Cooperative learning, or student- centered instruction is not a new concept. It has been utilized in nearly all academic settings and grade levels for the past decade. This group approach to learning promotes improved academic achievement, better attendance, higher motivation, and an increased interest for the subject and classmates. Industry specialists have deemed the ability to work well with others one of the most important skills necessary for success. Research and studies have proven its effectiveness, however the process is not without its critics.
Students often resist the responsibility for learning that is placed upon their shoulders. They may resent the active role that they are expected to take on. Personality conflicts within the group may also contribute to a general feeling of malcontent. It is the role of the instructor to initially guide the groups, and then monitor their progress in order to ensure maximum learning. The cooperative approach to learning is not intended to replace direct instruction from the teacher. It should be used to complement the direct instruction by affording the students the opportunity to respond to open-ended questions, role-play, and brainstorm.
When several students tackle the same problem, they may use a variety of methods. Watching someone arrive at a solution in a differing manner is beneficial as a learner. When students explain the process that they used to arrive at a solution, they not only teach the other members of the group, but they reinforce their own knowledge. Studies have proven that the best way to retain information is to teach it to others. Not only is the direct instruction received, but it is practiced, processed and further understood. Students often question the concept of being forced to work with others to achieve a goal that they feel they could easily achieve alone.
Those who are academically gifted or are extremely shy ar difficult to convince. The facts however state that most employers require team work to resolve issues. Many occupations revolve their practices around working together. If a student has never been guided through this method, he / she may fall short of being competent enough to do the job well. Intelligence is simply not enough in real world occupations. There are a limited number of university courses that solely instruct students on the etiquette of working cooperatively.
It is necessary therefore, to teach these skills within the framework of all content areas. High achieving and shy students will also find that their grades may improve by being involved in a cooperative process. There are many road blocks that may occur throughout the journey to cooperative learning. Not all students take their responsibilities seriously enough. Many feel that their slack will be picked up by the others in the group.
Some students may be too strong of leaders and stifle the contributions of the other members of the team. Conflict is a natural by-product of cooperation. When students are asked to work together, it is with the intent that they will each provide a differing view and /or opinion. When differing opinions are joined together to create one product, conflict is sure to arise. Conflict can be a very healthy springboard to learning.
When students dialogue and debate their opinions they might reinforce their ideas or dismiss them. The ability to listen and be flexible to new views is absolutely essential to the success of a group. Assigning roles may also help to ease the imbalance of effort. The students who dont contribute enough effort should first be encouraged by their groups. If this proves unsuccessful, the instructor should step in and mediate. It is absolutely unfair to punish a group for the ineffectiveness of one member.
Students should do everything possible to remain a cooperative and cohesive unit, but if all attempts fail they should be allowed a chance to rebuild a new unit. It should also never be the responsibility of the strongest member of the team to carry the others. The instructor can not assume that all group conflicts should be resolved alone. Classroom modeling of effective group work and role-playing of conflict situations should be directed by the instructor. Many years of research and numerous studies can not be denied. Cooperative learning is an effective method for understanding and retaining information.
Industry experts can not be ignored when they state that being able to work effectively in a team is an imperative skill. Cooperative learning is not a replacement for the classroom teacher. It is intended to complement the direct instruction by causing students to be confident thinkers and active learners.