Cooperative learning is a classroom instruction

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Introduction - Cooperative teaching learning is an approach to classroom instruction that encourages leaning through teamwork and small to large sized groups. The five basic elements encourage participation and learning from each other: Positive interdependence, Individual accountabiliy, Face-To-Face Ineraction, Social Skills, and Processing the Material. Numerous studies find that this approach has great success, particularly in the more challening academic areas of math and science. Because cooperative learning takes an individual accountability approach that requires every group member to be responsible for his or her portion of the lesson and to demonstrate adequate understanding and comprehension, the onus is on the student and group to monitor discipline and performance. Studies show that within this setting, problem students, whether from discipline or from lack of understanding of the concepts, are able to seek assistance in a non-threatening manner from other students. This also tends to free the instructor up for situations that truly require a more personalized intervention. In addition, combining disciplines in a cooperative manner allows for deeper and more robust learning to take place, as well as a more cogent understanding of subject matter. Instructors benefit too, in numerous ways. They can work in small groups; tag team approach topics, or work closer with individual areas of expertise and interest (Salend, et.al., 2002).

In general, many schools are using a cooperative teaching and learning arrangement as part of their continual efforts in implementing inclusionary programs, increase relevancy and interest levels for both students and teachers, validate successful strategies, work to improve strategies that are not as successful (revision), and provide a more positive and convivial atmosphere within the classroom. Cooperative teaching, though, is not one teacher teaching subject A, the other subject B, etc. The point of cooperative teaching and learning is to provide a more rich, stable, and enjoyable learning atmosphere through the use of means and methodologies that cannot be accomplished with a single teacher. "Co-teaching is two or more people sharing responsibility for teaching some or all of the students assigned to the classrorom…. Or a fun way for students to learn from two or more people who may have different ways of thinking or teaching" (Villa, et.al., 2008, 5).

Justifications -Within the modern classroom, we know there are various types of learners who respond to different stimuli. The modern school environment is faced with a number of problems that directly relate to learning. A number of methods are thought to be new and innovative, when oftentimes, it is many tried and true methods that are the most efficacious; peer to peer learning, using humor to bolster biological reactions, having students use physical activity to unwind, and changing the learning environment all act to improve learning and cognition. Science now proves that when these differing methods are used, certain chemicals which aid in learning and comprehension (Harlin, 2008). In terms of cooperative learning, the approach focuses on organizing classroom lessons and activities into broader experiences. These experiences transcend the lesson, per se, and include broadening it towards greater socialization, more hands on or peer learning experiences, and even, in a way similar to the Montessori Method, a more hands on and experiential methodology (Hourcade and Bauwnes, 2003).

For many, the benefits of cooperative teaching/learning allow for a more flexible template within the science and math classrooms that foster:

Positive Interdependence- This approach moves the student from the individual to a connectedness with the group or partner. Instead of being alone on a project, the student has teammates.

Individual Accountability - While the group as a whole is responsible and accountable for a project, each person (individual) within the group is responsible for his or her portion and for demonstrating competence alone and as a part of the team.

Face to Face Interaction - This implies that the individual must become an integral part of the group by communicating effectively within that environment.

Social Skill Building - Social skills include sharing, body language, learning to accept differences of opinion and work towards consensus, tact, time management, and empathy.

Processing - Sometimes called feedback or reflection, processing allows students time to understand what they have learned, how they learned, and what they might do to improve the experience the next time (Gillies, 2007).

Types of Learning - We now know that there is not one mode of learning, nor does a single individual learn all types of material the same way. Cooperative teaching enhances the ability to reach students with differing learning styles; particularly in a general classroom in which most may be visual, and only a few auditory or kinesthetic. To be an effective teacher, it is important to try to adapt the lesson so that it reaches the largest amount of learning styles as apporpriate. There are, of course, no hard and fast rules regarding learning, and many of these styles are fluid within individuals. However, in general, there are at least three major types, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile learners, as well as individuals with multiple intelligences:

Visual - Visual learning focuses on the way ideas, concepts and data are used by the student who sees the information in order to experience it. Graphs, maps, concepts, and ideas all flow from the eye into the brain, where they are organized. This type of cognition is representative - learners link ideas with symbols and add words or notes to be able to remember concepts (Perini, 2000).

