Classrooms with a focus on student discovery often use cooperative learning groups to allow students to work through problems and questions on their own. In its most basic sense, cooperative learning is group work in which two or more students work together to complete a class assignment. Even though cooperative learning creates a focus on student learning, there are disadvantages to this strategy.
Same Grades; Unequal Effort?
When grading of group work is designed so that all members of a group receive the same grade, there is a disadvantage for members of the group who do a majority of the work. Additionally, when projects such as written reports are graded, it may be difficult for the teacher to determine which parts of the project were completed by each group member. To fight potential inequality, the teacher can carefully monitor groups as they work to determine each member's contributions.
Groups Can Be Overly Social
Cooperative groups can be created by student or teacher selection, and each has some disadvantages. When students are allowed to select their own groups, they may choose based solely on social preference, which may encourage students to stray from the assigned task. On the other hand, if the teacher selects groups, there is a danger of grouping together students of similar abilities, which may create a group of very weak students or grouping students who may not work well together.
Lesson Planning Can Take Longer
With students working in groups, the teacher's task in managing the whole classroom is slightly more difficult as the students are required to interact. The teacher will have to design a lesson and assessment ahead of time that is appropriate for group work and allows for the fair evaluation of all students. The teacher will also need to develop a task that will engage all group members for the allotted time. Additionally, teachers need to be extra vigilant about plagiarism in group work, particularly if each member is required to turn in his own final project.
Making It a Good Learning Experience for All
Successful cooperative learning provides a positive communication and teamwork experience. To create these opportunities, careful planning can alleviate some of the disadvantages found in group work. Unfairness in grading can be avoided by creating clear expectations for each member of the group. Random grouping, such as drawing numbers or counting off group numbers, can lessen excessive chatting and keep students on task. Finally, teachers can plan cooperative learning activities to review lessons and skills already learned, so the group work will not be the only way students learn about a topic.
- Teaching Cooperative Learning: The Challenge for Teacher Education; edited by Elizabeth G. Cohen, Celeste M. Brody, Mara Sapon-Shevin; 2004
- Essentials of Middle and Secondary Social Studies; William Russell, Stewart Waters, Thomas Turner; 2014
- Ascilite.org.au: Collaborative Learning: Some Possibilities and Limitations for Students and Teachers: Matt Bower, Debbie Richards
- LearningDomain.com: Module 3: Collaborative Learning
- Help! I'm Teaching Middle School Science; C. Jill Swango and Sally Boles Steward; 2002
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