An Analysis of Cooperative Learning Approaches for Students with Learning Disabilities

By Sencibaugh, Joseph M.; Sencibaugh, Angela M. | Education, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of Cooperative Learning Approaches for Students with Learning Disabilities


Sencibaugh, Joseph M., Sencibaugh, Angela M., Education


It has been over twenty years since Tateyama-Sniezek (1990) studied the effect that cooperative learning had on promoting positive relationships between handicapped and non-handicapped students. The author examined the role cooperative learning played in effecting the academic achievement of handicapped students. The results of the author's research revealed "before teachers are encouraged to use cooperative learning as a strategy to promote the academic achievement of students with handicaps, further evaluation is required; the variables that contribute to its 'risks and benefits' must be identified" (p. 430).

Since then McMaster and Fuchs (2002) published an update on Tateyama-Sniezek's article reviewing fifteen studies according to cooperative learning types and revealed design problems across the studies that proved difficult to determine the efficacy of cooperative learning approaches on the achievement of students with learning disabilities. Both articles emphasized the need for further research before identifying specific cooperative learning approaches that significantly impact the academic achievement of students with disabilities which was the impetus for this paper.

In continuing to promote the idea of inclusion in public schools as established in previous federal legislation, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 reaffirmed the notion that children with disabilities be educated with children who are nondisabled and have greater access to the general education curriculum within the context of least restrictive environment and in accordance with inclusion, the rules and regulations stated that children with disabilities must be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum while participating with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children in classroom activities (IDEA; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). In addition, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2001) emphasized a need for improving the academic achievement of low achieving students including children with disabilities while requiring teachers to use scientific research to guide classroom practice (Linn, Baker, & Betebenner, 2002).

The greatest number of students with disabilities served in public schools fall under the category of specific learning disability, and these students are more likely to be served in a general education classroom. In the 2011 -12 school year 36% of students between the ages of 3-21 in public schools were identified as having a specific learning disability and 66 percent of these students with specific learning disabilities spent most of their school day in general classes (Synder & Dillow, 2013). The significant number of students with learning disabilities in the general education classroom has led teachers to seek instructional strategies that promote cooperation while improving the students' academic performance. The requirements of both IDEA and NCLB established greater accountability for teachers in identifying instructional strategies for improving the academic achievement for all students.

In a search for best practices that promote cooperation and improve academic achievement, cooperative learning is a highly effective strategy with sound research to support implementation in K-12 classrooms. Cooperative learning is an instructional method, or peer-assisted learning strategy where students work together in small groups to help each other learn (Rohrbeck, Ginsburg-Block, Fantuzzo, & Miller, 2003; Slavin, 2008; Webb, 2009). Typically, students are assigned to cooperative groups and stay together for many weeks or months. They are usually taught specific skills that will help them work well together, such as listening actively, giving good explanations, avoiding putdowns, and including other people (Slavin, 2008, p. 230). A lesson's goal structure refers to the amount of interdependence required of students as they perform their work and cooperative goal structures exist when students can obtain their goal only when other students with whom they are linked can obtain theirs (Arends, 2015, p. …

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