Reader reply about cooperative learning

        The two-part series about cooperative learning that was printed in the Palo Alto Daily News on 12/13 and 12/20/01 appeared in the Charlotte Parent (North Carolina) in August, 2002. Reader SG responded, in part:

        "...this is poor preparation for adulthood, where they won’t get to play games or engage in other frivolous activities when attending job training classes, professional conferences, etc." He concludes his lengthy e-mail with, "Parents need to take a good hard look at how their kids are being taught, and demand an end to cooperative learning and other edufads, and a return to content-based instruction."

        I have already responded to SG by explaining that teaching content is still paramount in elementary schools, where I have the most experience using and observing cooperative learning. I cannot, however, vouch for its implementation at the high school or college levels, where he has his experience.

        I cite a recent news story, heard on NPR, that demonstrates a goal toward which many teachers are working:

        Just this year, a wet spring and early summer in Wisconsin led to abundant production of hay. At the same time, drought conditions and the Missionary Ridge Fire in Colorado left ranchers with severe shortages of hay for their animals.

        The Janowiak brothers -- Stan in Wisconsin and Matt in Colorado -- galvanized forces that put cooperation to its most beneficial use: Wisconsin farmers donated hay, truckers volunteered to pick it up, the Union Pacific Railroad donated rail cars for transportation, and volunteers unloaded the hay when it arrived in Colorado.

I        t is noteworthy that the Wisconsin farmers had been the recipients of donated hay in 1988. That earlier experience spurred them on to pay something back because they had once been in the same position as the Colorado ranchers found themselves this year.

        This situation demonstrates several attitudinal points that are goals of cooperative learning:

  • We share what we have, be it knowledge, skills, or goods.
  • Once we have received help from others, we are further motivated to continue the chain of cooperation.
  •  Working together is not an educational fad but a real world necessity.

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