Cooperative Learning That Includes Students with Disabilities: An Effective Teaching Strategy, Cooperative Learning Promotes Student Interaction, Benefiting Students with and without Disabilities
Grenier, Michelle, Dyson, Ben, Yeaton, Pat, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Inclusionary practice is based on the premise that students with disabilities can contribute to class learning while attaining targeted learning goals through the general physical education curriculum (Individuals and Disabilities Education Act, 1990; Lipsky & Gartner, 1997). Meaningful placement in an inclusive setting involves a careful analysis of the curricular and instructional goals, and the determination of whether these goals effectively meet the needs of the student with disabilities (Block, 2000). This practice challenges teachers to value and accept diversity, to collaborate with colleagues in all aspects of teaching, and to use instructional practices that have proven efficacy with heterogeneous classes (Sapon-Shevin, 1999; Villa & Thousand, 2000).
In this article, cooperative learning is discussed as an instructional strategy that encourages students to work together and that enhances motivation for learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Polloway, Patton, & Serna, 2001). Cooperative learning is presented through the depiction of a scenario inspired by observations made during a research study, which took place in an elementary school in southern New Hampshire. Support for cooperative learning was enhanced by the school's strong inclusionary stance and by collaborative practices between general and special educators. The context for the scenario is a third-grade classroom containing a child with cerebral palsy who is unable to walk or sit without support and has delayed processing skills. Having taught the student for several years, the general education teacher was familiar with his Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and knowledgeable about ways to adapt the curriculum to meet his particular needs. The student's physical goals include increasing mobility skills in his wheelchair as well as the range of motion in his upper and lower extremities. His social goals include enhancing his self-advocacy skills through partnering with peers. When used in physical education, cooperative learning allows students with disabilities to learn to interact with their peers in ways that promote the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective goals that are highlighted in the national standards (National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2004). In the scenario, this instructional strategy fulfills the student's social goals, while the fitness and throwing components of the class target the student's psychomotor goals.
Joey, a student with cerebral palsy, is pushed into the gymnasium by his classmate Kayla, who brings him over to the equipment that has been arranged in the corner of the gymnasium. His paraprofessional trails behind, watching to make sure he is being safely maneuvered in his wheelchair. Kayla collects four cones, a few balls, and four bases on Joey's tray and proceeds to move him toward their assigned section of the gymnasium. Joey hands Kayla a cone at each corner as she methodically places the cones to mark a square boundary. Two other classmates join them as they form a circle and begin their warm-up routine of stretching and running. Joey's movements are slow in comparison to his peers, but he is prompted by their actions and the rhythm of their voices counting in unison. He self-adapts his exercises as he leans over in his chair, reaching for the top part of his legs.
Once the stretching is completed, the children perform a two-minute run within their assigned area. As they have done in the past, Kayla wheels Joey behind a marked line in their area, and he slowly maneuvers himself to a point 10 feet away. When all the students have completed their running, they place their cooperative learning folder on Joey's tray, using it as a table-top surface to read and record the day's tasks and events. With the exception of Joey, who gets help from Kayla, the students write their names next to their assigned roles. Joey is the coach, Kayla the equipment manager, Paul is the recorder, and Jordan the encourager. They collectively examine the day's tasks and begin to perform the actions specified by their roles. As the designated coach, it is Joey's job to remind his group to throw using the appropriate cues listed on the task sheet, which includes both regular and modified cues for throwing (table 1).
Joey's observational skills serve him well as he provides feedback to his peers and keeps them on task. When it is his turn to perform the throwing skill, Kayla hands him a ball. He raises it to his ear and unfolds his fingers from the ball as he thrusts his arm forward, propelling the ball a few feet in front of him. Reviewing the sheet, Kayla reminds Joey to bring his hand as high as he can before releasing the ball.
Working their way through the tasks, the students come to the final activity--constructing a game using a few selected pieces of equipment. Joey's group brainstorms a list of possibilities, as the physical educator circulates around the gymnasium checking to see that progress is being made among the four groups that compose the class. Pausing at Joey's group, the teacher asks a series of questions that encourage them to think about how well their plan will work for all group members.
