Inquiry is collaborative/cooperative and we are proud of it. They say ‘traditional’ schools don’t really practice cooperative learning, but competitive learning (I am not a fan of comparing schools, practices and philosophies but let me just quote to make a point). At times, though, new students from trad schools work more collaboratively than other old-timer PYP students. The fact is we trad students (yes I’m a product of a traditional convent school) are trained to work independently; consequences are more real to us as they are so lethal that we do what we have to do, whether tomorrow is the apocalypse or just another boring day; whether or not we understand what we are doing (and we do try our best to understand in order to avoid the lethal consequences). I argue that learning to how work independently leads to a more successful collaboration- I guess trad schools are not that bad. Depending on what the purpose of the group engagement, students must get that productive time to think, work and reflect independently then go for a structured group work kids would enjoy or learn from. I think the biggest mistakes about collaborative learning are doing group work for the sake of doing it and assuming collaborative learning is happening just because the students are seated in a circle!
What is cooperative learning?
Cooperative learning is not just group work nor team building activities. It involves high quality of interaction, interdependence, individual accountability, collaborative skills and group processing.
“Face-to-face interaction is a bit counter-intuitive because it doesn’t necessarily mean face-to-face as in ‘in-person’. It actually just refers to direct interaction. So, it can be literally face-to-face, or it could be over the phone, on chat, via Skype, through email, etc. It’s just referring to the fact that group members have to actually interact in order to cooperate. The second element is positive interdependence, which means that the group members rely on each other and can only succeed together. This goes hand-in-hand with the third element, which is individual accountability. As an interdependent group, each individual is responsible for his or her own work and can be held accountable for that work. The fourth element of cooperative learning is collaborative skills. The group members must be able to work together, but the ability to do so doesn’t always come naturally; sometimes these skills need to be taught. And the final element is group processing, which refers to the fact that the group needs to monitor itself to ensure that the group, as a whole, is working together effectively.” – Erin Long-Crowell
The ‘smart’ ones get frustrated because they do all the work then we tell them that they have to be more tolerant and open-minded. Some students feel discouraged because the group simply won’t trust them do anything- so that they won’t ruin the work! Then we tell them that they have to be more responsible and committed. AND/OR the ‘smart’ ones dominate and develop more confidence and the ‘slower’ ones become chronic social loafers. It’s sad, but I think every teacher who facilitated group work has observed these things happening. And sometimes we accept it because kids are kids and they fight all the time, but it’s not okay. Students have to understand that it’s not okay to be in a group and not do anything. And that it is unfair for one student to just hog all the work. Another thing- a mere discussion on ‘what makes a good discussion’ is a good start, but doesn’t guarantee a cooperative discussion. Students need to have opportunities to independently organize their thoughts in order to contribute to a discussion. There’s definitely a lot more to group work than just sitting with your group mates.
Aside from developing collaborative skills, cooperative learning emphasizes interdependence and individual accountability. We ‘prove’ that individual accountability is happening because student have agreed on ‘group roles’ in their planners. But are they skilled and willing enough to fulfill the roles? Yes we discuss expectations, rubric or checklist developed with the students, yes they understand the purpose of working in groups, but are they skilled and determined to achieve the goal? Students should be given the support, achieve skills to learn how to work independently and do his/her part. This way, they can count on themselves and on each other. Then we can watch the quality of relationship, group dynamics and work grow. Then we can watch them work happier within a group. Then we can watch them…learn. I guess the saying ‘you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself‘ is the gist of this article.
Players who know how to play football make a football team. They may play differently, some better than the others, but they do know how to play football, they want to and they’re learning to. However, the success of a football team lies on the fact that each plays better with another. Likewise, let’s help our students become good team players by providing a good balance of quality independent and group tasks in order to make real collaboration happen.