What is the difference between group work and cooperative learning?
To qualify as cooperative work, rather than individuals working in a group, students must need each other to complete the task. Students are expected to participate in tasks that are clearly constructed and necessary for the group's completion and success. The teacher remains active as a circulating resource and, when necessary, a facilitator, but students should be capable of carrying out their tasks. Students, not the teacher, are responsible for accomplishing their tasks in the way they think best, with accountability to each other and to the teacher's standards.
When setting up lessons for successful collaboration in cooperative groups, consider the following ideas that help teachers differentiate between cooperative learning groups versus group work:
Cooperative group activities, unlike whole class discussions or independent work, provide the most opportunities for students to express their ideas, questions, conclusions, and connections verbally. In traditionally structured classes each student has about five to ten minutes of individual time to engage in classroom academic discourse. In cooperative learning groups, that amount of time increases dramatically. Students experience a greater level of understanding of concepts and ideas when they talk, explain, and argue about learning, ideas, concepts, and content with their group, instead of just passively listening to a lecture or reading a text/article or textbook.
In addition, metabolic brain activity accelerates during active constructive thinking, such as planning, gathering data, analyzing, inferring, and strategizing versus passive information acquisition. When the verbal center becomes engaged while information or a task is being learned, more neural activity travels between the left and right brain. When students describe their thinking verbally to the group or work on a group chart, diagram, or project, the new information becomes embedded in multiple brain sites, such as the auditory and visual memory storage areas. Now, with neuroimaging, we know that this multi-centered brain communication circuitry enhances comprehension, making new material more accessible for future use, because it is stored in several brain areas. The more a student is engaged in a learning activity, especially one with multiple sensory modalities, the more parts of the brain are actively stimulated. When this occurs in a positive classroom setting, without stress and anxiety, the result is greater long-term, relational, and retrievable learning. Consider the increased comfort and enjoyment that students have when pleasurable social interaction is incorporated into their learning experiences.
Successfully planned cooperative learning group work can help to support ALL students at ALL academic levels by reducing the fear of failure that can cause them to avoid academic challenges. Well-structured cooperative group activities build supportive classroom communities, which, in turn, increase self-esteem and academic performance.
If you would like to learn more about Cooperative Learning Groups and increased student engagement, please check out our high energy workshops in the upcoming 2017-2018 school year. You won’t regret it!
By: Tessa Levitt and Kathleen Agnello, CA BOCES Professional Development