Cooperative Learning in Elementary Classrooms Research Paper

Pages: 6 (1628 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Teaching

Education -- Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a teaching methodology that has been widely studied and evaluated in connection with student motivation, learning, cooperation, social, and emotional benefits. That is particularly true at the elementary and middle school levels; it has also been linked to significant improvement in the integration of mildly learning disabled students into standard classrooms. Provided instructors are well prepared and qualified, there are no apparent detrimental effects of incorporating cooperative learning methods into grade school classrooms. Cooperative learning may, in fact, be particularly well suited to another relatively recent trend in modern education: active, inquiry-based learning instead of traditional passive, lecture and textbook-based instructional methods.

Introduction

Instructional methods have remained substantially unchanged throughout most of the first two centuries of American public education. While various methodologies have been tried in relatively isolated instances, the vast majority of American educational institutions continue to rely on the traditional passive-learning, lecture and textbook-based methods and rote memorization.

During the last few decades of the 20th century, several teaching methodologies emerged that have shown tremendous promise. Cooperative learning has been one of the most successful of those tested and has demonstrated considerable potential to improve student performance. However, the benefits of cooperative learning may not be limited to improved academic performance. Substantial empirical research suggests that it also has the potential to improve student interest, cooperation, and social skills, in addition to providing a means of better integrating mildly learning disabled students into the standard classroom.

Discussion

Generally, cooperative learning consists of five essential elements: 1. Positive Interdependence; 2. Face-to-Face Interaction; 3. Individual and Group Accountability; 4. Interpersonal Skills; and 5. Group Processing (Jenkins, Antil, Wayne, et al., 2003). It is a teaching method in which teachers allow students to work on assigned tasks collaboratively in small groups. Prior research into the cooperative learning method indicates that its success depends largely on the degree to which teachers provide adequate instruction to working groups and requires some aspect of measuring both group achievement and individual performance (Jenkins, Antil, Wayne, et al., 2003).

Additionally, effective cooperative learning implementation requires that teachers monitor group interactions and that they rearrange group composition as necessary to ensure cooperation and minimal distractions or temptations in relation to any specific negative behavioral influences of individual groups members on one another (McCracken, 2005; Nagel, 2008).

Why Use Cooperative Learning Methods?

Empirical studies of cooperative learning methods in comparison to traditional teaching methods reveal that the former increases student motivation, time on task, and social skills (Nagel, 2008). In cooperative learning environments, students tend to become more communicative, more creative, and they employ active thought and reasoning skills more than they typically do in traditional learning environments (McCracken, 2005; Nagel, 2008). Those prior studies have also documented higher subject matter retention levels among students in cooperative learning environments in comparison to similar groups taught by traditional teaching methods (Nagel, 2008).

What Makes Cooperative Learning Groups Effective?

One of the primary reasons that cooperative learning improves student performance and retention is that it facilitates greater levels of communication about the subject matter of the learning module (McCracken, 2005; Nagel, 2008). In that regard, everything else being equal, grade school students remain more engaged in their schoolwork when they have the opportunity to interact with one another in the context of the lesson than when they have no interactive opportunity other than responding directly to teachers' questions (McCracken, 2005; Nagel, 2008).

Similarly, traditional passive-lecture-based teaching methodologies increase the anxiety levels of many students by virtue of the social discomfort of having to respond to teachers' questions in front of their classmates (McCracken, 2005; Nagel, 2008). Many students are so intimidated by the prospect of social embarrassment in front of their peers that it disrupts their ability to focus on the subject matter. By contrast, cooperative learning increases the opportunity of students to contribute verbally and interact with their classmates in the context of the lesson module but without triggering the same level of social anxiety that can overwhelm them in connection with more traditional teaching methods (McCracken, 2005).

Educational Advantages and Disadvantages

Educationally, there do not appear to be any significant disadvantages to the cooperative learning methodology. By every conceivable measure (i.e. student attendance, timeliness, cooperation, time on task, active involvement and contribution, communication, performance, and long-term subject matter retention), cooperative learning is superior to traditional passive learning methodologies relying on lectures and textbook assignments (Jenkins, Antil, Wayne, et al., 2003). The most effective use of cooperative learning may require teachers to make adjustments to the composition of working groups to avoid mismatched comprehension levels and personalities, as well as to minimize the potential for mutual distraction that exists more between and among some student grouping than others (McCracken, 2005).

Emotional Advantages and Disadvantages

The available literature does not suggest any emotional disadvantages to the use of cooperative learning methods in the grade school classroom either. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite seems to be true. Cooperative learning has been investigated in connection with both special education and remedial students (Jenkins, Antil, Wayne, et al., 2003) as well as in connection with the integration of mildly learning disabled students into the regular student population (Keh & Yu-Tzu, 2007).

More specifically, special education elementary students with difficulty communicating with others have shown significant improvement in that regard through their participation in cooperative learning situations (Jenkins, Antil, Wayne, et al., 2003). Likewise, with respect to efforts to facilitate the increased social integration of mildly disabled students into the mainstream classroom, cooperative learning has been instrumental in overcoming social barriers on both sides (Keh & Yu-Tzu, 2007). In both cases, the use of cooperative learning methods in connection with special students populations has resulted in higher levels of self-esteem and self-worth among disabled and non-disabled students alike as a result of the experience (Jenkins, Antil, Wayne, et al., 2003; Keh & Yu-Tzu, 2007).

Modern Educational Implications

Some of the most important implications of cooperative learning are its potential value when implemented in combination with other modern teaching methodological departures from the traditional passive learning approach to early education. Specifically, empirical studies of the relative effectiveness of active-learning (Adams & Hamm, 1994) and of inquiry-based active learning in particular (Huber & Moore, 2001) strongly suggest that both methods are far preferable to continued reliance on traditional passive learning through lecture and textbook-based instructional methodologies.

In principle, active learning involves the purposeful challenging of students to pursue the answers to questions related to the learning module instead of the typical learning environment in which teachers primarily dispense information through passive lectures and assigned readings (Adams & Hamm, 1994). Teachers using the active learning methodology still design lessons and guide the direction of academic learning; however, they generally assign problems for students to solve instead of merely providing information and then testing short-term retention (Adams & Hamm, 1994).That approach to teaching happens to be perfectly suited to cooperative learning methodologies in that small working groups present the ideal situation for students to engage in active learning through investigation (Adams & Hamm, 1994; Huber & Moore, 2001).

The active learning approach and the use of small working groups are also essential to another teaching methodology that has been empirically demonstrated to be much more effective than traditional passive-learning instructional methods. Namely, inquiry-based methods for teaching have been introduced by several commercial educational material publishers that are designed to allow students to derive knowledge through hands-on inquiries in which they conduct practical experiments to test hypotheses empirically (Huber & Moore, 2001).

Those methodologies also incorporate the use of small working groups as an essential component of the program. Much like cooperative learning more generally, the hands-on, inquiry-based teaching methodologies have demonstrated comparable improvement in terms of student motivation, time on task, and social skills, in addition to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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