Auditory - This style focuses on the way learners impart information based on what they hear. Instead of taking voluminous notes, this learner can often glean the major points of the course simply by listening to the lecture. This type of learner also needs background music or noise in order to concentrate. They are also good at telling stories, and often solve problems by talking them through as opposed to writing or using calculations (Jensen, 2005).

Kinesthetic - This style typically focuses on carrying out some sort of physical activity or touching an object. It is usually associated with natrual discovery, and this type of learner retains information best not when told how, but when shown how and then allowed to practice. This is about 15% of the population, and usually these individuals are more mechanically inclined, less in the intellectual sense, and more in the way they understand things by associating the feel of an object or event (Perini).

Multiple Intelligence - Based on the work of Howard Gardner (1982, 2006), this theory holds that traditionally defined intelligence does not really describe the actual innate intelligence of the person. For instance, a child may learn mathematical forumulas quite easily, but that does not mean they are more intelligent that someone who can create stories and has an active immagination. The theory is controversial, and has yet to be completely verified. Yet, it makes logical sense that differing styles of retention and excellence should be used as at least a partial measure of (Gardner, 2006; Critiques of Multiple Intelligence Theory, 2006).

Conclusions and Implications - Numerous studies show that teachers often turn to cooperative teaching/learning in order to help meet the needs of their lower performing students, those with behavioral problems, and those with IEP's. When considering the alternatives - mastery learning, direct instruction, small group management, individualized instructions, specialized instruction, and pace adjustment learning, cooperative learning is easier to implement, manage, track, and seems to have a greater efficacy rate (Slavin, 1995).

For teaching in general, the idea of cooperative learning seems to be a way to engender more interest, better cognition and behavior, and ultimately, better retention and scoring. It may not be appropriate 100 percent of the time; at times direct instruction is necessary, as well as differing types of group learning. But as a regular part of the classroom, cooperative learning should be included at every potential opportunity. The benefits clearly outweigh any concerns one might have, and of course, the instructor needs to actively monitor the groups to ensure that they are retaining the appropriate material (Jenkins, et.al., 2003). Overall, scholarly research shows that cooperative learning and cooperative learning activities have a number of benefits that are transferable to other life stages and skills:

Higher self-esteem, achievement, and retention of academic information

Social support and networking - students are put together in groups in ways they may never experience in a regular classroom

A more positive attitude towards school, attendance, towards peers and teachers

Greater attention to on task behavior and collaborative skills

Ability to move higher into more robust questions and reasoning, moving away from rote memorization (Kagan, 1994; Pacheco, 1991).

Observations - Observing a cooperative teaching program was an interesting experience. The classroom was a 5th grade Science Class, mainstream. The lesson in question was part of a larger unit on weather, and on this particular day the topic was how weather is measured and what those measurements mean. There were two instructors for this class, both experienced (over 5 years) in the classroom; we will call them Teacher A and Teacher B. From the start, it was obvious these teachers enjoyed working with one another. As Teacher A gathered materials and prepared for the first step of the lesson, Teacher B walked around talking with students, asking them about their lab books, etc. Since the lesson was part of a larger unit, A gave a short review of terms dealing with weather, then asked the class to split into two groups to do a short drill. A took one group, B the other; and within 5 minutes both groups had finished drilling and reviewing previous terms. A then gave a short presentation using PowerPoint on various ways of measuring weather. Having spoken to the teachers beforehand, I knew that they had already pre-tested their class for optimum learning styles. The class was broken up into 4 groups of 4-5 students each. A took two groups, B two groups. A's groups were primarily visual and kinesthetic learners; B's auditory and multiple or special (on both sides of the continuum). Listening to each run different ways of completing the experiments in measuring, identifying the devices, and actively challenging the students was exciting. The students seemed to enjoy as well, and it appeared (although I did not see the worksheets) that the level of understanding was far greater than a typical lecture, lab setup. In talking with A and B after class, they admitted that there was more planning at times, more flexibility needed, and certainly the ability to move beyond ego and into what was really important - student understanding. From my perspective, this was a very effective way to organize a lesson and contributed very positively to the overall learning environment. A and B admitted that not all members of the faculty felt comfortable with this learning style, some preferred to teach their own class. However, they found that not only do the students seem to have a more enjoyable time, there are a number of social and intellectual transferences that occur because of the cooperative structure.

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