a case of cooperative learning

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The ability to learn is one of the successes in the knowledge society. Burns (1995) idea about learning is that learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour with behaviour including both observable activity and internal processes such as thinking, attitudes and emotions. Burns also considers that learning might not manifest itself in observable behaviour until sometime after an educational program has taken place.

Teachers adopt a lot of teaching strategies in order to ensure effective learning by their students. There is a relationship between applying a wide range of teaching strategies and effective learning in the classroom. Apart from having different teaching strategies, there are also different learning styles which include Accomodators, Assimilators, Convergers and Divergers. Most students learn by adopting a mixture of these learning styles.

As part of their responsibility to use a wide range of teaching strategies which will bring about effective learning, teachers also identifies a range of learning styles that their lessons will address as well as the teaching strategies that will engage their pupils the most. Again teachers try to match their pupils' preference for learning to their own preferred range of teaching strategies.

The way and manner in which a teacher guides, instructs and imparts knowledge to students is known as the teaching style. Teachers have their own teaching style but may also adopt a range of teaching methods depending on the individual needs and abilities of the pupils. Some teachers prefer lecturing, demonstrating or having a discussing with the pupils. Some pay attention to rules and examples while others emphasises on memorising and understanding. Other methods include active learning, case method, cooperative learning, integrating technology and distance learning.

In the same way an individual's learning style is seen as the ways in which he or she characteristically acquires, retains and retrieves information. Collectively, again pupils learn in different ways which includes by seeing and learning; reflecting and acting; reasoning logically and intuitively; memorising and visualization.

The teaching styles of teachers may not always match the students learning styles in which case can result in adverse effects on the quality of the students learning and the class as a whole (Felder and Silverman 1988; Lawrence 1993; Oxford et al. 1991; Schmeck 1988). It is known that how much knowledge a student acquires depends partly on the students' natural ability and how much preparation has been made before the lesson and also partly on how compatible is the students and teachers approach to learning and teaching respectively.

The need for interdependence in all levels has increased in our society. Providing students with the tools to effectively work in a collaborative environment should be a priority in our society. Cooperative learning is one way of providing students with a well defined model from which they learn from each other. Students work towards fulfilling academic and social skill goals that are clearly stated. Within cooperative activities individuals seek outcomes that are beneficial to themselves and beneficial to all other group members.

Cooperative learning among a wide range of teaching strategies has been identified as a successful teaching strategy in which small groups each normally consisting of students having different levels of ability adopt a range of learning activities to make understanding of the subject easier. Each member in a group apart from learning also has the responsibility of helping teammates to learn. Also each group member has a specific task and everyone must be involved in the learning because the success of the group usually depends on the successful work of every individual member. Again group members continue to practice concepts until the whole group are able to understand and can complete the task that is given.

A cooperative classroom increasingly emphasizes mediated learning. Mediation can be defined as facilitating, modelling and coaching. Facilitating involves creating rich environment and activities for linking new information to prior knowledge, providing opportunities for cooperative work and problem solving, and offering students a multiplicity of authentic learning tasks. Coaching involves giving hints or clues, providing feedback, redirecting students' efforts and helping their use of a strategy. That is to provide them with right amount of help when they need it.

Cooperation involves of positive interdependence, face-to-face promotive interaction, individual and group accountability, interpersonal and small group skills and group (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1993). Structuring these basic elements into group learning situations helps ensure cooperative efforts and enables the disciplined implementation of cooperative learning for long-term success. There are other reasons for students to participate in cooperate activities.

It promotes active learning and increase students retention

It develops students skills in social skills and oral communication

It promotes self esteem

It enhances students understanding and motivation.

Students learn from each other and benefit from activities that require them to test their knowledge.

It provides opportunity for students to clarify and refine their understanding of concepts thorough discussions and rehearsal with peers.

