Wednesday, June 15, 2011

PICTURE THIS: Cooperative Learning

Picture One

Cooperative learning may look like noise.  The classroom is buzzing with activity.  Students are talking, actively discussing and sharing ideas.  There may be some debates and some differences of opinion.  There is a lot of “doing” as groups implement ideas in hands-on and engaging ways.  With all of this going on there is bound to be noise, but it is a joyful noise - or at least it should be.  How, then, does one (especially the teacher) discern whether or not this noise is indeed ‘joyful”?

Picture Two

Working toward group goals and incorporating individual accountability is key.  If these things are happening, then most likely the “noise” IS a joyful noise.  One of our class readings (which you don't absolutely need to have read to understand and contribute to this blog) points to these two main goals being necessary for effective cooperative learning to take place.  A group should be working towards a common goal through the sharing of ideas and the implementation of the steps needed to meet the goals.  In addition, each person in the group should have a role in meeting that goal.  If students are doing this, while treating each other respectfully, then they are moving forward in a positive fashion.  The teacher’s role, then, is one of facilitator, where he or she provides time and space for groups to work together and provides guidance and feedback where necessary.

Activities that students might be engaged in can range from simple “one day” activities like when a group gathers to solve one particular math problem, to a “multi-day” activity where students gather numerous times to complete a task or project.  Students might be engaged in an activity where one group works together to become “experts” in a particular aspect of a subject while other groups become “experts” in other aspects of that subject.  Each group eventually teaches the other groups what they have learned.  In addition, they learn from the expertise of the other groups. This cooperative effort can effectively enlighten an entire class on a particular subject.  Students could also be engaged in a group investigation activity of their own choosing.  This cooperative learning activity is student directed.  Students decide what they want to learn about and students define roles and responsibilities within the group.

Math is just one of the subjects that can be taught through cooperative learning.  Here is a video that discusses the subject.  Much of the focus is on teaching the process of cooperative learning but there is some commentary on math as well.  The video also touches upon the power cooperative learning has in making math relevant and meaningful to students, perhaps the most significant reason being that cooperative learning is student driven, meaning students are active learners and even teachers themselves in some cases.  It is so interesting to watch how engaged the students in this video are. 

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