Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Making Civics Real Workshop 5: Patriotism & Foreign Policy  
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Essential Readings

Cooperative Learning
by David and Roger Johnson, Cooperative Learning Center, University of Minnesota

What Is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperation is working together to accomplish shared goals. Within cooperative activities individuals seek outcomes that are beneficial to themselves and beneficial to all other group members. Cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other's learning. The idea is simple. Class members are organized into small groups after receiving instruction from the teacher. They then work through the assignment until all group members successfully understand and complete it. Cooperative efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit so that all group members gain from each other's efforts (Your success benefits me and my success benefits you), recognizing that all group members share a common fate (We all sink or swim together here), knowing that one's performance is mutually caused by oneself and one's colleagues (We can not do it without you), and feeling proud and jointly celebrating when a group member is recognized for achievement (We all congratulate you on your accomplishment!). In cooperative learning situations there is a positive interdependence among students' goal attainments; students perceive that they can reach their learning goals if and only if the other students in the learning group also reach their goals (Deutsch, 1962; Johnson and Johnson, 1989). A team member's success in creating a multi-media presentation on saving the environment, for example, depends on both individual effort and the efforts of other group members who contribute needed knowledge, skills, and resources. No one group member will possess all of the information, skills, or resources necessary for the highest possible quality presentation.

Why Use Cooperative Learning?
Students' learning goals may be structured to promote cooperative, competitive, or individualistic efforts. In contrast to cooperative situations, competitive situations are ones in which students work against each other to achieve a goal that only one or a few can attain. In competition there is a negative interdependence among goal achievements; students perceive that they can obtain their goals if and only if the other students in the class fail to obtain their goals (Deutsch, 1962; Johnson and Johnson, 1989). Norm-referenced evaluation of achievement occurs. The result is that students either work hard to do better than their classmates, or they take it easy because they do not believe they have a chance to win. In individualistic learning situations students work alone to accomplish goals unrelated to those of classmates and are evaluated on a criterion-referenced basis. Students' goal achievements are independent; students perceive that the achievement of their learning goals is unrelated to what other students do (Deutsch, 1962, Johnson and Johnson, 1989). The result is to focus on self-interest and personal success and ignore as irrelevant the successes and failures of others.

There is a long history of research on cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts. Since the first research study in 1898, nearly 600 experimental studies and over 100 correlational studies have been conducted (see Johnson and Johnson, 1989 for a complete review of these studies). The multiple outcomes studied can be classified into three major categories: achievement/productivity, positive relationships, and psychological health. The research clearly indicates that cooperation, compared with competitive and individualistic efforts, typically results in (a) higher achievement and greater productivity; (b) more caring, supportive, and committed relationships; and (c) greater psychological health, social competence, and self-esteem. The positive effects that cooperation has on so many important outcomes makes cooperative learning one of the most valuable tools educators have.

What Makes Cooperative Groups Work?
Educators fool themselves if they think well-meaning directives to "work together," “cooperate," and "be a team," will be enough to create cooperative efforts among group members. Placing students in groups and telling them to work together does not in and of itself result in cooperation. Not all groups are cooperative. Sitting in groups, for example, can result in competition at close quarters or individualistic effort with talking. To structure lessons so students do in fact work cooperatively with each other requires an understanding of the components that make cooperation work. Mastering the essential components of cooperation allows teachers to:

  1. Take existing lessons, curricula, and courses and structure them cooperatively.
  2. Tailor cooperative learning lessons to meet the unique instructional circumstances and needs of the curricula, subject areas, and students.
  3. Diagnose the problems some students may have in working together and intervene to increase the effectiveness of the student learning groups.

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