Cooperative learning: Teamwork that works

Cooperative learning is a widely accepted teaching strategy which not only improves academic achievement of students but also helps in improving their behaviour, attendance and self-confidence

Cooperative learning is a teaching strategy in which there are small teams – each with students of different levels and ability – that use different learning activities to improve their understanding of the assignment. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for assisting other members in the team to learn.

It is a “student-centred” instructional method and has become increasingly popular in schools as well as in higher education.

Cooperative learning is hailed as a very successful strategy, for this method results not only in improved academic achievement and improved behaviour and attendance but also in increased self-confidence and motivation.

In this approach, students are grouped together with higher-achieving students with low-achieving students so that each and every member in a group gets an opportunity to learn from each other. It has been found that cooperative learning helps to: increase academic learning, improve critical thinking ability, motivate students to learn, develop peer- relationships, share information with each other, consider others’ point of view and develop collaborative skills.

In Nepal’s context, this method can be hugely helpful in improving students’ academic achievement. Rote learning is what is practised in schools in Nepal in general. The cooperative learning approach hence can be adopted to avoid this traditional method of rote learning.

Cooperative learning strategy can be applied to teach all the subjects, including mathematics, science and social studies.

This method brings deeper understanding and develops critical thinking skills of students on the subject matter as every member has to give sufficient time and effort to the assigned task. Above all, it develops six pillars of higher self-esteem – living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully and personal integrity – among students.

Research on cooperative learning has found that students learning through cooperative method exhibit better social skills and higher performance.

The teacher or the instructor in cooperative learning has a key role to play starting from forming the teams of students. Students should be divided into different groups heterogeneously -- rather than allowing students to choose on their own -- on the basis of their abilities.

Cooperative learning basically comprises five elements -- positive interdependence, social skills, individual accountability, group evaluation and face-to-face interaction.

Under positive interdependence, a team of students is given a particular task or assignment and unless every member succeeds independently, the team is not considered successful.

This brings each member together to complete the assignment. In cooperative learning, students must develop social skills, as each member has to work in close coordination with others to complete an assignment. Since group members must know how to provide effective leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication and conflict-management with each other, cooperative learning not only improves students’ academic performance but also prepares them for their future endeavours.

Besides, it also helps students to develop three dimensions of learning: basic skills, cognitive skills and affective skills.

In individual accountability, every member of the team is held accountable for contributing his/her share of work. In face-to-face interaction, members share resources and help, support, encourage and praise each other’s efforts. In group evaluation, group members discuss how well they are performing in terms of completing the task and maintaining effective working relationship. Groups need to describe the actions of members and should make decisions on the behaviours that need to continue or change.

Cooperative learning is now regarded as a more structured form of collaborative learning in which the teacher exhibits greater control of tasks and goals. Conceptually, cooperative learning is a subset of collaborative learning (active learning with peers) which is again a subset of active learning (students’ active engagement in teaching learning activities).

How students interact with each another is usually a neglected aspect of instruction. But through cooperative learning, in which students have to get face to face and perform open-ended tasks, it facilitates cognitive growth and higher-level of thinking among the students.

Cooperative learning approach is therefore an opportunity for students to present their ideas, knowledge and perceptions on the assigned subject matter and hear from fellow students.

By adopting cooperative learning in teaching-learning activities, students improve communication skills, motor skills and develop a positive and congenial atmosphere in the class towards the instructor and peers.

This also inculcates the sense of cooperation in students, thereby enhancing students’ ability to be successful in their professional careers and lead a dignified life.

Cooperative learning is now a widely accepted method. It has gradually become the most preferred instructional method, which can be used at levels of education.

Joshi is a faculty member at Patan Multiple Campus