Social and communication skill development may result from cooperative learning groups.
Social and communication skill development may result from cooperative learning groups.

Cooperative learning is an educational concept that really took off in the early 1990s, and it has evolved ever since. This teaching approach involves placing students in small groups or teams to complete work tasks, projects or tests. While many teachers use cooperative learning techniques, the use of group grades is sometimes controversial. This is when each student in a group receives the same grade for the group's output.

Motivate Group Performance

In simple motivational terms, grading a group for the group's work provides an incentive for individual students in the group to put forth maximum effort. If you grade individuals based on their respective roles and contributions within the group, you don't provide a natural motive for students to think interdependently. In fact, rewarding individuals within the group can lead to people sticking to perceptions of their own roles and not focusing on sharing their talents and ideas within the group. Additionally, conflict resolution is usually necessary for group success, and group grades offer an incentive for members to work through challenges.

Accurate Assessment

Grading a student group for the results it produces is the most accurate assessment of the performance against the stated expectations. If you put students in a group and convey criteria for success, your measurement of that success should align. In other words, if a group produces a paper or project that is incomplete, not thorough or of poor quality, a collectively poor grade is the most accurate assessment of that group's output. Accuracy in grade feedback is necessary for students to analyze their performance and work to improve on team skills and group interaction.

Varied Student Goals

One of the more valid and constant criticisms of cooperative learning group grades is that students in a group may not have common goals. In a high school or college group, for instance, some students may want an A grade on the project and in the class. Others may simply want to pass or have more modest grade expectations. This leads to different levels of motivation and commitments to the group. This contributes to group tension as some students feel as if they contribute more and have more invested than others. Peer evaluations and adjustments to individual scores are methods some instructors use to offset this issue.

Inaccurate Individual Assessment

While a group grade accurately assesses group output, it doesn't necessarily provide feedback to each team member on his own team-orientation or skills. In the long run, student groups are temporary collaborations. While group success is important, it is more important that each student develop a team orientation and teamwork skills to take into his future career. Again, peer evaluations and some form of instructor critique of individual contributions and performance can offset this.