Cooperative learning consists of instructional techniques that require positive interdependence between learners in order for learning to occur.
Research shows that both competitive and cooperative interaction are a healthy part of a child’s repertoire of behavior. By second grade, however, urban children have effectively extinguished their cooperative behavior and persist in competition, even when it’s counterproductive. By developing deliberately cooperative techniques, educators aim to correct the unconscious societal and educational bias that favors competition.
Research has also found an interesting racial implication in cooperative learning: Minority children are more likely to retain these cooperative strategies. In fact, when educators introduce cooperative learning into the classroom, minority learners show a disproportionate improvement in achievement.
Patterns for student interaction are called structures. Together, teachers and students develop a repertoire of these structures. So when the teacher announces that the class will use a particular exercise to explore today’s lesson topic, students know what type of interaction to expect. For example, when the teacher says the class will use the “Think-Pair-Share” exercise to study African wildlife, students know they will work independently to write down their thoughts on elephants or lions, then find a partner, share their ideas with their partner, and probe each other for complete understanding.
It is up to the instructor to integrate the interactive exercises with the specific lesson content. The teacher must give careful thought to who should collaborate with whom and why, how to manage the classroom while unleashing cooperative activity, and how to balance the attention to both content and cooperative skill building.
Spencer Kagan, Cooperative Learning, Resources for Teachers, 1992.
The content on this page was written by On Purpose Associates.