Practices for Student Cooperation, Part 6: Beyond Cooperation

Maggie Bruski

What all began with a thought-provoking article, Making Cooperative Learning Powerful, has morphed into a multi-month deep dive into student cooperation. For the final blog post in this series, we’ll take a closer look at author Robert Slavin’s final recommended practice for student cooperation, the need to integrate cooperative learning with other structures. His suggestion is that cooperative learning should “replace individual work, which in traditional lesson cycles happens after lessons and before assessments.” Slavin also shares that at some point teachers must provide direct instruction in order for students to understand essential learning objectives.

I believe that every teacher must find their own rhythm, their own balance between direct instruction and student cooperative learning, and between the many other instructional models and strategies they have available to them. As I considered this last practice, my thoughts were drawn to inquiry-based learning, which often times leads to students learning cooperatively. Educational researcher, John Hattie, once shared his opinion on why inquiry isn’t ranked higher in terms of its impact on student learning. Click the following link to watch this brief video: John Hattie on Inquiry-based Learning

Hattie states “If you are learning surface level information, the content, as contrast with the deep learning which is the relationship between content, then problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning is pretty useless. But if you don’t teach the surface and the content you’ve got nothing to inquire about.”

There is a time and place for students to inquire, as there is a time and a place for student cooperation. The decision around what instructional strategy might be best should be based on what your desired learning intention might be and how student understanding is best reached. Over the last five blog posts on the topic (click for part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5) we’ve explored the norms, expectations, and accountability we have of our students, along with ways you might structure cooperative learning. This final post is about using cooperative learning with great thought and consideration. Ask yourself this question - what is the purpose of the learning, and will student cooperation meet that purpose?

With that in mind, I am going to share one last PD Market resource that could really support teachers as they flexibly think about how to up the level of rigor in their classroom, in particular using something different from cooperative learning: Student-Centered Teaching Strategies. These teaching strategies, cultivated by Facing History and Ourselves, are designed "to strengthen your students’ literacy skills, nurture critical thinking, and create a respectful classroom climate." Most of these could work in any content area and grade level, some are familiar structures I’ve shared in earlier blog posts, but all of them are designed to support students in deep thinking. I encourage teachers to take a few minutes and identify one particular strategy on the list that could fit within the scope and sequence of upcoming learning and put it into practice. Once you’ve done so, come on back to this blog and write a comment, sharing what you tried and how it went. 

As this series of blog posts come to an end, I sincerely hope that my musings, based on the research of Robert Slavin, have been valuable. My students had great success with cooperative learning and I truly hope yours will too.  

Citations

Facing History and Ourselves. (n.d.). Teaching strategies. Retrieved from https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/teaching-strategies

Hattie, J. (2015). John Hattie on inquiry-based learning. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUooOYbgSUg 

Slavin, R. E. (2014). Making Cooperative Learning Powerful. Educational Leadership,72(2), 22-26. Retrieved from  http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct14/vol72/num02/Making-Cooperative-Learning-Powerful.aspx