Carefully structured and tested activities - as well as sympathy with the basic principles and purposes of cooperative learning - are essential to making the methods work in the classroom. There are different cooperative learning activities that can be done in class. This includes jigsaw, think-pair-share, three step interviews, roundrobin brainstorming, three-minute review, number headed together, team pair solo, circle the stage and partners (Kagan, 1986).

An article published by Ray (2008) stated that "most cooperative learning strategies place students in groups of four to six students. Many of these strategies also implement team rewards as a means of motivating students to work well with group members and to be responsible for their part of the work. Examples of cooperative learning strategies include Student Teams-Achievement Divisions (STAD), Jigsaw, Cooperative Integrated Reading Composition (CIRC), and Group Investigation". Cooperative learning may take two forms - group study methods and project-based, or active, learning. Group recognition and individual accountability must have their place in cooperative learning.

This study focuses on cooperative learning as a teaching strategy for effective learning. Cooperative learning is a systematic pedagogical strategy that encourages small groups to students to work together for the achievement of a common goal. The term "collaborative learning" is often as a synonym for cooperative learning in fact it is a separate strategy that encompasses a broader range of group interactions such as developing learning communities, stimulation student discussions and encouraging electronic exchanges (Bruffee, 1993). Both approaches stress the importance of faculty and student involvement in the learning process.

It is important to plan and prepare carefully when integrating cooperative learning strategies into a course. Understanding how to form groups ensure positive interdependence, maintain individual accountability, resolve group conflict, develop appropriate assignments and grading criteria and manage active learning environment are critical to the achievement of a successful cooperative learning experience.

There have been a number of researches on teaching strategies that impact on students learning effectively with different opinions in several quarters. Lots of debates have also taken place about effective teaching which has to a large extent been based on the efficiency of providing a number of ways of teaching styles and strategies due to the strong recognition that pupils learn in different ways. Cooperative learning has in recent times been criticised largely as a result of its use inappropriately. One school of thought argues that teachers sometimes give much attention to the best students by making them heads of a learning group. This study thus seeks to analyse cooperative learning as a teaching strategy for effective learning.

In this study we will explore the following questions:

Does cooperative learning bring about effective learning?

Does cooperative learning benefit the whole group of students?

What can be done to address the needs of all members in the learning groups?

Literature Review

Cooperative learning has been one of the best researched of all teaching strategies. Results of studies indicate that students who are given opportunity to work together in groups not only learn faster and more efficiently but also have greater retention and feel more positive about the learning experience.


Cooperation is working together to accomplish shared goals. It is a team approach where the success of the group depends upon everyone pulling his or her weight. Most researchers and practitioners of cooperative learning stress that it is a formal instructional model in which teachers carefully design lessons and activities that are suitable for use by teams. Team work, under proper conditions encourages peer learning. Teambuilding exercises are very important in the development of teams that will work together for an extended period of time on a complex project or a series of activities. Teambuilding may be defined as "the process needed to create, maintain, and enrich the development of a group of people into a cohesive unit" (Solomon, Davidson, & Solomon, 1993).

Spencer Kagan defined cooperative learning in an Educational Leadership magazine by looking at general structures which can be applied to any situation. Kagan mentioned that the structural approach to cooperative learning is based on the creation, analysis and systematic application of structures or content-free ways of organising social interaction in the classroom. Structures usually involve a series of steps, with proscribed behaviour at each step.

Cooperative learning among a wide range of teaching strategies has been identified as a successful teaching strategy in which small groups each normally consisting of students having different levels of ability. Factors that determine mixed abilities include students' motivations, interests, and needs; linguistic ability; general educational background; learning styles; age; external pressures and time available to study; and student anxiety (Ainslie, 1994).

According to Glasser (1986), children's motivation to work in elementary school is dependent on the extent to which their basic psychological needs are met. Cooperative learning increases student motivation by providing peer support. As part of a learning team, students can achieve success by working well with others. Students are also encouraged to learn material in greater depth than they might otherwise have done, and to think of creative ways to convince the teacher that they have mastered the required material.