After several minutes of negotiations and compromises, the children come up with a modified baseball game that appears to satisfy everyone in the group. In the game, instead of batting, the player throws the ball as far as he or she can. The thrower then attempts to run to the base and back, without being tagged by the two fielders. Each team of two has three outs. When it is Joey's turn, he throws the ball, and his paraprofessional or a peer pushes him to the base. The modifications made for the baseball game allow for Joey to have a 10-second delay before the opposing team retrieves the ball and tags the pusher (rather than Joey).
When the 45-minute class concludes, the teacher gives the students a signal that it is time to evaluate their individual performances. Once that job is completed, the students begin the clean-up process. As the equipment manager, Kayla responds by picking up the equipment in their area and placing it on Joey's tray. When the equipment is returned to its designated location, the two proceed to the center circle where the rest of the class is seated for a debriefing. The teacher asks each of the groups to describe the game they invented, and whether the rules worked to include everyone. She rotates through each of the four groups, pinpointing positive aspects of the activity and refining skills that might help the students in future lessons.
The foregoing scenario illustrates the effectiveness of cooperative learning as a teaching strategy in inclusive settings. Cooperative learning helps create positive student and teacher dynamics and also encourages greater peer support and student-to-student interactions (Dyson, 2001). In physical education classes, cooperative learning has been found to improve both motor and social skills through the development of positive verbal interactions and group goals (Barrett, 2000; Dyson, 2002). Studies have also shown that cooperative learning enhances fitness and improves sport skills in less skilled students (Grineski, 1996).
For students with disabilities, implementation requires the teacher to be fully committed to student-directed learning, knowledgeable of the student's disabilities, and familiar with the cooperative learning structures that will most appropriately benefit all students (Grenier, 2004; Sapon-Shevin, 1999). Developing cooperative learning lessons is a time-consuming task, and teachers should understand that many students need to be taught the social skills required for peer support. When organizing student groups, careful attention should be paid to the individual personalities of each member and the willingness of those members to be flexible with the skill outcomes. Dyson and Rubin (2003) suggested using cooperative games to promote students' teamwork abilities and in order to foster peer support and affective outcomes.
Initially there may be lower amounts of activity time as the students learn their roles and responsibilities (Dyson, 2002). Reinforcement of positive social behaviors that promote peer-learning will take time and practice. When developing lessons, it is helpful for teachers to collaborate with related service providers such as occupational and physical therapists, who are knowledgeable about ways to adapt lessons or provide additional support in the gymnasium. Depending on the disability and the age level of the class, some content areas will be easier to adapt than others. Typically, elementary-age programs that focus on skill development and movement concepts correspond more easily with the student's IEP goals than those that cater to competitive, team-sport play.
Four components are necessary for cooperative learning to be effective: positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, and group processing (Putnam, 1998). These elements combine to enhance a student's skills by promoting a positive learning environment that engages all students (Dyson, Griffin, & Hastie, 2004).
Positive interdependence is contingent on all of the group members completing the tasks. It may take some time for students to learn to work together, but as they do so, they will also learn the skills of each member and how to be a part of a team (Dyson & Rubin, 2003). In the lesson scenario, all members shared the group goal of designing a game, and each student's success was related to the success of the other members in the group.
Individual accountability necessitates individual contributions to group goals. These contributions should be observed through student or teacher evaluations. Accountability can be measured in many ways, including a checklist, verbal feedback, or group-processing skills outlined on the task sheet. Task sheets can be modified to include adapted learning cues and outcomes for students with disabilities. In the lesson scenario, students evaluated one another's throwing skills with a list of specified cues for typical students and the student with disabilities. In this way, the students developed strategies that honed their social skills and helped them gain a greater understanding of motor skills and tactics for success.
