Listening in on an educational topic, do we find
any ideas we can import into our type of practice? Lawrence Lyman and
Harvey C. Foyle
Cooperative learning is a teaching strategy
involving children's participation in small group learning activities
that promote positive interaction. This report discusses the reasons for
using cooperative learning in centers and classrooms, ways to implement
the strategy, and the long-term benefits for children's education.
Cooperative learning promotes academic achievement,
is relatively easy to implement, and is not expensive. Children's
improved behavior and attendance, and increased liking of school, are
some of the benefits of cooperative learning (Slavin, 1987).
Although much of the research on cooperative
learning has been done with older students, cooperative learning
strategies are effective with younger children in preschool centers and
primary classrooms. In addition to the positive outcomes just noted,
cooperative learning promotes student motivation, encourages group
processes, fosters social and academic interaction among students, and
rewards successful group participation.
Early childhood classes
When a child first comes to a structured educational setting, one of
the teacher's goals is to help the child move from being aware only of
himself or herself to becoming aware of other children. At this stage of
learning, teachers are concerned that children learn to share, take
turns, and show caring behaviors for others. Structured activities which
promote cooperation can help to bring about these outcomes. One of the
most consistent research findings is that cooperative learning
activities improve children's relationships with peers, especially those
of different social and ethnic groups.
When children begin to work on readiness tasks,
cooperation can provide opportunities for sharing ideas, learning how
others think and react to problems, and practicing oral language skills
in small groups. Cooperative learning in early childhood can promote
positive feelings toward school, teachers, and peers. These feelings
build an important base for further success in school.
Advantages for elementary school groups
According to Glasser (1986), children's motivation to work in
elementary school is dependent on the extent to which their basic
psychological needs are met. Cooperative learning increases student
motivation by providing peer support. As part of a learning team,
students can achieve success by working well with others. Students are
also encouraged to learn material in greater depth than they might
otherwise have done, and to think of creative ways to convince the
teacher that they have mastered the required material.
Cooperative learning helps students feel successful
at every academic level. In cooperative learning teams, low-achieving
students can make contributions to a group and experience success, and
all students can increase their understanding of ideas by explaining
them to others (Featherstone, 1986).
Components of the cooperative learning process as
described by Johnson and Johnson (1984) are complimentary to the goals
of early childhood education. For example, well-constructed cooperative
learning tasks involve positive interdependence on others and individual
accountability. To work successfully in a cooperative learning team,
however, students must also master interpersonal skills needed for the
group to accomplish its tasks.
Cooperative learning has also been shown to improve
relationships among students from different ethnic backgrounds. Slavin
(1980) notes: "Cooperative learning methods sanctioned by the school
embody the requirements of cooperative, equal status interaction between
students of different ethnic backgrounds..." For older students,
teaching has traditionally stressed competition and individual learning.
When students are given cooperative tasks, however, learning is assessed
individually, and rewards are given on the basis of the group's
performance (Featherstone, 1986). When children are taught the skills
needed for group participation when they first enter a structured
setting, the foundation is laid for later school success.
Using Cooperative Learning strategies
Foyle and Lyman (1988) identify the basic steps involved in successful
implementation of cooperative learning activities:
The content to be taught is identified, and
criteria for mastery are determined.
The most useful cooperative learning technique is
identified, and the group size is determined.
Students are assigned to (or may choose to join)
The work space is arranged to facilitate group
Group processes are taught or reviewed as needed
to assure that the groups run productively.
The teacher develops expectations for group
learning and makes sure students understand the purpose of the
learning that will take place. A time line for activities is made
clear to students.
The teacher presents initial material as
appropriate, using whatever techniques she or he chooses.
The teacher monitors student interaction in the
groups, and provides assistance and clarification as needed. The
teacher reviews group skills and facilitates problem-solving when
Student outcomes are evaluated. Students must
individually demonstrate mastery of important skills or concepts of
the learning. Evaluation is based on observations of student
performance or oral responses to questions; paper and pencil need not
Groups' learning and other gains are acknowledged.
Early childhood educators can use many of the same strategies and
activities currently being used to encourage cooperation and interaction
in older children. Effective cooperative learning experiences increase
the probability of children's success throughout their school years.
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Featherstone, Helen (editor). "Cooperative Learning."
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Videotape currently in production. (For further information, contact
Harvey Foyle or Lawrence Lyman, The Teacher's College, Emporia State
University, 1200 Commercial St., Emporia, KS 66801.)
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