Components of the cooperative learning process as described by Johnson and Johnson (1974) are complimentary to the goals of early childhood education. For example, well-constructed cooperative learning tasks involve positive interdependence on others and individual accountability. To work successfully in a cooperative learning team, however, students must also master interpersonal skills needed for the group to accomplish its tasks.

When a child first comes to a structured educational setting, one of the teacher's goals is to help the child move from being aware only of himself or herself to becoming aware of other children. At this stage of learning, teachers are concerned that children learn to share, take turns, and show caring behaviours for others. Structured activities which promote cooperation can help to bring about these outcomes. One of the most consistent research findings is that cooperative learning activities improve children's relationships with peers, especially those of different social and ethnic groups.

Cooperative learning has also been shown to improve relationships among students from different ethnic backgrounds. Salvin (1984) is of the view that cooperative learning promotes academic achievement, is relatively easy to implement, and is not expensive. He also mentioned that "Cooperative learning methods embody the requirements of cooperative, equal status interaction between students of different ethnic backgrounds..." For older students, teaching has traditionally stressed competition and individual learning.

Cooperative learning can take place in a variety of circumstances. For example, brainstorming and tutorial groups, when employed as instructional strategies, provide opportunities to develop cooperative learning skills and attitudes.

When students are given cooperative task, learning is assessed individually, and rewards are given on the basis of the group's performance (Featherstone, 1986). Observing cooperative learning groups in action allows you to effectively assess students' work and understanding. Cooperative learning groups also offer a unique opportunity for feedback from peers and for self-reflection.

Co-operative Learning has been proven to enhance children's capacity to learn and consolidate new ideas across the primary curriculum. In the vast majority of research studies co-operative learning has been shown to be more effective than traditional methods in raising the levels of motivation and achievement of children as well as resulting in positive social outcomes. Researchers such as Robert Slavin and David and Roger Johnson have shown that using co-operative learning strategies has a positive impact on achievement.

Children who learn co-operatively tend to be more highly motivated to learn because of increased self-esteem. They also have greater on-task behaviour, score higher on achievement and problem solving tests and tend to get along better with classmates of different racial, ethnic and social backgrounds.

Professor David Hopkins, Nottingham University, stated in his evaluation of the schools which implemented the co-operative learning strategies in the pilot in 1998 that, "We found learning behaviour inside schools had improved. Children were learning how to problem solve and work in groups and were able to transfer these skills to other curriculum areas.

One result, which has excited researchers, is that boys were making as much progress as girls, despite conventional research and national trends, which branded boys slower."

Students learning in small groups encourage each other to ask questions, explain and justify their opinions, articulate their reasoning, and elaborate and reflect upon their knowledge, thereby motivating and improving learning. These benefits, however, are only achieved by active and well-functioning learning teams. A team's learning potential is maximized when all the students actively participate in the group's discussions. Building involvement in group discussions increases the amount of information available to the group, enhancing group decision making and improving the students' quality of thought during the learning process (Soller,Linton, Goodman and Gaimari, 1996).

Johnson and Johnson (1994) mentioned that not all groups are cooperative groups. Putting groups together in a room does not mean cooperative learning is taking place. In order to have effective cooperative learning the following 5 essential elements are needed.

1. Positive interdependence-Each group member depends on each other to accomplish a shared goal or task. Without the help of one member the group is not able to reach the desired goal.

2. Face-to-face interaction- Promoting success of group members by praising, encouraging, supporting, or assisting each other.

3. Individual accountability- Each group member is held accountable for his or her work. Individual accountability helps to avoid members from "hitchhiking" on other group members' accomplishments.

4. Social skills- Cooperative learning groups set the stage for students to learn social skills. These skills help to build stronger cooperation among group members. Leadership, decision-making, trust-building, and communication are different skills that are developed in cooperative learning.

