Group work or cooperative learning is an organisational strategy for teaching, whereby students engage in social interaction with their peers, developing skills in communication and responsibility whilst also learning syllabus content (Arthur, Gordon & Butterfield, 2003). In cooperative leaning students achieve learning outcomes that relate to socialisation skills and academic content. This type of learning also relates to the NSW Institute of Teacher Professional Teaching Standards Element 4: Aspect 4.1.4 Use student group structures as appropriate to address teaching and learning goals. I believe that cooperative learning is an important and necessary way of learning in the classroom as it encourages students to share view points, learn to accept or disagree appropriately and to develop different ways of thinking and skills of sharing knowledge (Arthur et al., 2003).
During my school visits, I have observed an effective use of group work in math and literacy lessons. The teacher has established small groups of like abilities so that students can work together at the same level. This is very efficient as often questions or tasks are set differently for each group according to the ability level. It also gives students a chance to interact with students they may not otherwise have much communication with and fosters a knowledge and learning hub, so that students in their ability group can discuss the work at hand (Whitton et al., 2010).
An example of the effective use of group work was in a literacy lesson. Students were given words in a sentence, from an informational text they had been reading, that was jumbled up. Each group was given different sentences depending on their ability group and had to work as a team, pooling all of their knowledge and ideas, to present the unjumbled sentence. Whilst the teacher and I were monitoring that students were on task, we were also observing that all students were participating in the activity. We were assessing the academic outcomes; the students’ knowledge of the informational book and sentence structure and also their social skills; their ability to ‘take turns’ in communication, be active listeners, accept or respect other people opinions and to collectively formulate an answer.
Largely base on a constructivist approach, co-operative learning empowers students to control and share the learning responsibly amongst their group. Students learn to be accountable to their learning to themselves and others (Arthur et al., 2003). The role of the teacher is a facilitator of the students learning experience, through empowering and guiding students towards achieving goals in the group activity (Arthur et al., 2003). In order for group work to be a success a lot of planning and management is required. Teachers must select how they will form the groups and also ensure that the task complements groups work. Fisher (1995, cited in Witton, Barker, Nosworthy, Sinclair & Nanlohy, 2010) identifies group work appropriate for tasks that involve interpretative discussion, problem-solving or a production of work. Teachers must ensure that students are not ‘free loading’ from others in their group that work more conscientiously, sometimes roles can be assigned to ensure that each students has a responsibility (Arthur et al., 2003). Hence teachers need to ensure their management skills of keeping all students on task are strong.
I believe that cooperative learning is a great organisational strategy when used appropriately as students learn content whilst also learning life skills of working cooperatively in a team or group situation which are vital social skills in their future for success in the workplace and also in social situations.
Arthur, M., Gordon, C & Butterfield, N. (2003). The impact of curriculum and instruction. In Classroom Management: Creating Positive Learning Environments, (pp43-52). Thomson: Southbank, Victoria.
Whitton, D., Barker, K., Nosworthy, M. Sinclair, C. & Nanlohy, P. (2010). Learning for teaching: teaching for learning, ( 2nd ed.), (pp181-188). South Melbourne, Vic: Cengage Learning Australia