Cooperative Learning is an extremely successful teaching strategy in which small teams of students (usually teams of 4) work together towards a learning goal. Students may also be working with partners or the whole class. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. Students work through the learning task until all group members successfully understand and complete it.
What are Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures?
Research on cooperative learning is overwhelmingly positive, and the cooperative approaches are appropriate for all curriculum areas. The more complex the outcomes (higher-order processing of information, problem solving, social skills and attitudes), the greater are the effects.
Structures are simple, easy to learn, step-by-step instructional strategies that are content free. ‘Structures’ have been in development since 1968. There are now over 200 structures. Some are designed to engage and develop specific types of thinking, others to engage and develop specific social skills, others to develop different intelligences, others to align instruction with principles derived from brain science, and yet others to foster mastery of different types of academic content. There are even discipline structures to guide teachers as they interact with disruptive students so they can create winning solutions.
Most Kagan Structures are designed to increase student engagement and cooperation. For example, a simple Kagan Structure is Rally Robin. Rather than calling on one student at a time, the teacher has all students interacting at once by saying, “Turn to your partner and do a RallyRobin.” During a RallyRobin, students repeatedly take turns, giving one answer each turn to create an oral list. Each student in the class gives several answers. For longer responses, the teacher might use a different cooperative learning structure, Timed Pair Share. In a Timed Pair Share, each student in turn shares for a predetermined time, perhaps only a minute each.
Research indicates that all students achieve more during cooperative learning than when working only alone. Active brain imaging demonstrates that the brains of students are more engaged when working with each other than when working alone. All learners receive the benefits of peer encouragement, support, and coaching as well as immediate feedback. When working alone, students might be constantly repeating the same mistake but when working with others, they have immediate correction opportunities. The lowest achieving students have shown the most dramatic gains when using cooperative learning but the most able also benefit from the in-built reflection and coaching opportunities provided by the structures.
Delivering lesson content using the cooperative structures is a way for teachers to easily increase the amount of time our pupils spend ‘on task’. In the same amount of time that the teacher could call on and respond to two or three students in the class, each giving one answer, the teacher can have every student give several answers. In the traditional call-on-one-at-a-time approach to question and answer, it would take about an hour to have each student speak for a minute because the teacher asks the question, the student responds, and then the teacher responds to the answer, giving either a correction or praise. Furthermore, because it tends to be the same students responding all the time, many students seldom participate, or even not at all. In the traditional approach, we end up calling most on those who least need the practice, and least on those who most need the practice. In contrast, with the structures, because all the students are responding at once, it takes only two minutes to give each student a minute of active engagement time, and it is not just the high achievers responding — everyone responds. Engagement goes up, as does enjoyment and achievement.
Involves students actively in the learning process;
With CL results have improved – research indicates that this approach can help students achieve more and reduce the achievement gap;
Promotes critical thinking;
Increases a long list of social skills, including: listening, taking turns, conflict resolution skills, leadership skills, and teamwork skills which can help to boost self-esteem and responsibility and ultimately helps to prepare students for success in life;
Encourages a “can-do” attitude because students have opportunities to process their thinking and answers.
What are the basic principles of Kagan Cooperative Learning?
The basic principles of good Cooperative Learning are that:
The learning task promotes teamwork and students experience themselves as being on the same side;
Each student is held accountable for their individual contribution;
Students participate about equally; and
Many students are engaged at once.
These simple principles ensure students will cooperate, that each will make an independent contribution, and that all students participate about equally and participate a great deal. They are important because if we leave them out, our students can hide — they can take a free ride allowing others to do the work. In the traditional classroom, participation is voluntary. Many students, for whatever reasons, simply do not participate. When the principles are in place, all students become more actively engaged.
How do the Kagan Structures address differentiation?
In many of the structures, we can differentiate the level, and even the type of learning so student pairs can work at the appropriate level of difficulty. For example, during RallyCoach each pair can be working on either different content or different levels of difficulty of the same content.
How are teams formed?
Teams are set up with a mix of achievement levels to maximise peer tutoring and positive modelling. There is a high, high-middle, low-middle, and low achieving student on each team. That maximises the potential for tutoring and positive modelling, and the team of four breaks nicely into two pairs, to maximise participation. This arrangement also allows the teacher to differentiate the level and type of activity the pairs are working on. Teams are changed regularly so that students have the opportunity to work with all of their classmates and time is invested in Team Builiding and Class Building.
What about assessment?
Authentic assessment improves dramatically when we use cooperative learning. Why? In the traditional class, the teacher calls on volunteers, usually the high achievers. So the teacher obtains a biased sample of the class. A student may answer correctly, but the teacher does not find out that most of the class would not have known the answer had they verbalised their thinking. In contrast, during cooperative learning structures, all students are responding and the teacher listens in. The teacher hears the thinking of the low-achieving and middle-achieving students, not just the high achievers. This gives the teacher an unbiased sample of the class.
Cooperative learning actively supports Assessment for Learning because the structures lend themselves to peer assessment activities and the positive classroom ethos fostered by cooperative learning creates a positive classroom ethos to support constructive peer assessment. For more information click here. Students are still graded on their individual performance. Students never receive a grade based on the performance of their teammates.