Practices for Student Cooperation, Part 2: Setting Group Goals

Maggie Bruski

Chalkbeat Tennessee recently published an article that detailed the results of a small study asking 54 high-achieving high school seniors how they felt about the Common Core State Standards and the changes in instruction they perceived were implemented as a result of their adoption. One of the biggest complaints this small cohort of students had was about group work. Many of the students felt that group work was not productive, led to disruptive behavior and resulted in their own personal grades being based on the performance of the group (Barnum, 2018).  Although the opinion of a small group of students, this is not an uncommon view of this instructional strategy. It is my hope that this series of blog posts about how to successfully structure collaboration among students have the potential to help teachers plan and implement group work in a way that leads to meaningful learning.

Part 1 of my series on effective practices for student cooperation provided suggestions on how to foster positive interdependence between students as they engage in collaboration. This post will address practice 2 from Robert Slavin’s  Making Cooperative Learning Powerful: setting group goals for shared learning. For students to meet the expectation of shared learning, it is critical that teachers establish a culture that leads to positive interdependence, where students embrace the idea that they have more learning potential together than as individuals. The natural next step is to support students to set goals for themselves as a group.

Once again I’m going to take a trip down memory lane and revisit my time in the classroom sharing some easy to implement strategies from my favorite resource: College Prep Math (CPM); which presents group goal ideas in their document Introduction to Study Teams. The following are a sampling of those suggestions:

  • All members complete their homework for 1 day, week, etc..

  • Each member does better on the next quiz than on the last one.

  • All members agree on one answer and each one must be able to explain the work.

  • The team prepares one paper signed by all members.

  • Beat last week's record for homework completed.

  • Give praise, a round of applause, standing ovation for meeting goals (p.10).

Let’s narrow in on one of these suggestions: that all teammates agree on one answer and that everyone in the group can explain the work. The team is the first line of learning, relegating the teacher to a new role of meddler in the middle, meaning that the role of the teacher is one of letting students take the lead in productive struggle, before digging into their struggles with them (click here to read Innovation Coach Raylene Olinger’s ideas about what it means to be a meddler in the middle). This is not to say that the teacher does not have a role. In fact being a successful meddler in the middle requires that you listen closely to student dialogue, reinforce expectations that individual students ask questions first of their teammates before turning to you, and more often than not when a whole group has the same question respond yourself with a question as opposed to the answer.

Teachers can also collect data about how the group is functioning and provide feedback. Both CPM and the book, Productive Group Work, suggest that teachers take anecdotal observation notes about how students interact with each other and then share with the students- individually, with the small group, and with the class as a whole- their observations, discussing collaborative learning expectations and how the teams are or are not meeting them. The following video follows a class of high school students as their teacher collects data about group functionality and then debriefs it with her students:

Video: STS Participation Quiz

Another strategy to support high functioning groups, as suggested by Jo Boaler in the book Mathematical Mindsets, is to have students share what they like about group behaviors and what they dislike such as “one person doing the work and then telling everyone the answer, or people being patronizing and saying things like “This is easy,” or leaving people out of discussions” (Boaler, 2016, p.135).  This can also be a strategy that is used as you foster positive interdependence and can be especially powerful as you create and revisit collaboration expectations with your students.

My next blog post will detail how teachers might embed individual accountability for learning within group work, which again is tied tightly to practices 1 and 2. It is amazing the difference in the way students interact when clear expectations for group goals are understood and practiced, allowing young people to flourish with the opportunities that successful collaborative learning brings.



Barnum, M. (2018). Here’s what annoyed high school students most about the switch to common core. Retrieved from

Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students potential through creative math, inspiring messages, and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints.

CPM Educational Program. (n.d.). Introduction to study team strategies. Retrieved from

CPM Educational Program. (2015). STS participation quiz. [Video file]. Retrieved from

N. Frey, D. Fisher, & S. Everlove (2009). Chapter 3. Ensuring individual and group accountability. In Productive group work: How to engage students, build teamwork, and promote understanding. Retrieved from

Slavin, R. E. (2014). Making Cooperative Learning Powerful. Educational Leadership,72(2), 22-26. Retrieved from