less specific than those set by Johnson and Johnson (1999, as cited in Dean et al, 2012), which are five requirements that must be met by productive group work.
My previous classroom practice, though limited in its scope as it was a student teaching experience, did not include group activity that was structured enough to be considered cooperative learning. While buddy reading allowed both students time to read and help the other tackle difficult content-based words, there was hardly ever enough follow-up to consider the reflective piece to be “accountability” for their learning. I would consider myself, on a standards-based grading scale of 1 (Unsatisfactory) to 4 (Distinguished), to be at a 2 – Basic: I would like to do more cooperative grouping, and have in essence done pseudo-cooperative learning, but have yet to become proficient in the follow-up piece that allows students to know they are held accountable for their work.
The videos in class this week showed three cooperative learning activities, Silent Card Shuffle, Jigsaw, and Numbered Heads Together, two of which were new to me. I had done jigsaw-style lessons before, but not in the same manner they had in the video. In class, we would have students work in groups on one aspect of a lesson, then present what they learned with the class. The video showed a different strategy – each student was in two groups: their “home group” and their “expert group”. This small grouping made it easier for students to be responsible for others’ learning. Pitler and Stone find small group size to be important, stating that if there were larger groups, “it would be possible for some students to fade into the background and not be a part of the positive interdependence” (2012, p. 80). This echoes what Dean et al say when they state “members of larger groups tend to feel that their individual contributions will go unnoticed” (2012, p. 41). Doing the jigsaw activity as part of two smaller groups will help ensure that each student has a definitive role (the “expert” of their home group) and that their contribution will play a major role in their peers’ learning. I would like to try the other two activities that I had not tried before, but in the primary classroom I can imagine students will need much in the way of guidance for the first few times – this could be a great use of parent volunteers to help keep students on track.
Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Pitler, H. & Stone, B. (2012). A handbook for classroom instruction that works: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.