In this mornings lecture, a discussion about co-operative learning cropped up and it make me think about the importance of it in the primary classroom. Co-operative learning is a method of teaching and learning in which students team together to explore a significant question or create a meaningful project. It is a specific kind of collaborative learning in which students work together through discussions and pupils are individually accountable for their own work. However, is it just the same as group work? Or does revolutionise group work by allowing children to be more independent and appreciate working as part of a team? This blog post aims to delve into the concept of co-operative learning.
If we look back in time to 20th century education, co-operative learning would have never existed due to the way that pupils were taught by rote. Children were there to be seen and not heard and this would have made the classroom a very quite and eerie place to learn. When we think of classrooms in this day and age, they are not quiet places. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning is most effective when learners have the opportunity to think and talk together, to discuss ideas, question, analyse and solve problems, without the constant mediation of the teacher (Education Scotland, undated). This is why co-operative learning is fundamental within the context of the primary classroom. It stems from the work of Lev Vygosky and his view that learning is a social process. I do agree with this because in my experience you can learn more through interactions and discussions with your peers. Vygotsky’s ideas have been reflected in a number of teaching processes including critical skills and dialogic teaching. Both of these involve discussion and promote the idea that young peoples learning is best served when they have the opportunity to learn from each other.
I first experienced co-operative learning during my first year placement. It was an abstract concept to me as I had never observed it being put into practice. To begin, the teacher would organise the children into their home groups (every group had a specific name and emblem) and the teacher instructed the children to perform their team greet. I was specifically interested in this part because each team had a different greeting and I think it allowed each child to feel part of the team – a lovely touch!! The children were left to number themselves 1-4 and each number had a specific task. I cant remember off the top of my head, but I think this was the structure:
2- time keeper
4- collector of resources
What fascinated me the ‘motivator’ position because this person had be enthusiastic and push his or hers team on. It was refreshing to see that the children were motivated by this and praise from the motivator allowed the children to feel good about their work. The task itself was to make a badge that displayed their hobbies and interests. Each hobby or interest were to be drawn at the corners of the badge (the badge was a small A5 rectangle) with their name in the middle. In addition, the teacher would ask the children 4 questions like, “which is your favourite cartoon?” after each question, the teacher would put a digital clock on the whiteboard in so the time keepers can say ‘we have 10 seconds left’ and this allowed the team to know when their time was up. It was really refreshing and exciting to see the children work together in such a way. They were all actively involved in their own learning as each badge was personal to each individual. The children took responsibility for their own learning and it was enjoyable to observe (I even made my own badge and joined one of the groups).
This was a very good experience for me, but I began to think that it is a bit like group work. After discussing this point with my teacher after the lesson, she identified a number of key points that makes it a whole lot different from group work. She suggested that group work is more focussed with learning partner work, in which you can complete your work with your learning, but no meaningful discussion is being produced. She suggested that an activity allows children to take control of their own learning through discussion and learning off one another. She identified that each individual part of the home teams contribute effectively to each others learning through interactions and ‘motivating’ one another. Fundamentally, these skills need to be taught to the children before co-operative learning can take place. The children need to learn to organise themselves and once this happens, they are effectively taking part in their own learning.
Effectively, co-operative learning is a fantastic way of allowing children to take part in their education through means of discussion and learning from each other. It is a tried and tested method of collaborative learning and it is different from just normal group work in the sense that the children have more freedom and control over their learning. I will definitely be promoting this in future placements and I am eager to see it in practice again.