Collaboration and Cooperative Learning

A recent conversation with a fellow educator has me wondering what is really different between these two frequently dropped buzz words. When I think of the term ‘cooperative learning’, I think about my experiences as a student. I think about being grouped with students who didn’t care so I could “help” them learn. I remember feeling like the teachers were using me to supplement their teaching. What I don’t remember is feeling like I benefited and while my partners may have seen a positive effect in their grades, I’m not convinced they learned more.

I will confess something here and now. After tinkering with different types of intentional grouping for projects, I have elected to let students group themselves. They tend to group homogenously based mostly on motivation but within every group there are still lower ability and higher ability students. They generally find ways to each contribute and play to one another’s strengths. I truly enjoy watching this process and it was not this way when I chose the groups. The resulting products are sometimes amazing, or for less motivated groups, certainly lackluster. But even those less motivated groups had to work toward finishing the product and I genuinely believe that they learned more from the process of doing it themselves than they would if they had a type A student (or type A teacher…) delegating the work.

I have been known to establish roles but students choose roles that suit them in these cases. I do not like to assign who does what. I must admit that I do group intentionally for when we work together in small groups on smaller tasks. I tend to consider this to be collaboration rather than cooperative learning. Often this is when they are brainstorming or reading and analyzing a small piece of literature or a poem.

I suppose my thought is that collaboration is about bouncing ideas off of others to gain a greater understanding. I suppose that Socratic seminars and peer editing might also fit under this category.

Is this a typical understanding of the two terms or am I mixing them up? I have not done much research on cooperative learning, so I will certainly claim ignorance on the subject! I would love to hear what others believe is the most effective way to address social learning and how to combat the pitfalls of “cooperative learning” as I understand it.

What do YOU think?

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7 responses to this post.

  1. My name is Tracy Alms and I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 Class. The link to my blog is http://almstracyedm310.blogspot.com/.

    I agree with your beliefs on letting students group themselves. You trying this is proof that it works and the outcomes they can produce as a group can be amazing! Results like these will outweigh the “lackluster” groups as you put it. There will always be students in your class like that, no matter how you decide to assign groups.

    From my experience as a student I ALWAYS dreaded group work. Because my memory take me back to being in groups with students who could care less about their grade and if their work was A worthy. It was always a hassle, and from someone who has been there, I commend your decision!

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  2. I find the same scenario occurs when I create groups. Usually I will let them sort themselves and usually they are in heterogeneous groups. Usually. However, the lower motivated students will typically put themselves in group. Sometimes this is fine; other times not so fine.

    I only use reading levels/grades to group if I am using different texts at different levels. This type of grouping is also followed up with a remixing of groups so they have to share their reading with a new group who hasn’t read it. Another effective way of grouping is to ask a question the day before (ie. “What are you good at?”) and create groups based on the answers. This gives group members a common starting point. But, yeah, I usually let them pick their own groups. Easier and effective.

    When students collaborate, however, I always let them choose their own groups but retain the right to modify. I see collaboration as students working together to produce something meaningful to them. Something I took from a project based learning seminar last summer what to have them break up the work and assign it to each other. That way each member has clear objectives and I can grade both as a group and as individuals. That as made a HUGE difference.

    But I still struggle with getting kids to truely collaborate. I have done both lit circles and Socratic seminar, but never effectively. I would be interested in hearing how other manage it.

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  3. I most certainly agree with your beliefs on group work. I used to hate group work when my teacher assigned the groups. I was always stuck with the slackers and did all the work to ensure that my grade did not suffer. When we were given the one chance to group ourselves I was with a group that actually took our strong points and we worked together and the slackers were left to fend for themselves. Those students will always be in a class and in the comment by Heather about grading both the group and the student is a wonderful idea. That way the students have to work and need to do their own thing as well as helping the group.

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  4. Another awesome post! This is Brittani from the University of South Alabama agin. I completely agree with you on letting students pick their own groups. Like you said they will all flock to people similar to them. I know this from personal experience. I use to hate when teachers would pick my groups for me! I would always get stuck with someone who didn’t care about their work and who wouldn’t do anything to help. I found myself (an average student not even one of the Above average students) doing all the work. I would say that I won in the end because I learned how to do everything through trial and error but it still wasn’t fair! However if student pick people they are like you will have groups where everyone is the type of student that cares so you get the project done or you will have students who normally wouldn’t care about their work but neither does anyone else in their group so they have to do it anyway. Another way issues like this can be handled is if there are projects that include both alone work and group work. For instance if there is a teacher whom insist on choosing groups they should for the projects in a way that not one student is reliable but that they all are. for example if there was a group of kids assigned a work of literature and they had to make up and finnish how the story would end there could be a time where each student came up with their own then got in their group and include a little of everyones ideas in the final copy. Not to mention this would make the project that much more interesting and fun! I also commented about this post on my class blog. Once again it is at milliganbrittaniedm310.blogspot.com

    Reply

  5. I haven’t really thought much about how I would group students in a classroom. Recently, in one of my college classes, we grouped ourselves to discuss a handout. The two students I grouped with had such a different view of the article than I did. It really gave me a different perspective. I personally love group learning and am sure I will use it often in my classroom. Tanks fo rgiving me something to think about.

    Dina Tillman
    University of South Alabama
    EDM310

    Reply

  6. I always loved doing group projects in school, its true how when students are allowed to group themselves they do tend to gravitate towards people of their own motivation level. I can remember when the teacher would pick the groups for us somebody would get stuck doing the majority of the work while the others goofed off. It was always fun to see the competition that arose between the groups as well. I think that collaborative and cooperative learning is a great learning strategy for students. They are ale to gain a greater understanding of the subject matter by hearing what their peers think about it. Mrs. Follis,

    Reply

  7. I always loved doing group projects in school, its true how when students are allowed to group themselves they do tend to gravitate towards people of their own motivation level. I can remember when the teacher would pick the groups for us somebody would get stuck doing the majority of the work while the others goofed off. It was always fun to see the competition that arose between the groups as well. I think that collaborative and cooperative learning is a great learning strategy for students. They are ale to gain a greater understanding of the subject matter by hearing what their peers think about it. Mrs. Follis, this is Allison from USA, I have commented about your post in my blog for EDM 310.

    Reply

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