ERIC Identifier: ED370881
Publication Date: 1994-03-00
Author: Stahl, Robert J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
The Essential Elements of Cooperative Learning in the
Classroom. ERIC Digest.
Over the past decade, cooperative learning has emerged as the leading new
approach to classroom instruction. One important reason for its advocacy is that
numerous research studies in K-12 classrooms, in very diverse school settings
and across a wide range of content areas, have revealed that students completing
cooperative learning group tasks tend to have higher academic test scores,
higher self-esteem, greater numbers of positive social skills, fewer stereotypes
of individuals of other races or ethnic groups, and greater comprehension of the
content and skills they are studying (Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec 1993; Slavin
1991; Stahl and VanSickle 1992). Furthermore, the perspective of students
working as "academic loners" in classrooms is very different from that of
students working cooperatively and collaboratively in and as "cooperative
learning academic teams" (see the chapter by Stahl in Stahl and VanSickle 1992).
Even with its increasing popularity, a large majority of the group tasks that
teachers use, even teachers who claim to be using "cooperative learning,"
continue to be cooperative group tasks-not cooperative learning group tasks. For
instance, nearly all "jigsaw" activities are not cooperative learning jigsaw
activities. Merely because students work in small groups does not mean that they
are cooperating to ensure their own learning and the learning of all others in
their group (Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec 1993). This emphasis on academic
learning success for each individual and all members of the group is one feature
that separates cooperative learning groups from other group tasks (Slavin 1990).
To be successful in setting up and having students complete group tasks
within a cooperative learning framework, a number of essential elements or
requirements must be met. The exact number, name, and order of these
requirements vary from one author to another. However, nearly all agree that, in
one way or another, the elements listed below are essential.
A CLEAR SET OF SPECIFIC STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOME
Cooperative learning and cooperative learning groups are means to
an end rather than an end in themselves. Therefore, teachers should begin
planning by describing precisely what students are expected to learn and be able
to do on their own well beyond the end of the group task and curriculum unit.
Regardless of whether these outcomes emphasize academic content, cognitive
processing abilities, or skills, teachers should describe in very unambiguous
language the specific knowledge and abilities students are to acquire and then
demonstrate on their own.
ALL STUDENTS IN THE GROUP "BUY INTO" THE TARGETED
It is not sufficient for teachers to select outcome objectives:
students must perceive these objectives as their own. They must come to
comprehend and accept that everyone in the group needs to master the common set
of information and/or skills. In selected strategies where groups select their
own objectives, all members of each group must accept their academic outcomes as
ones they all must achieve.
CLEAR AND COMPLETE SET OF TASK-COMPLETION DIRECTIONS OR INSTRUCTIONS
Teachers need to state directions or instructions that
describe in clear, precise terms exactly what students are to do, in what order,
with what materials, and, when appropriate, what students are to generate as
evidence of their mastery of targeted content and skills. These directions are
given to students BEFORE they engage in their group learning efforts.
Teachers should organize the three-,
four-, or five-member groups so that students are mixed as heterogeneously as
possible, first according to academic abilities, and then on the basis of ethnic
backgrounds, race, and gender. Students should not be allowed to form their
groups based on friendship or cliques. When groups are maximally heterogeneous
and the other essential elements are met, students tend to interact and achieve
in ways and at levels that are rarely found in other instructional strategies.
They also tend to become tolerant of diverse viewpoints, to consider others'
thoughts and feelings in depth, and seek more support and clarification of
others' positions. (A limited number of proven cooperative learning strategies
allow teachers academically sound alternatives to maximal heterogeneous groups.
If these strategies are not used, then maximal heterogeneity along the above
criteria is needed.)
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR SUCCESS
Every student must believe
that he or she has an equal chance of learning the content and abilities, and
earning the group rewards for academic success, regardless of the group he or
she is in. In other words, the student must not feel penalized academically by
being placed in a particular group.
Teachers must structure learning
tasks so that students come to believe that they sink or swim together--that is,
their access to rewards is as a member of an academic team wherein all members
receive a reward or no member does. Essentially, tasks are structured so that
students must depend upon one another for their personal, teammates', and
group's success in completing the assigned tasks and mastering the targeted
content and skills.
Students need to arrange
themselves so that they are positioned and postured to face each other for
direct eye-to-eye contact and face-to-face academic conversations using "12 inch
POSITIVE SOCIAL INTERACTION BEHAVIORS AND ATTITUDES
because students are placed in groups and expected to use appropriate social and
group skills does not mean students will automatically use these skills. To work
together as a group, students need to engage in such interactive abilities as
leadership, trust-building, conflict-management, constructive criticism,
encouragement, compromise, negotiation, and clarifying. Teachers may need to
describe the expected social interaction behaviors and attitudes of students and
to assign particular students specific roles to ensure that they consciously
work on these behaviors in their groups.
