What One Middle School Teacher Learned about Cooperative Learning

By Leonard, Jacqueline; McElroy, Keith | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Spring-Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

What One Middle School Teacher Learned about Cooperative Learning

Leonard, Jacqueline, McElroy, Keith, Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Abstract. There is an abundance of research to support the idea that cooperative learning benefits students in many ways. Moreover, about two out of three middle school teachers use cooperative learning as an instructional strategy. However, cooperative learning is not always implemented effectively, and its use poses certain challenges and dilemmas for middle school teachers. This paper examines what one middle school teacher learned as she directed her students to complete a structural engineering task as a cooperative learning activity. She found that students were on task and collaborated to accomplish the goal, but that teachers' decisions about how tasks are set up, carried out, and completed affected students' interactions in cooperative groups. This study provides middle school teachers with research by teachers and helps to bridge gap between research and practice.

Cooperative learning provides a setting that suggests wonderful ideas to children-different ideas to different children--as they are caught up in intellectual problems that are real to them (Duckworth, 1996, p. 7). As a result, the use of cooperative learning as an instructional strategy is on the rise. Slavin (1996) reports that 62% of middle school teachers make use of cooperative learning. There is a dearth of research by teachers, however, that explains their dilemmas and successes in setting up and implementing cooperative learning tasks at the middle school level. Using cooperative learning in middle school is particularly challenging because middle school teachers may have several classes totaling up to 150 students, making it difficult to know which students will work well together in cooperative groups. The authors present a case study of one middle school teacher's classroom research, which enabled her to learn about her own pedagogy and how her students interacted and learned in cooperative small g roups. In order to place this research in context, a brief literature review on cooperative learning is presented below and is followed by the action research study.

Using Cooperative Learning in the Classroom

Cooperative learning is an instructional strategy that has the following characteristics: face-to-face interaction, positive group interdependence, individual accountability and responsibility, appropriate use of interpersonal and small group skills, group processing, and an emphasis on having heterogeneous group composition (Tomlinson, Moon, & Callahan, 1997). One outcome of using cooperative learning is higher student achievement (Slavin, 1996; Tomlinson et al., 1997; Webb, Troper, & Fall, 1995). Additional benefits of using cooperative learning include improved cognition, time on task, long-term retention, self-esteem, peer acceptance, and positive relationships between students and teachers (Tomlinson et al., 1997).

Cooperative learning is not a panacea, however. Not all cooperative learning lessons lead to collaboration (Blumenfeld, Marx, Soloway, & Krajcik, 1997; Cohen & Lotan, 1995). Moreover, heterogeneous grouping may not benefit all students. Minority students have a higher risk of being excluded from group activities because they are seen by some majority students as being less competent (Blumenfeld et al., 1997). This situation is exacerbated in high-status subjects such as mathematics and science (Hollins, Smiler, & Spencer, 1994). Success of cooperative learning groups is determined by the cohesiveness of the students in the group, their willingness to complete the task, and the quality of the task itself.

Forming Cohesive Cooperative Groups

Group composition is an important factor in organizing cohesive small groups. Cooperative groups should not be composed willy-nilly, but teachers must carefully decide who will work together in order to maximize student interactions. Mulryan (1995) reports that changing the group composition regularly encourages high levels of participation.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

What One Middle School Teacher Learned about Cooperative Learning


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?