Academic journal article Journal of Psychological and Educational Research

The Effects of Cooperative Learning on Critical Thinking in an Academic Context

Academic journal article Journal of Psychological and Educational Research

The Effects of Cooperative Learning on Critical Thinking in an Academic Context

Article excerpt


The way language learners perceive and interact with one another is taken for granted in instructional programs. Much training time is devoted to helping instructors set up appropriate interactions between language learners and materials (i.e., textbooks, curriculum programs etc.), some time is spent on how teachers should interact with language learners, but how language learners should interact with one another is relatively ignored. It shouldn't be. The manner in which the teachers structure student-student interaction patterns will have a lot to say about how well the language learners learn, how they feel about school and the teacher or professor, how they feel about each other and their self-esteem (Johnson, Skon, & Johnson, 1980).

According to Norman, Rose, and Lehmann (2004), there are three basic ways language learners can interact with each other as they learn. They can compete to see who is "best"; they can work individualistically on their own toward a goal without paying attention to other language learners; or they can work cooperatively with a vested interest in each other's learning as well as their own.

Georgas (1986) stated that an interpersonal, competitive situation is characterized by negative goal interdependence, where, when one person wins, the others lose. In an individualistic learning situation, language learners are independent of one another and are working toward a set criterion where their success depends on their own performance in relation to an established criterion. The success or failure of other language learners does not affect their score. In spelling if all language learners are working on their own and any student who correctly spells 90% or more words passes, it would be an individualistic structure.

He added that in a cooperative learning situation, interaction is characterized by positive goal interdependence with individual accountability. Positive goal interdependence requires acceptance by a group that they "sink or swim together". A cooperative spelling class is one where language learners are working together in small groups to help each other learn the words in order to take the spelling test individually on Friday. Each student's score in the test is increased by bonus points earned by the group. In that situation a student needs to be concerned with how she or he spells and how well the other language learners in his or her group spell. This cooperative umbrella can also be extended over the entire class if bonus points are awarded to each student when the class can spell more words than a reasonable, but demanding, criterion set by the teacher.

However, there is a difference between "having language learners work in a group" and structuring language learners to work cooperatively. According to Koppenhover and Shrader (2003), a group of language learners sitting at the same table doing their own work, but free to talk with each other as they work, is not structured to be a cooperative group as there is no positive interdependence (Perhaps it could be called individualistic learning with talking). There needs to be an accepted common goal for which the group will receive a reward for their efforts. In the same way, a group of language learners who have been assigned to do a report where only one student cares, does all the work and the others go along for a free ride, is not a cooperative group. A cooperative group has a sense of individual accountability that means that all language learners need to know the material or spell well for the group to be successful. Putting language learners into groups does not necessarily gain positive interdependence and/or individual accountability; it has to be structured and managed by the teacher or professor.

Research has shown that language learners who work in cooperative groups do better on tests, especially with regard to reasoning and critical thinking skills than those that do not (Johnson et al. …

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