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Your Guide to Cooperative Learning

By Yann, published on 10/07/2018 We Love Prof - AU > Tutoring > Advice for Tutors > A Guide to Cooperative Learning

Standardized education, in general, has long been under fire for several reasons; perhaps the main one being the unrealistic expectation that every student will absorb, retain and be capable of using the information presented to them in the traditional teaching model.

The standard model of teaching – teacher talks, students listen has suffered its share of critics too: not everyone learns in the same way!

So it is that a revolution in education comes about. No longer should education be an individualized, competitive affair; social learning must go hand in hand with intellectual growth.

What was so wrong with individual students competing for the best marks?

You really only need to look at today’s businesses to figure out that the best effort and the most work is done in collaboration; by employees cooperating to complete projects.

If you think about it, don’t we teach our children, from infancy on, to share and to cooperate?

That being the case, doesn’t it make sense to carry out that philosophy through children’s earliest foray into society – school, so that they will be better prepared for their working life?  

Cooperative learning consists of equal parts of social learning and academic learning.

Far more than the think pair share teaching strategy, cooperative learning draws on students’ processing of information in a group setting rather than the teacher leading the instruction.  

Mind you, there are plenty of pitfalls and concerns regarding cooperative learning initiatives.

We’ll talk about the good, touch on the bad and help you find ways to make cooperative learning work,  in the classroom and in one to one tutoring.

Cooperative learning is a buzzword in education

What is Cooperative Learning and Why is it a Buzzword in Education?

Cooperative learning could be described as a delicate balancing act between teachers’ authority and students’ autonomy.

By ‘authority’ we don’t mean discipline, and by ‘autonomy’ we don’t mean liberty.

In the cooperative learning model, imparting knowledge takes second place to students’ learning process.

The principle of cooperative learning transforms the role of the teacher to one of a facilitator, enabling groups to work and learn together, from each other.  

We should make the distinction between cooperative and collaborative learning clear: not every collaboration is born of cooperative learning, and not every cooperative learning assignment results in collaboration.

Students who collaborate may choose to do so of their own volition, independent of teachers’ instruction, outside of the classroom and perhaps even outside of school.

This diagram might help clarify the two concepts

Cooperative learning activities call on students’ critical thinking skills, with the teacher guiding the group to form conclusions and tasking them to explain their reasons for arriving at them.

What Does Cooperative Learning Involve?

A teacher may choose between three styles of cooperative learning:

  1. Informal, more of a spur of the moment discussion of the topic at hand, done in learning groups, after which one student may present the group’s conclusions.
  2. Formal, in which the teacher organizes the students into groups and possibly assigns each group member a role. One student may research notes and texts while another records observations. One student could be a timekeeper – making sure everyone stays on task, and another represents the group, come time to divulge the findings.
  3. Base: the students are organized into groups for the entire semester or school year. The students’ roles may change within the group – the recorder may become the researcher, and so on so that everyone has the opportunity to fulfill every role in the group dynamic.

How to Group Students for Cooperative Learning Projects

Besides grouping students formally or informally, a teacher should be well aware of his/her students’ learning styles, and which students work well in groups – as opposed to those who work best alone.

Ideally, you should create a blend of personalities in each group.

While putting all of your extroverts together would make for a lively and engaged group, you would have to wonder: how much work would get done?

The talking necessary for effective group work is one of the bigger concerns of cooperative learning: how much extraneous chatter should be allowed before the teacher has to step in?

Although cooperative learning is supposed to be social learning, not every student enjoys being social.

That is why it is important to signal that everyone maintains their individuality. One way to do so is through the role they play in the group.   

Perhaps a more introverted student could research, while another acts as timekeeper. Meanwhile, prepare your verbal group member to present, while the kinesthetics perhaps write on the board.  

You must remember that cooperative learning is not a teacher-centered model.

In this educational model, you become a facilitator, meaning you arrange the groups to permit the maximum flow of information between group members.

Trouble is, that all works well in a classroom environment, but how is a tutor supposed to work with individual students who work in a base learning group at school?

Cooperative learning calls on student's critical thinking skills

Tutoring Individual Students Toward Cooperative Learning Projects

As schools turn away from standard teaching yet maintain the same curriculum, that would imply that students would still need academic support and homework help, right?

Such a postulate might encourage tutors to believe that nothing has changed as far as their duties are concerned when, in fact, there must be a coinciding revolution in private tutoring to match the one going on in schools all over the world.

Now more than ever, tutors need strategies to promote active learning in their students, rather than the reinforcement of learned material.

Active learning is a teaching method that strives to involve students in the learning process.

The key question to accomplishing that is knowing how your students learn.

If you are an experienced teacher who also tutors, you must know all about learning styles and, most likely, can discern your tutee’s learning style within the first hour of working with him/her.

On the other hand, if you are a college student earning extra money by tutoring, you may have to educate yourself on the subject.

Once you’ve ascertained that your pupil is either aural, verbal, kinesthetic or any of the others, it is time to devise your strategy.

It should consist, at least in part, of toning students’ natural inclinations to better fit into a group dynamic.

If your student requies more assistance, naturally you must take special pains to help build the skills – both academic and social, that would help him/her better assimilate into the group.

We’re glad to provide you with helpful tips and suggestions on the matter.   

Changing Your Title

Tutors of yesteryear may recall the good ole days, when you showed up, were offered a beverage, led into the dining room and had unfettered access to your student for an hour or so.

After the icebreaker and review of last week’s material, s/he bent over her notebook while you waited… for a question, or to check the work.

Tutors of today are called on to do so much more!

One might say that tutors must become academic coaches, focusing more on helping their students build the skills needed to function in the classrooms of today.

What are the different cooperative learning strategies?

How Private Tutoring Should Evolve to Include Cooperative Learning Initiatives

Because such a great part of cooperative learning is social learning, tutors must incorporate activities and conversation that would promote social skills and encourage participation in class.

Role-playing games work well with all age groups. You might try posing a few ‘what if’ questions to your older students, just to engage their higher order thinking skills and perhaps even debate with them.

“What if nobody ever studied history?” or “What if E did not equal MC2?”

The takeaway here is that these days, school is all about the learning experience, and less about cramming knowledge into (unwilling) heads.

Anything you can do to help your charges develop effective learning strategies and anything you can do to promote their capacity for social interaction and their ability to function in-group is all to the good.

Interdependence is another key factor in cooperative learning, and this is where a tutor an academic coach will shine!

Tutors have traditionally been their pupils’ ally, a grown-up who actively listens and empathizes.  

You may encourage deeper student engagement to foster interdependence, but cautiously!

At no time should your student become overly dependent on you; your mutual goal should be to ensure that s/he has the skills to function well in group activities – not to withdraw in class in favor of working with you.

Every instructor – be s/he a tutor or classroom educator, has the same goal: for students to succeed.

That is why tutors must keep on top of the instructional strategies that schools systems implement, and why teachers must undergo professional development.

There is a danger of implementing this teaching and learning philosophy incorrectly so that it benefits neither student nor teacher.

Hopefully, every learner you work together with will enjoy only the upside of cooperative learning strategies, and you too will find them challenging yet engaging.

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