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?