The positioning of groups in different sections of the gymnasium encourages face-to-face interactions, because students are able to focus on their groups of four. Initially students may need to be cued on their use of space and on ways to address the student with a disability. Designating areas in the gymnasium and aiding the student with a disability are simple supports that can be taught. As they become familiar with one another and their roles and responsibilities, students are able to take more responsibility for their actions and those necessary for the group's success. Joey's group members used his wheelchair tray as a writing surface, which enabled him to see and hear more of what was going on (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).
The students in the scenario evaluated how well their group functioned through group processing and peer evaluations on the task sheet. The teacher debriefing period at the end of the class allowed students to express challenges they faced and gave the teacher an opportunity to gain information that could be useful for future planning.
Effective implementation of cooperative learning requires teachers to understand and put into practice cooperative learning structures. Structures are methods of arranging students for interactions during cooperative learning, and they serve as frameworks for lessons. Through structures, any physical education content can be taught and learned in a cooperative manner. Examples of cooperative learning structures include "Think-Share-Perform," "Pairs-Check-Perform," "Jigsaw Perform," and "Learning Teams" (Dyson & Grineski, 2001).
Think-Share-Perform is a strategy for encouraging participation through critical thinking, sharing, negotiating, and performing. Students are asked to solve a motor problem by brainstorming thoughts with one or two other students. Groups then perform their solution in front of the class. The Pairs-Check-Perform structure requires individuals to stay on task and help others learn by partner-checking. Jigsaw Perform divides the work so that each student is responsible for learning and teaching a portion of the content to other group members. During Jigsaw Perform, there is strong positive interdependence because each student depends on others for information. Learning Teams provide students with the opportunity to share leadership and responsibility roles and to use collaborative skills to achieve group goals. Student roles (e.g., recorder, encourager, coach, equipment manager) are used to facilitate group or team activities (Dyson & Grineski, 2001). The scenario presented in this article used a combination of two structures: Pairs-Check-Perform and Learning Teams.
The Keys to Implementation
Adopting a cooperative learning approach to teaching in physical education involves several key strategic components: (1) planning and class management, (2) monitoring and assessing skill achievement and cooperative skill performance, and (3) encouraging students to modify and/or problem-solve activities for teammates with disabilities. An outline of the implementation of a sample lesson plan appears in figure 1.
Planning and Class Management. Proper planning is critical when developing lessons using cooperative learning for students with disabilities. To ensure success, identify the needs of the student and whether or not cooperative learning is a viable structure for accommodating the student's differences. Some questions to consider are whether the social outcomes of the lesson will support student learning, and whether cooperative learning can meet the physical, cognitive, and social goals of the student.
Teachers should carefully consider the mix of students that will compose groups in order to foster cooperation among members. Assign roles that are appropriate for the students and that support the groups' efforts. Through these assignments, students are given the clear message that each is responsible for the group's success. However, some flexibility in the roles should be encouraged, particularly when a student's disability prevents him or her from fully participating in the task. For example, if a student with cerebral palsy has difficulty with the fine motor skills required for recording, another child may record skills when prompted by the student. Teachers should also strive to place the equipment in an easily accessible area, color-coding each group's equipment in a recognizable system that corresponds with the group color. Rules for managing conflicts should be clearly posted on the wall and reviewed frequently.
Monitor and Assessing. Selecting the appropriate instructional objectives and materials is essential when including a child with a disability. Teachers should know the student's IEP objectives and be willing to modify and adapt curriculum objectives to accommodate the student's skills. Instructional and learning outcomes for students with and without disabilities should be clearly delineated to determine content suitability. Confer with the IEP team on goals that can be accommodated within the general physical education curriculum and on ways that adequately balance the student's skills with the overall learning goals of the class. Identify learning goals on the IEP that can be developed and will be used later in the student's life. Ecologically relevant content for physical education includes material that mirrors community and recreational programs, fitness as it relates to the student's needs, behaviors and social skills that foster positive relationships, and the cognitive skills that enable the students to understand instructional material. A useful resource for modifying outcomes is the ecological approach outlined by Block (2000).