5. Group processing- Group processing is an assessment of how groups are functioning to achieve their goals or tasks. By reviewing group behaviour the students and the teacher get a chance to discuss special needs or problems within the group. Groups get a chance to express their feelings about beneficial and unhelpful aspects of the group learning process in order to correct unwanted behaviour and celebrate successful outcomes in the group work.

In an articles published by Ray (2008) stated that constructivist theories of learning propose that students should discover information for themselves, developing and questioning knowledge as necessary. Social learning theorists suggest that learning is heavily by interaction with, and input from other individuals. A highly effective teaching strategy known as cooperative learning fuses these two perspectives of learning, taking a group discovery approach to learning in a broad spectrum of subject matters. This approach to classroom learning, when used appropriately, has enormous positive effects on academic achievement, as well as social development and relationships.

Foyle and Lyman (1988) identified ten basic steps involved in successful implementation of cooperative learning activities:

1. The content to be taught is identified, and criteria for mastery are determined by the teacher.

2. The most useful cooperative learning technique is identified, and the group size is determined by the teacher.

3. Students are assigned to groups.

4. The classroom is arranged to facilitate group interaction.

5. Group processes are taught or reviewed as needed to assure that the groups run smoothly.

6. The teacher develops expectations for group learning and makes sure students understand the purpose of the learning that will take place. A time line for activities is made clear to students.

7. The teacher presents initial material as appropriate, using whatever techniques she or he chooses.

8. The teacher monitors student interaction in the groups, and provides assistance and clarification as needed. The teacher reviews group skills and facilitates problem-solving when necessary.

9. Student outcomes are evaluated. Students must individually demonstrate mastery of important skills or concepts of the learning. Evaluation is based on observations of student performance or oral responses to questions; paper and pencil need not be used.

10. Groups are rewarded for success. Verbal praise by the teacher or recognition in the class newsletter or on the bulletin board can be used to reward high-achieving

Cooperative Learning provides many advantages to teachers and learners. Many of these advantages arise from the intrinsic motivational strengths of Cooperative Learning and the extent to which Cooperative Learning fosters student interest, behavioural and attitudinal change, and opportunities for success. As Keller demonstrates (1983) this set of outcomes results from the successful incorporation of motivational issues into instruction.

Johnson & Johnson (1989) in their study found out that "a primary benefit of Cooperative Learning is that it enhances students' self esteem which in turn motivates students to participate in the learning process." Slavin (1987) is of the opinion that "cooperative efforts among students result in a higher degree of accomplishment by all participants." Again according to Kagan (1986), "Students help each other and in doing so build a supportive community which raises the performance level of each member." This brings about motivation as well as increased self esteem in all students as noted by Webb (1982).

Johnson and Johnson (1990) again noted that "cooperation enhances student satisfaction with the learning experience by actively involving students in designing and completing class procedures and course content." Also Turnure and Zigler (1958) assert that "effective teams or groups assume ownership of a process and its results when individuals are encouraged to work together toward a common goal, often defined by the group which is especially helpful for individuals who have a history or failure."

According to Kessler, Price & Wortman (1985), "cooperative learning reduces classroom anxiety created by new and unfamiliar situations faced by students." In a traditional classroom when a teacher calls upon a student, he/she becomes the focus of attention of the entire class. Any mistakes or incorrect answers become subject to scrutiny by the whole class. Slavin and Karweit (1981) are of a contrasting view that "when students work in a group, the focus of attention is diffused among the group. In addition, the group produces a product which its members can review prior to presenting it to the whole class, thus diminishing prospects that mistakes will occur at all. When a mistake is made, it becomes a teaching tool instead of a public criticism of an individual student".

Featherstone (1986) noted that "Cooperative learning helps students feel successful at every academic level. They demonstrate more confidence and show high level of enthusiasm, curiosity and involvement in being taught through cooperative learning tasks." What makes it even more remarkable is that in cooperative learning teams, low achieving students who have low levels of performance and achievements have the opportunity to make contributions to a group and thus experience success. Nor is it all for students enjoy other benefits such as increasing their knowledge and understanding of ideas by sharing and explaining them to others. Students working with partners ask each other for help and improve their attitude towards work.


