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5 Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning

Explanataion of the 5 Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning

"Just because you put students in groups doesn't mean they'll work as a team."


The first and most important element in structuring cooperative learning is positive interdependence.

Positive interdependence is successfully structured when group members perceive that they are linked with each other in a way that one cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds. Group goals and tasks, therefore, must be designed and communicated to students in ways that make them believe they sink or swim together. When positive interdependence is solidly structured, it highlights that (a) each group member's efforts are required and indispensable for group success and (b) each group member has a unique contribution to make to the joint effort because of his or her resources and/or role and task responsibilities. Doing so creates a commitment to the success of group members as well as one's own and is the heart of cooperative learning. If there is no positive interdependence, there is no cooperation.

The nine ways in which positive interdependence can be structured are as follows:
  1. Goal interdependence-The group has a common goal and every member of the team is expected to achieve it.
  2. Incentive interdependence-Everyone receives the same reward but only if every member of the team succeeds.
  3. Resource interdependence-Resources, information, and material are limited so that students are obliged to work together and cooperate in sharing available resources.
  4. Sequence interdependence-The overall task is divided into a sequence of subtasks. Individual group members perform their particular tasks as part of a predetermined order.
  5. Role interdependence-Each group member is assigned a role with specific responsibilities. Each role contributes to and supports the task's completion.
  6. Identity interdependence-The group establishes a mutual identity through a name, flag, logo, or symbol. These can be augmented by a group song or cheer.
  7. Outside force interdependence-The group, as a whole, competes against other groups.
  8. Simulation interdependence-The group members imagine that they are in a situation or role where they must collaborate to be successful.
  9. Environmental interdependence-The group members work together within a specified physical space, such as a section of the classroom.

Instructor's Actions
  • Set up tasks which cannot be completed without input from each team member
  • Reflect on the 9 positive interdependencies and how they can be incorporated into the lesson
Avoid:
  • Allowing one student to be carried by the others
  • Allowing one student to do the work for the group
  • Holding up one person or group as "best"

The second basic element of cooperative learning is promotive interaction, preferably face-to-face.


Students need to do real work together in which they promote each other's success by sharing resources and helping, supporting, encouraging, and applauding each other's efforts to achieve. There are important cognitive activities and interpersonal dynamics that can only occur when students promote each other's learning. This includes orally explaining how to solve problems, teaching one's knowledge to others, checking for understanding, discussing concepts being learned, and connecting present with past learning. Each of those activities can be structured into group task directions and procedures. Doing so helps ensure that cooperative learning groups are both an academic support system (every student has someone who is committed to helping him or her learn) and a personal support system (every student has someone who is committed to him or her as a person). It is through promoting each other's learning face-to-face that members become personally committed to each other as well as to their mutual goals.


Teacher Actions:
  • Present instructions in visual and auditory ways (in language student can understand)
  • Check for understanding
  • Discuss concepts being learned
  • Connect present with past learning

The third basic element of cooperative learning is individual and group accountability.


Two levels of accountability must be structured into cooperative lessons. The group must be accountable for achieving its goals and each member must be accountable for contributing his or her share of the work. Individual accountability exists when the performance of each individual is assessed and the results are given back to the group and the individual in order to ascertain who needs more assistance, support, and encouragement in learning. The purpose of cooperative learning groups is to make each member a stronger individual in his or her right. Students learn together so that they subsequently can gain greater individual competency.


Teacher Actions:
  • Keep the size of the group small. The smaller the size of the group, the greater the individual accountability may be
  • Give an individual test to each student
  • Randomly examine students orally by calling on one student to present his or her group's work to the teacher (in the presence of the group) or to the entire class
  • Observe each group and record the frequency with which each member contributes to the group's work
  • Color code contributions
  • Process individual contributions
  • Individuals initial team decisions
  • Assign one student in each group the role of checker. The checker asks other group members to explain the reasoning and rationale underlying group answers
  • Have students teach what they learned to someone else
  • Assign roles, especially gatekeeper
  • Use structures like Jigsaw, Numbered Heads, Roundtable, Color-Coded Cards
  • Base team scores on individual achievement

Avoid:

  • Including group products, tests, discussions and decisions in which individual contributions are not differentiated

The fourth basic element of cooperative learning is teaching students the required interpersonal and small group skills.


