More Generally to Small Group Activities Compiled by Sumru Akcan, (University of Arizona, USA),
Icy Lee (Hong Kong Baptist University), Ghazi Ghaith (American University of Beirut), and George M Jacobs (JF New Paradigm Education, Singapore)
What is Cooperative Learning
We define cooperative learning (CL) as concepts and strategies for enhancing the value of student-student interaction. CL arose in general education. Although the use of student-student collaboration to enhance learning has a history going back thousands of years (Johnson & Johnson, 1994), the 1970s marked an great increase, that continues to this day, in efforts of a theoretical, research, and practical nature, attempting to better understand and enhance the process of student-student collaboration. Much of this work has taken place under the banner of cooperative learning and a related term, collaborative learning. For the purposes of this bibliography, the terms ‘cooperative learning’ and ‘collaborative learning’ shall be used interchangeably, but see Matthews, Cooper, Davidson, & Hawkes (http://www2.emc.maricopa.edu/innovation/CCL/building.html, retrieved 8 August 1999) for a fuller discussion of terminology. Additionally, for us, the term "groups" means small groups, usually of four students or less, and seldom more than six. A pair is considered a group.
A variety of approaches exist within the CL tradition (see Sharan, 1994 for descriptions of some of these). Concepts integral to one or more of these approaches include:
1. Positive Interdependence is the feeling among group members that they sink or swim together. If one fails, all fail. If one succeeds, everybody succeeds. Group members realize that each member’s efforts benefit not only themself but all other group members as well. Positive interdependence provides a feeling of support within the group.
2. Individual Accountability exists when each individual member feels responsible to learn, to demonstrate their learning, and to contribute to the learning of groupmates. In other words, no one should hitchhike or freeride on the efforts of others. The purpose of CL is to make each member a stronger individual in their own right. The success of the group is not measured by a particular group product, but by the individual progress of each group member. Individual accountability provides a feeling of pressure within the group, which, hopefully, mixes well with the feeling of support offered by positive interdependence. These first two concepts - positive interdependence and individual accountability – are common to most approaches to CL.
3. Collaborative Skills receive emphasis because to work successfully with others, students need to develop collaborative skills, such as asking for help, making suggestions, and disagreeing politely. Development of these skills often requires direct instruction and systematic follow-up.
4. Heterogeneous Grouping is a concept based on the view that often learning and other educational goals are best promoted by the teacher establishing heterogeneous groups on the basis of such factors as ethnic group, past achievement or proficiency level, sex, and on-task behaviour.
5. Equal Participation involves efforts to encourage all group members to participate to a roughly equal degree. Means of doing this include providing each member with a turn to speak or particular information that they need to contribute to the group.
6. Simultaneous Interaction contrasts with teacher-fronted instruction in which one person - often the teacher - speaks at a time, i.e., sequential interaction. When group activities are used, one person per group may be speaking, e.g., if a class of 40 students are working in groups of four, ten people may be talking simultaneously.
7. Processing Group Interaction takes place when students analyze and discuss how well their group is working together and how their group might function better in the future.
8. Classbuilding and Teambuilding involve efforts to create a feeling of respect, trust, cooperation, and understanding within classes and groups.
9. Face-to-face Promotive Interaction is based on the idea that groups succeed only when members engage in dialogue with each other to explain, debate, encourage, and question one another. While the increased use and development of computers has made it possible for such interaction to take place without being literally face-to-face, the principle nonetheless holds that dialog is indispensable.
10. Equal Opportunity for Success entails providing each student, regardless of their past achievement level, the same chance to contribute to their group receiving a reward.
11. Cooperation as a Value means that students not only use cooperation as a tool for learning but also study about cooperation, i.e., cooperation as a theme. Students are encouraged to see cooperation as valuable in all aspects of life and to take cooperative actions where suitable rather than competitive or individualistic ones.
CL stands supported by one of the strongest research traditions in education, with many hundreds of studies conducted across a wide range of subject areas and age groups (for reviews, see Bossert, 1988-1989; Cohen, 1994b; Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Johnson, Johnson, & Stanne, 2000; Sharan, 1980; Slavin, 1995). This large body of research suggests that student-student collaboration conducted in a manner consistent with CL produces superior results on a host of variables, including achievement, thinking skills, interethnic relations, liking for school, and self-esteem.
Although CL is a term better known in general education than in second language education, much commonality exists between the CL literature and the literature of second language education, although different terminology is used for similar concepts. Indeed, we believe that, while not forgetting the particularities of second language acquisition, the second language education community would be well-served by digging deeper into the CL literature. To aid this purpose, a bibliography of print and electronic resources on CL in general education is offered at the end of this introduction.
At the same time, for at least two reasons, the mainstream CL community could benefit from an investigation of the work done on the use of groups for the learning of second languages. First, language plays such an important role in learning, regardless of the subject, and second, many students are learning through the medium of a second language. (Note: Without attempting to gloss over differences, the term ‘second language’ is intended to encompass foreign language contexts as well.)