The study focuses on cooperative learning as a teaching strategies used by teachers and its effect on pupils' learning. It will adopt a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. The primary research of the study will be in the form of questionnaires and interviews.

Qualitative research will be used because it allows the subject being studied to give much 'richer' answers to questions put to them by the researcher, and may give valuable insights which might have been missed by any other method. It also provides valuable information to certain research questions in its own right. It also helps to study things in their natural setting, attempting to make sense of, or interpret the meanings people bring to them.

Van Maneen (1983) defines qualitative method as an array of interpretive techniques which seek to describe, decode, translate and otherwise come to terms with the meaning, not the frequency, of certain more or less naturally occurring phenomena in the social world. The main reason for considering qualitative interviews is to be able to understand and clarify all doubt and ensure that the responses from staff are properly understood.

Face-to-face interviews also allow more 'depth' investigation although it could also take a long period of time to arrange and conduct (www.marketresearcher.com ). Burgess (1982) describes face-to-face interviews as the means and opportunity for the researcher to probe deeply to uncover new clues, open up new dimensions of a problem and to secure vivid, accurate inclusive accounts that are based on personal experience.

The strength of a quantitative method is that it produces quantifiable reliable data that are usually generalised to some larger population. It focuses on numbers and frequencies rather than on meaning and experience. It also provides information which is easy to analyse statistically. Questionnaire survey was chosen as the best quantitative tool for this study.

Sampling Procedure

A sample is defined as a subset or some part of a larger population (Westen, 1996). A population in this context can be classified as a group of people who share or have a common set of characteristics and who can conveniently be used for the purpose of this work. A sample size of 30 will be selected for this study. This will comprise 15 teachers, 5 heads of department and 10 students. The rationale for this sampling method is to generate the needed data for analysis and avoid the complexity of data, biased and subjective sample selection. The inclusion of the heads of departments and students in the study is to supplement, balance and produce an objective data of the real situation.

Data Collection Source

Data will be obtained through questionnaires given to teachers and students. Few teachers and heads of department will be interviewed to obtain information which will not be covered in the questionnaire. The study will rely mainly on primary data as the main source for analysis. The key point here is that the data collected is unique and until published, no one can have access to it. This will be gathered basically through the use of self-administered questionnaires, interviews of teachers, heads of department and students. A dairy will be kept to record relevant information.


A questionnaire may be defined as a group or sequence of questions designed to elicit information on a subject or a group of subjects from an informant (Casley and Lury, 1987). The questions will be a maximum of 12 to enable teachers, heads of department and students complete within a short period of time. Close ended questions will mainly be used because they are easy and quicker to answer.


The total number of interviewees will be 10 being 2 heads of departments and 8 teachers. They will be given the opportunity to discuss their views on cooperative learning, its effects on learning and the benefits. The interview will last for about 10 to 15 minutes. The following areas will form the subject of the interview questions:

The importance of cooperative learning.

Using cooperative learning in schools

The benefits of cooperative learning

The impact of cooperative learning on students learning.

One of the advantages of interviewing as a form of data collection is that it enables the interviewer to probe and ask follow up questions based on the response(s) of the interviewee. Secondly, there is the possibility of the interviewer being able to make meaning out of non-verbal communication medium such as facial expressions and gestures made by the interviewee in the course of the interview. It also eliminates the impersonal element of the questionnaire approach and allows for good rapport and personal interaction between the interviewer and the respondent. The interviews conducted will be used to complement the data collected from the questionnaires.

