Advantages & Disadvantages of Cooperative Education for High School Students

Cooperative learning increases student achievement.
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Cooperative learning is an instructional method in which students work together in small groups to achieve a goal. In cooperative learning environments, the teacher gives the students a problem or project and facilitates the learning process instead of directly instructing. Students work in their groups to explore the problem or question and work toward a shared goal. Cooperative learning improves student achievement and increases social awareness, but may also create classroom management and accountability issues.

1 Accountability

Author Spencer Kagan discusses the issue of group accountability. Group grades are common with teachers when assessing cooperative learning projects, but can be unfair and cause students to resent each other. Sometimes lower-achieving students piggyback on the students who take the most initiative and do the most work. In these cases, some less-motivated students are given grades that do not represent their mastery of the content. Students may also become too dependent on each other and lose the motivation to work independently.

2 Class Management Issues

When students are sitting in close proximity, they can easily get distracted with chatter, lose precious class time and cause disruptions for other groups. Kagan says that students may also fear feeling incompetent in front of classmates and refuse to do the work, which creates more opportunity for misbehavior. Instructors must be very structured and set clear rules and expectations for behavior when working with groups. They should begin with smaller tasks before moving to more long-term cooperative learning assignments.

3 Increased Achievement

University of Minnesota professors Roger and David W. Johnson found that cooperative learning improves student achievement and creates a climate of success. When working in groups, students put forth more effort, use higher-order thinking skills more often and retain the material for a longer period of time. Students also teach each other new concepts, which increases their understanding of the material.

4 Social Skills

According to the California Department of Education, students who work in groups have the chance to practice communication skills, empathy for others and conflict resolution. They learn to appreciate diversity and understand how to cooperate with peers. These are important life and workplace skills that will be valuable even if the original content of the assignment is forgotten. In some cases, group work leads to more participation, because shy students may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with a few students instead of with the entire class.

Houston area native Marie Anderson began writing education articles in 2013. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise and sports science and a Master of Science in education administration. She has seven years of teaching and coaching experience within the Texas public school system.