A parent asked me recently how she should judge her child's school program. I suggested that one very good way is to find out if her child's teacher uses cooperative learning lessons in the classroom. Cooperation can be modeled, taught and nourished most efficiently and consistently in the classroom during instruction. Luckily, educators do not have to develop techniques on their own for accomplishing this because David Johnson and Roger Johnson from the University of Minnesota have developed techniques for teachers to use in the classroom.
Mastery, retention, and transfer of concepts, are more readily acquired in cooperatively structured learning than in competitive or individually structured learning.
This type of learning promotes higher quality and greater quantity of learning in addition to developing interpersonal skills. Cooperative learning lessons are also a more efficient use of classroom time. The essence of cooperative learning is assigning a group goal. The teacher sets the task. The group is told the criteria that will be used to evaluate the results. Also that they have to be concerned with each other's learning and that each member of the group is responsible for knowing the work. To complete assignments cooperatively, the students must interact with each other, share ideas and materials, pool their information resources, use division of labor when appropriate, integrate each member's contribution into a group product, and facilitate each other's learning.
Mastery, retention, and transfer of concepts, are more readily acquired in cooperatively structured learning.
As a result communication, conflict management, leadership and trust-building skills are developed in the students. Cooperative group members realize that their actions affect others in the group. They must be mutually responsible for each other's learning. Students cannot sit back while others do all the work.
A diversity of student ability in the group necessitates conversation among the students and forces them to verbalize. Teacher monitoring of the groups in action allows for feedback to the group on their social behavior and performance and for assistance when necessary. Many teachers, who are convinced that cooperative learning is essential in the classroom, have had to counteract the myth that we live in a competitive world of survival of the fittest.
Research has shown the opposite to be true.
There are hundreds of studies which demonstrate the superiority of cooperative relationships in promoting healthy social development.
This idea received additional support from an unusual source, the mathematical theory of games.
Douglas Hofstadter described the results of a wide spectrum of strategies aimed at a logical puzzle he calls the "Prisoner's Dilemma". By far the most successful strategies were those which relied on cooperation, forgiveness, and trust to the mutual benefit of both players.
Hofstadter described a mathematical model of evolutionary consequences of cooperation.
In this mathematical world, the cooperative organism thrives, while the suspicious, selfish, unforgiving organism fails.
Margaret Mead made the point that the future quality of human life, as well as the survival of the human species, will be dependent upon cooperative behavior along with a concern and respect for the rights of others. The most logical way to emphasize the use of cooperative skills is to structure the majority of academic learning situations cooperatively.
I encourage teachers and educators to try it. Parents could also use these concepts to develop a cooperative atmosphere in their own homes.
First published in 1992