Moving beyond Lecture: Cooperative Learning and the Secondary Social Studies Classroom

By Nagel, Paul | Education, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Moving beyond Lecture: Cooperative Learning and the Secondary Social Studies Classroom


Nagel, Paul, Education


Coke (2005) argues that vertical cooperative learning is needed for pre-service and in-service elementary and secondary teachers. By participating in cross-grade level, interdisciplinary cooperative learning meetings, teachers at both levels can learn to solve problems together, reduce gaps and redundancies in education. All that is needed then is administrators at both levels to support these meetings.

The idea of cross-grade level cooperative meetings is admiral. As a former sixth grade social studies teacher, the other content teachers on my team and I would have benefited greatly each year in knowing about our incoming students. This, though was not achieved as five elementary schools feed into the middle school I worked at. Coke further argues that a different learning culture is needed at both the elementary and secondary levels. By implementing cooperative learning among the different grade levels, both pre-service and in-service teachers are given the opportunity to collaborate and break the habit of working in isolation.

If, as Coke suggests that teachers should work cooperatively among the different grade levels, where do the pre-service teachers learn to do this. As a elementary and secondary social studies methods instructor, I work at an institution where we are to 'model' (COE, 2005) for the students 'best practices' in the classroom. The elementary social studies method students, by the nature of observing and teaching lessons do some forms of cooperative learning in their placements. However, many of the cooperating teachers who work with the secondary social studies method students model or teach the way they were taught--by lecturing. Both at the middle school and high school levels, research has shown that after 15 to 20 minutes of lecture that the student stops listening or paying attention (Tileston, 2000). To counteract the lose in interest, within the secondary social studies methods course, cooperative learning is practiced and emphasized during each class. Changing the way the methods course was taught was not easy, however with training in cooperative learning strategies and a total revamping of the course and syllabus, preservice teachers are learning not to lecture day after day.

The Impact of Cooperative Learning

'Cooperative learning' has become a buzz term in American education (Coke 2005). Cooperative learning has been identified as an effective pedagogical strategy that promotes a variety of positive cognitive, affective, and social outcomes (Cabrera et al., 2002; Nolinske & Millis, 1999; Slavin, 1995). Specifically, cooperative learning strategies have been shown to improve the retention rates of students (Kluge, 1990; Totten, Sills, & Digby, 1991). Johnson and Johnson (1989) concluded that cooperative learning results in an increased in higher level reasoning, increased generation of new ideas and solutions, and greater transfer of what is learned within one situation to another. Cooperative learning also promotes academic achievement, increases retention, and vastly improves student self-esteem and communication. Further, cooperative learning has also been linked to increases in self-esteem, attendance, time on task, enjoyment of school and classes, and motivation to learn, as well as a decrease in dependence on the teacher (Augustine et al., 1989-90; Good, Reys, Grouws, & Mulryan, 1989-1990; Slavin, 1990; Wood 1987).

The research evidence is clear that both cooperative learning can yield significant gains in academic achievement in the targeted curriculum area. Students in a passive learning environment who were taught using a cooperative learning method significantly outperformed those who were taught using a traditional lecture format, as measured by their scores in the outcome assessment at the end of the experiment (Hwang, N., Lui G. & Tong M. 2005). The Texas Center for Education Research (2001) reported that 80% of Texas elementary principals report all-day use of cooperative learning groupings within their buildings; 51% of middle school principals cited examples of cooperative learning in every subject expect reading and math; and 56% of high school principals report all-day cooperative learning. …

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