Question from a reader: cooperative learning, part 1

Dear Jay,

        My son is in second grade. I have noticed that seating arrangements in his kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms look different from the way they looked when I was in these grades in the seventies. There is more emphasis on working together. I remember teachers saying, "Do your own work." Why the increased interest in what the teachers call "cooperative learning"?

TLR, Menlo Park

Dear TLR,

        You are correct that there is much more cooperative work in schools than during the years you were in these grades. The changes have been implemented since the eighties. I remember taking a class in cooperative learning during the summer of 1988.

        Drs. Roger and David Johnson, of the University of Minnesota, have pored over more than six hundred studies concerning the benefits of cooperation and its effect on learning. Their conclusion is that building community in school through cooperation is a vital method to counter the violence, drug abuse, gang membership, dropout rate, suicide, and alienation that many young people experience. Cooperation is a significant way to include those students who have been alienated and isolated, both in and out of schools.

        In kindergarten and first grade, the most common ways that children work cooperatively is in pairs. Starting in second grade, children may work in groups of three or four.

        The following tasks lend themselves to working with partners or groups:

  • proofreading of writing assignments. Children read each otherís work, let each other know if it makes sense, and look for spelling and punctuation errors.
  • discussing reading material. Children share what they got out of reading assignments.
  • going over math facts.
  • comparing the way they solved math problems. This is especially important, as children understand from peers that there is more than one way to find the answers.

        Research has shown that teaching another person is an effective way of learning something oneself. Therefore, this happens all the time in cooperative learning settings.

        Parents should also understand that while we encourage children to learn in partnerships or groups, all assessments (tests) are done individually. This remains the place where we tell children to "keep your eyes on your own paper."

        Next week, I will discuss some of the benefits of cooperative learning.


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