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Department of Education
Cooperative learning refers to a set of instructional strategies which include cooperative student-student interaction over subject matter as an integral part of the process. (Kagan, 1989, p.4:1)
There is a long history of research showing the effects of cooperative learning on developing students’ character competence and social skills (Berkowitz & Bier, 2003). “Whether assessed in isolation or as part of a character education initiative…cooperative learning resulted in better conflict resolution skills, greater cooperation, and higher academic achievement, among other outcomes” (Berkowitz, 2003, p.13). Cooperative learning is an alternative to the competitive-individualistic structures and the recitation-presentation teaching methods commonly used in classrooms. While it is not suggested that cooperative learning be the only teaching method used, it is a powerful approach to facilitate the development and practice of prosocial skills, to develop understanding of diverse perspectives, and to contribute to the process of making the classroom a community of learners. Through cooperative structures, students have the opportunity to work together in pursuit of a common goal which enhances their social, ethical, and cognitive growth. (Vessels, 1998, as cited in Vincent, 1999, p.71)
“Cooperative learning promotes prosocial behavior. Having children learn from one another creates powerful bonds between them and sends a message very different from that sent by a classroom in which each child is on his or her own—or, worse still, one in which the success of each is inversely related to the success of the others….Cooperation is an essentially humanizing experience that predisposes participants to take a benevolent view of others. It allows them to transcend egocentric and objectifying postures and encourages trust, sensitivity, open communication, and prosocial activity” (Kohn 1991, as cited in Vincent, 1999, p.74).
Cooperative learning can be as simple as two students pairing up to discuss a piece of learning. It can also be complex and can include team development activities; cooperative classroom atmosphere through class building activities; special training in social roles and social skills; specialized tasks for teams; and special scoring, recognition, and reward systems structured for individuals, teams, and classes (Kagan, 1989). With some thoughtful modifications, traditional direct instruction lessons can be delivered using cooperative strategies.
Kagan (1989) describes the five key elements which define characteristics of cooperative learning.
Cooperative learning provides the opportunity for students to learn academic skills and care about the feelings and needs of others in their groups. It requires that students assume responsibility for themselves and for the success of the group. Cooperative learning, to be successful, requires that students learn to respect the contributions that others bring to the learning environment” (Vincent 1999, p. 73).
Some of the simplest structures that can be used to facilitate cooperative learning are described below. Some of the structures such as roundtable, jigsaw, and numbered heads have several variations, this chart presents the basic structure.
Useful to encourage time on task and listening to each other. After rehearsing in pairs, more students are likely to respond.
Numbered Heads Together
This strategy is useful to check for understanding, to review, as an antidote to the whole-class question-answer format
A useful content-related team building exercise:
Jigsaw can be used to develop a concept, master content, for discussion and group projects.
Berkowitz, M. W. & Bier, M. C. (2003, draft) Character education literature review.
Berkowitz, M. W., & Bier, M. (in Press). What works in character education: A Research-based guide for practitioners. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership.
Kagan, Spencer (1989) Cooperative learning resources for teachers. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Resources for Teachers.
Kagan, Spencer (1999) Building character through cooperative learning. Port Chester, NY: National Professional Resources, Inc.
Vincent, P. (1999). Developing character in students: a primer for teachers, parents, and communities. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: Character Development Publishing.
L.A. Vezzuto, Ph.D.© 2005 Orange County Department of Education