ACCESS TO MUST-LEARN INFORMATION
Teachers must structure
the tasks so that students have access to and comprehend the specific
information that they must learn. The content focus of learning tasks must be
aligned directly with the specific outcome objectives and the test items that
will be used to measure their academic achievement.
OPPORTUNITIES TO COMPLETE REQUIRED INFORMATION-PROCESSING
For students to be successful, each must complete a number of
internal information-processing tasks aligned with targeted objectives, such as
comprehending, translating, making connections, assigning meanings, organizing
the data, and assessing the relevancy and uses of the information they study.
Assigned group tasks direct students to complete the relevant internal
processing tasks they need to complete.
SUFFICIENT TIME IS SPENT LEARNING
Each student and group
should be provided the amount of time needed to learn the targeted information
and abilities to the extent expected. Without students' spending sufficient time
learning, the academic benefits of cooperative learning will be limited (Stahl
1992). (Many of the positive affective, social skills and attitudes, and
academic benefits of cooperative learning tend to emerge and be retained only
after students have spent four or more weeks together in the same heterogeneous
The reasons why teachers put
students in cooperative learning groups is so all students can achieve higher
academic success individually than were they to study alone. Consequently, each
must be held individually responsible and accountable for doing his or her own
share of the work and for learning what has been targeted to be learned.
Therefore, each student must be formally and individually tested to determine
the extent to which he or she has mastered and retained the targeted academic
content and abilities.
PUBLIC RECOGNITION AND REWARDS FOR GROUP ACADEMIC
Only members of groups who meet or surpass high levels of academic
achievement receive ample rewards within formal public settings. The specific
awards must be something valued by the students.
POST-GROUP REFLECTION (OR DEBRIEFING) ON WITHIN-GROUP
Students spend time after the group tasks have been completed to
systematically reflect upon how they worked together as a team in such areas as
(a) how well they achieved their group goals, (b) how they helped each other
comprehend the content, resources, and task procedures, (c) how they used
positive behaviors and attitudes to enable each individual and the entire group
as a group to be successful, and (d) what they need to do next time to make
their groups even more successful.
Every one of the preceding elements does not have to be used every time the
teacher assigns students to work in groups. However, teachers who fail to
include these requirements report far more difficulties with their students and
their group activities, and far less student academic achievement gains than do
teachers who meet them. As a general rule, unless a well-researched strategy is
used that allows for an alternative to one or more of these elements, teachers
serious about implementing effective cooperative learning activities need to
ensure that these requirements are met for each cooperative learning strategy
they use--otherwise they are using structured cooperative groups. More
importantly, unless these elements are used frequently and correctly, teachers
should not expect the many positive long-term results of cooperative learning
that can be achieved.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2842;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1440 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from the UMI reprint
Balkcom, Stephen. COOPERATIVE LEARNING. Washington, DC: Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, 1992. ED 346 999.
Cohen, Elizabeth G. RESTRUCTURING THE CLASSROOM: CONDITIONS FOR PRODUCTIVE
SMALL GROUPS. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for Education Research, 1992. ED 347
Hamm, Mary, and Dennis Adams. THE COLLABORATIVE DIMENSIONS OF LEARNING.
Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1992. ED 353 348.
Holubec, Edythe Johnson. "How Do You Get There from Here? Getting Started
with Cooperative Learning." CONTEMPORARY EDUCATION 63 (Spring 1992): 181-84. EJ
Johnson, D. W., R. T. Johnson, and E. J. Holubec. CIRCLES OF LEARNING:
COOPERATION IN THE CLASSROOM, 4th edition. Edina, MN: Interaction Book, 1993.
Kagan, Spencer. COOPERATIVE LEARNING. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Kagan
Cooperative Learning, 1992.
Kagan, Spencer. "The Structural Approach to Cooperative Learning."
EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 47 (December-January 1989-90): 12-15. EJ 400 491.
Slavin, Robert E. STUDENT TEAM LEARNING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO COOPERATIVE
LEARNING. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1991. ED 339 518.
Slavin, Robert E. "Synthesis of Research on Cooperative Learning."
EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 48 (February 1991): 71-82. EJ 421 354.
Stahl, Robert J. "A Context for 'Higher Order Knowledge:' An
Information-Constructivist (IC) Perspective with Implications for Curriculum and
Instruction." JOURNAL OF STRUCTURAL LEARNING 11 (1992): 189-218.
Stahl, Robert J. COOPERATIVE LEARNING IN SOCIAL STUDIES: A HANDBOOK FOR
TEACHERS. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley, 1994.
Stahl, Robert J., and R. L. VanSickle, eds. COOPERATIVE LEARNING IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES CLASSROOM: AN INVITATION TO SOCIAL STUDY. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1992.
Stephens, Robert J., and Robert E. Slavin. THE COOPERATIVE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: EFFECTS ON STUDENTS' ACHIEVEMENT, ATTITUDES, AND SOCIAL RELATIONS. Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students, 1992. ED 349 098.