Cooperative Learning as a Classroom Management Strategy

Article excerpt

Small groups or teams, comprised of students of different levels of ability, work together to accomplish shared goals and to maximize their own and each other's learning

Educator John Holt wrote, "We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for pretty rewards-gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A's on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean's lists or Phi Beta Kappa keys-in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else" (Cooperative learning, 2005).

Learning has long been structured competitively, with students working against students, individually, alone. (Cooperative learning, 2005). The quote above sums up the bulk of my classroom learning experiences from about the fifth grade through much of my high school classes and on into my first two years of college. Although the "competition" did not destroy my love for learning on the whole, as Mr. Holt stated, the competitiveness did make it difficult for me to be motivated or to have self-confidence in even my smallest achievements when it came to my weaker subject areas of math and science.

Fortunately, my parents and a few of my teachers were supportive and encouraging, even when I didn't score so well, and helped me understand that being "the best" didn't mean being first, but rather being the best that I could be. That, in itself, was my reward. It was, nonetheless, disheartening, after accomplishing a personal "best," not to be given the verbal praise and encouragement the "smart kids" received for making their A's and B's when the subject material came so easily to them. I can remember vividly feeling inferior and "stupid" in those two classes, and felt that fellow students saw me that way, too.

Cooperative learning was the best thing that ever happened to me academically. I was first introduced to the idea when I began my teaching courses in college. A few instructors, including those for my Math for Elementary Teachers I and II classes, believed in cooperative learning and often would divide the class into teams to complete assignments. No longer was I in a "stand and deliver" environment. I was now put in charge of my learning, facilitated by my group members and guided by my instructor. It shed a whole new light on learning and achievement. I discovered that, although there was individual accountability on my part, I had peer support within my group. I'd been introduced to a teaching/learning style that not only gave me self-confidence and equal status among my peers, but also one that would influence my personal teaching philosophy and style for years to come.

There is a long history of research on cooperative, competitive and individualistic learning (University of Minnesota, 2005). Theorists such as John Dewey, Kurt Levin, Jean Piaget and B.F. Skinner each promoted the belief that cooperative learning benefits the learner (InTime, 2004).

Numerous studies as far back as 1898 were done by education and psychology researchers like Stuart Cook (1960s), Spencer Kagan (1960s, 1985), Morton Deutsch (1962), David and Roger Johnson (late 1960s to the present) and Robert Slavin (1970s). Each provided evidence that this classroom teaching strategy promotes higher achievement than its competitive or individualistic counterparts (Cooperative learning, 2005).

More recent research, and I've witnessed this as well, links regular cooperative experience in the classroom with promoting student achievement, critical and creative thinking, positive attitudes toward the subject and school, group interaction and social skills, self-esteem and mutual respect for others (Lyman & Foyle, 1988), increasing student retention, helping students develop oral communication skills, promoting positive race relations and enhancing student satisfaction with their learning experience (Sawyer, 2005). …