Data Handling and analysis

Data collected through processes such as questionnaires and interviews are described as raw (data) and can only be useful when it is transformed into the requisite information for which they were gathered, collected, analysed and reported. This is then checked for the necessary adjustments for omissions, legibility and consistency and subjected to computer aided analysis. This research adopted a combination of descriptive, analytical, comparative and percentages derived from quantitative analysis. Descriptive statistics and analytical methods will be used to present observe trends and facts, using tables and percentages. The performance of pupils thought using cooperative learning as a teaching strategy will be assessed and inferences drawn from them.

Limitation of the study

The study will be limited to my second teaching practice school with more emphasis on the teachers, heads of department and students. Another limitation could be the chosen sample size, which might not be a fair representation of the total population of staff in that school. Again some staff might not be willing to share information, while other staff might not be able to complete the questionnaire or get the time to be interviewed because of the nature of their work.


Teachers are faced with a number of issues that concern ensuring that students achieve their outmost best in terms of achievement and higher-level reasoning. Cooperative learning is considered to be among the most important teaching strategies because of its effectiveness. The popularity and wide spread use of cooperative learning is its basis on a theory validated by a great deal of research.

Conclusions would be made based on the findings which will be analysed in consistency with the reviewed literature. Conclusions would also be drawn based on the findings and analysis made as to how feedback from the teachers and pupils questionnaires can be transformed into actionable daily tool for establishing the best teaching strategies that will bring about effective learning on the part of the students. Thereafter recommendations would be made considering the constraints of this study for policy makers and for future research work in this area. It is expected that the study when completed successfully will have a great impact on the professional development of teachers in terms of their teaching strategies and its effect on pupils learning. It is also expected that the outcome of this study will serve to enlighten teachers in their professionalism in matching their teaching strategies to the learning styles of pupils for the maximum benefit.

Generally it is expected that the following conclusions can be drawn with reference to the reviewed literature.

Cooperative learning methods serves as a strategy of progressing students' attainment to a high academic standards and the development of the knowledge and abilities necessary to make a steady progress in a multicultural world. It is designed and implemented by teachers who are loyal to the key elements of cooperative learning and dedicated to regarding diversity as a resource, cooperative approaches can create supportive environments that enable students to succeed academically, enhance their employability, and improve their interpersonal relationships. However, like other innovations, cooperative learning has to be tailored to the cultural and linguistic context in which they are used.

Cooperative learning promotes mastery while passive acceptance of information from an outside expert often promotes a sense of helplessness and reliance upon others to attain concepts. In a typical classroom emphasizing teaching, there is little time for reflection and discussion of students' errors or misconceptions. With the Cooperative learning students are continuously discussing, debating and clarifying their understanding of the concepts.

Cooperative-learning methods have proven effective in increasing motivation for learning and self-esteem. A students' self-esteem can have a great effect on motivation. Cooperative learning produces a bigger increase in some aspect of self-esteem i.e. general self-esteem, cooperative self-esteem and social self-esteem. A strong indicator of motivation brought about by cooperative learning is the amount of time students spend working on a task. Most studies have found that cooperative learning students spend more time on task than control students (Slavin, 1995).

According to Johnson and Johnson (1986, p. 31), there is persuasive evidence that cooperative teams achieve higher levels of thought and retain information longer than students who work quietly as individuals. Thus the shared learning experience gives students an opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning and as a result, become critical thinkers (Totten, Sills, Digby & Russ, 1991).

Although much of the research on cooperative learning has been done with older students, it also works well with younger children in preschool centres and primary classrooms. Apart from the positive outcomes just noted, cooperative learning promotes student motivation, encourages group processes, fosters social and academic interaction among students, and rewards successful group participation.

Cooperative learning can provide opportunity for sharing ideas when children begin to work on readiness tasks. Cooperation can provide opportunities for sharing ideas, learning how others think and react to problems, and practicing oral language skills in small groups. Cooperative learning in early childhood can promote positive feelings toward school, teachers, and peers. These feelings build an important base for further success in school. Children's behaviour and attendance to school improves and there is also an increased liking of school.