Are you a cooperative learning skeptic? Have you heard about cooperative learning strategies but just think that they are too good to be true? I mean seriously, can you really expect near 100% student engagement with simultaneous interactions going on among students to be successful?
Yes, yes you can. Cooperative learning works with even the toughest kids, because it is built on community and relationships which kids naturally crave. When you fully embrace cooperative learning strategies and dedicate yourself to modeling them, not once, but many times you can reap the benefits.
Now you are probably thinking to yourself, "Benefits, what benefits?" There are MANY benefits to using cooperative learning activities not the least of which is increased student engagement, but you would be selling yourself short it you thought it ended there.
Automatic Scaffolded Learning
When you use cooperative learning structures in your classroom you most likely have your students in mixed skill groups. This means that students are able to help one another by coaching their partner or teams. When students scaffold for one another it leads to amazing gains in learning for both students.
When students coach one another they are using content vocabulary and critical thinking skills to explain what they know without giving the answer directly. Isn't exactly what we want out students to be doing.
Imbedded Social Skills
Another amazing benefit of cooperative learning instruction is that social skills are directly imbedded in each of the strategies that we do with our students. During cooperative learning activities students are able to practice greeting one another, thanking one another, waiting their turn, and giving/receiving praise. These are all skills that are much needed in the classroom, and our world, but we often don't have time to teach them directly.
On a related note, cooperative learning allows students time to practice their active listening and speaking skills. Most cooperative learning strategies are verbal, so students must listen carefully to what their partner has to say in order to be able to respond.
Unlike traditional competitive learning, cooperative learning allows multiple interactions to take place simultaneously engaging more students in the task. For example, if you are using a partner strategy such as quiz quiz trade at least half of the class is actively engaged at a time. That is a much percentage than if you asked a question and one student answered. For more on why cooperative learning is better than competitive learning check out this post.
When students work together towards a common goal it is an automatic team or class builder. You can't succeed together without building relationships. When students continue to work with their peers it builds confidence in one another and ultimately themselves.
This leads to increased self esteem and a higher self image, both things that we want to encourage in our students. Due to the nature of cooperative learning strategies students are not able to be the "silent partner" in an activity, because their role has specific expectations. With repeated practice of cooperative learning strategies students become experts not only in the strategy, but in the content.
When students build relationships with one another they build empathy and appreciation for each other as well. These are life skills that will stay with them both in and out of the classroom. Research has shown that when students work together collaboratively, the respect they build for one another reduces classroom disruptions and instances of bullying.
I don't know about you, but I spend quite a bit of time wondering how what we do in the classroom is preparing our students for the future. How many people work in isolation, raise their hand to speak in a meeting, and never collaborate? I am guessing those positions are few and far between these days. The ability to communicate and collaborate with peers is vital to the success of our students.
Cooperative learning gives our students the chance to experience this collaborative environment in a structured way that all but guarantees success. Students are able to build self confidence in speaking to a group and sharing their ideas in a safe way with specific expectations that will translate to work environments later.
When using cooperative learning strategies each student is responsible for their own role, and in order for their partnership or team to succeed they must complete their role. The positive interdependence of cooperative learning strategies allows students to help their group with the safety net of having their group members' help.
When students feel the responsibility of taking care of their group they are more likely to take pride in their efforts.
There are many more benefits of cooperative learning strategies, but they are too numerous to name in one post. I would love to hear from you in the comments why you love cooperative learning in your classroom!
For everything cooperative learning check out The Ultimate Cooperative Learning Strategies Guide.
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