Cooperative learning is inherently more complex than competitive or individualistic learning because students have to engage simultaneously in task work (learning academic subject matter) and teamwork (functioning effectively as a group). Social skills for effective cooperative work do not magically appear when cooperative lessons are employed. Instead, social skills must be taught to students just as purposefully and precisely as academic skills. Leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management skills empower students to manage both teamwork and task work successfully. Since cooperation and conflict are inherently related (see Johnson & Johnson, 1995), the procedures and skills for managing conflicts constructively are especially important for the long-term success of learning groups. Procedures and strategies for teaching students social skills may be found in Johnson (1991, 1993) and Johnson and F. Johnson (1994).


Teacher Focus:

Help students develop social skills naturally or by specific teaching of the required skills in the following areas:
  • Leadership, Decision-making, Trust-building, Communication, Conflict-management skills
  • Provide opportunities for students to ?naturally? use social skills in fun or high interest topics
  • Teach, model, chart, process (provide feedback), role play, and reinforce social skills,
  • Assign roles and skills and teach associated response modes and gambits.

Avoid:

  • Placing students in situations before they have appropriate skills, e.g., placing them in conflict before they have conflict resolution skills


The fifth basic element of cooperative learning is group processing.

Group processing exists when group members discuss how well hey are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships. Groups need to describe what member actions are helpful and unhelpful and make decisions about what behaviors to continue or change. Continuous improvement of the processes of learning results from the careful analysis of how members are working together and determining how group effectiveness can be enhanced.

Teacher Actions:
  • Have group members discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships
  • Describe what member actions are helpful and not helpful
  • Make decisions about what behaviors to continue or change
Avoid:
  • Telling students to discuss, cooperate, practice, or produce a product without providing structures, models, and norms to reflect on

Suggested Discussion Topic

Is there any one of the five elements that seems particularly significant to you? If so, why? Write your response in this discussion.

  1. Jana saidSat, 05 Apr 2008 13:46:25 -0000 ( Link )

    I think it’s very important not to forget the fifth basic element even if time is pressing.

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  2. csrd saidFri, 11 Apr 2008 01:06:37 -0000 ( Link )

    Accountability awareness strikes the balance.

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  3. lala saidWed, 14 May 2008 06:03:34 -0000 ( Link )

    I am at the stage of teaching social skills needed to function in a group. I would like to hear more about this for young learners.

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  4. pramodh saidMon, 16 Jun 2008 12:51:36 -0000 ( Link )

    I think the third point of Individual and Group Accountability is very important. One of the very important things that Doctors learn during their training is this – to be accountable individually and as a group. And to a great extent due to this, that we trust them with our lives and those of our loved ones.
    I am sure going ahead, most of the learning will be somewhat like this. I see it happening already.

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  5. mpramanick saidSat, 27 Feb 2010 17:46:59 -0000 ( Link )

    I feel that all the points for positive interdependence are carefully weighed. I agree with all of them but perhaps distinct roles other than participants cannot always be included. Over a number of group activities perhaps each sphere could be examined.
    Trust building and confidence management skills are indeed crucial.

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  6. vicky200 saidTue, 27 Jul 2010 02:55:24 -0000 ( Link )

    I think it’s very important not to forget the fifth basic element even if time is pressing.

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  7. Weltraumaffe saidMon, 22 Oct 2012 08:34:55 -0000 ( Link )

    “Identity interdependence-The group establishes a mutual identity through a name, flag, logo, or symbol. These can be augmented by a group song or cheer.
    Outside force interdependence-The group, as a whole, competes against other groups.” Next step: Build an army to secure resources against competing, hostile forces?

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