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A. Group Size/Composition -- Johnson and Johnson report the highest levels of success occur when groups are kept small. In fact, they favor groups of two (dyads) for many cooperative tasks, with the number of group members increasing in proportion to the complexity of the task. Teachers introducing cooperative learning for the first time might let students select their own groups. But once comfort is established, the greatest potential for benefit occurs in heterogeneous groupings, with the teacher assuring a balanced mix of ethnic groups, females/males, handicapped with non-handicapped students, and students of low-to-high ability and productivity.
B. Group Functions -- Students may work in groups on any of the assignments they would ordinarily do alone. They may meet to collaborate on solving a problem, to discuss an issue without direct leading by the teacher, to brainstorm for new ideas or summarize what they have learned about ideas previously presented, to formulate concepts out of information and facts they have been given. Particularly valuable is the potential of a group to share the parts of a complex project or jointly produce an assigned product. Goals for the group might range from practice in group communication processes to preparation for a presentation to the whole class group.
C. Group Norms -- Teachers need to proceed slowly and with patience to introduce students to cooperative learning. It is not enough to rearrange the seating. A "culture" of group work needs to be developed that includes expectations regarding noise level, an atmosphere of trust, absence of "put-downs," equal participation, and willingness to help one another. The use of group grades is controversial, but Johnson and Johnson report good results from encouraging "we sink or swim together" mindsets. It is important that students learn to coach and teach each other. Brighter students' learning is enhanced by their efforts to teach the others; less-capable students benefit from increased one-to-one attention.
D. Group Skills -- Students need to be taught procedures and given practice opportunities for rearranging the classroom space, moving quietly into groups, responding to teachers' signals for attention, etc. So, too, it is important for them to receive explicit instruction and regular practice in the interpersonal skills that this method, as well as life in a democratic society, requires. These include:
E. Group Goals and Roles -- Clear instructions, goals, and time lines for group activities are essential to successful cooperative learning. It is also important that each member have a specific function within the group: recorder, reporter, monitor, observer, facilitator, etc. Roles should be changed frequently, so that members have opportunity to practice new roles, and should be designed to fit the group's particular task.
Aaronson, E., The Jigsaw Classroom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1978)
Devries, D. L. et.al., "Teams-Games-Tournaments: Review of Ten Classroom Experiences," Journal of Research and Development in Education 12:28-38, 1978
Dishon, D. and O'Leary, P.W., A Guidebook for Cooperative Learning (Portage, MI: Cooperation Unlimited, 1984)
Johnson, D. W. et. al., Circles of Learning (Washington, D.C., ASCD, 1985)
Kagan, S., Cooperative Learning: Resources for Teachers (Riverside, CA: University of California, 1985)
Kohn, A., "It's Hard to Get Left Out of a Pair," Psychology Today, October, 1987 (on work of Johnson and Johnson)
McKisson, M. and Wasley, P., "China Connections: A Computer Simulation Game," 1987
Sharan, S., and Sharan, Y., Small-Group Teaching (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, 1976)
Slavin, R. E., "Learning Together: Cooperative Groups and Peer Tutoring Produce Significant Academic Gains," American Educator, Summer 1986, pp. 6-13
Slavin, R. E., "Student Teams and Achievement Divisions (STAD,) Journal of Research and Development in Education 12:39-49, 1978
Slavin, R. E. Using Student Team Learning (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Learning Project, 1980)