Robert Slavin, author of the article “Five Strategies for Powerful Cooperative Learning,” in the October issue of Educational Leadership, reflects on what makes cooperative learning work.
This is the secret behind cooperative learning. By encouraging students to teach one another, to debate and disagree as well as come to consensus, cooperative learning enables students to learn a topic from the inside. And the benefits of cooperative learning go beyond learning by teaching. When done right, cooperative learning gives students active roles and ensures that all group members are learning. It gives them access to the thinking of others who are struggling with the same content. It enhances motivation, as students encourage one another to excel. Research throughout the world, across all grades and content areas, documents the positive effects of cooperative learning on student learning.
However, poorly structured cooperative learning may allow students to become free riders who let others do the learning, or, conversely, it may cause students to become know-it-alls who exclude or belittle the contributions of others. To prevent these things from happening, teachers have to know how to set up group goals, hold students individually accountable, and teach students communication and problem-solving skills. Cooperative learning is not simple, but the rewards can be great. Let all students teach each other, and all will learn.