Cooperative Learning That Includes Students with Disabilities: An Effective Teaching Strategy, Cooperative Learning Promotes Student Interaction, Benefiting Students with and without Disabilities

By Grenier, Michelle; Dyson, Ben et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 2005 | Go to article overview

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.

The Scenario

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. …

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