Initially, adapted instructional methods and the associated skill cues should be identified on the lesson plan in order to assist the group as they progress through the task. Teachers should frequently check with the group to make sure they are incorporating learning goals for the student with a disability. In addressing these concerns, teachers should remember that curriculum modifications support learning for the lesser-skilled students, as well as for the student with a disability (Falvey, 1995).
Balancing the social needs of the student with his or her physical abilities is a goal that should be identified in the student's IEP. National standards five and six relate directly to social-skill development and outcomes associated with cooperative learning behaviors, and they should be factored into every child's educational programming (NASPE, 2004). Students need to be taught interpersonal skills of how to listen, take responsibility, work together, share ideas, and respect one another. The teacher should verbalize and model necessary social skills, and emphasize that without these skills the group work will not be successful. Reward performance through the use of informal assessments, positive reinforcement, and specific skill feedback. Provide a space on the task sheet for stickers or other symbols of achievement. Do not rush students through the tasks; let them progress at a pace that allows for successful completion of the tasks.
Skill evaluation must focus on the content and the group process so that the student's lack of ability for a particular skill does not become the group's liability (Sapon-Shevin, Ayres, & Duncan, 2002). It is important that teachers find alternative ways, such as the use of an ecological task analysis (Block, 2000), to assess students who are demonstrating adapted skills. The small-group format enables teachers to circulate freely throughout the class, assessing student skills and providing specific feedback to every student. Because students' skills may vary, teachers should initially assume responsibility for evaluating the skills. Encourage students to understand that skill and activity modifications are acceptable for the completion of group goals, and that success is contingent on both the process of achieving the goal and the outcome of meeting the goal.
Ongoing evaluations and observations are critical to determine the overall effectiveness of cooperative learning. If little progress is being made, the physical educator should confer with the IEP team to determine what sort of adjustments should be made. Questions to consider are whether the practice of cooperative learning is supporting the learning needs of the student and whether the student has the requisite skills to participate in the activity. Modifications to the tasks or the skills may be necessary, providing that the changes accommodate the skills of the class. When change is necessary, the teacher should inform the cooperative learning groups of the necessary changes and carefully monitor the progress made towards achieving these goals.
Modifying and/or Problem-solving Activities. Students with and without disabilities need to learn skills that enable them to work together with their peers. As teachers continue to model positive language and attitudes in the heterogeneous class, students learn to appreciate and accept difference as part of the class culture. Talk openly about the challenges involved in completing the tasks by asking the students to identify potential barriers and ways to deal with them. Students who are engaged in the process of cooperative learning are more apt to take ownership of their decisions, as opposed to those who simply follow the instructions outlined by the teacher (Sapon-Shevin, 1999).
When initiating cooperative learning, teachers need to guide students in modifying the skills for group success. At other times, it will be necessary for the teacher to model the outcome so that students have the opportunity to observe the identified skill (Sherrill, 1998). Outline a set of behaviors that students can employ if they have difficulty working together. Work closely with the coaches to ensure that they understand the task and recognize ways to modify the task for students with disabilities. If a paraprofessional or other adult accompanies the child to physical education, direct that person to offer suggestions, rather than solutions, in order for the students to learn skills. Over time, cooperative learning will become an accustomed instructional strategy that encourages students to work together while developing the physical and social skills for lifetime activity.
Table 1. Cues for Throwing Regular Adapted Side to target Raise ball over head Make a T & point Open hand Step with opposite foot Swing hand forward
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Michelle Grenier (email@example.com) is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Kinesiology, at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824. Ben Dyson (bdyson@Memphis.edu) is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Movement Sciences and Education, at the University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152. Pat Yeaton (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a physical education teacher at North Hampton School, North Hampton, NH 03862.…
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Publication information: Article title: Cooperative Learning That Includes Students with Disabilities: An Effective Teaching Strategy, Cooperative Learning Promotes Student Interaction, Benefiting Students with and without Disabilities. Contributors: Grenier, Michelle - Author, Dyson, Ben - Author, Yeaton, Pat - Author. Journal title: JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Volume: 76. Issue: 6 Publication date: August 2005. Page number: 29+. © 2009 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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