COOPERATIVE LEARNING: A PEDAGOGICAL APPROACH TO ENHANCE 21ST CENTURY ESL LEARNING AND TEACHING
Cooperative learning is an essential pedagogical tool to train learners how to meet and face the challenges of the 21st century. Personally, I would say most teachers would claim they have implemented cooperative learning in their lessons. However, do accept my sincere apology for mentioning this - some teachers could not explain about the basic concepts and types of cooperative learning they always employ. To me, though cooperative learning has been around for so many years, there is no harm at all if teachers "revisit"; relearn its basic elements and guidelines so that cooperative learning can be implemented effectively and give the desired impacts on learners.
Johnson and Johnson (2014) outline four important challenges in the 21st century in which cooperation will play a crucial role. The challenges are as follows:
1. A rapidly increasing global interdependence
2. The increasing number of democracies throughout the globe
3. The need for creative entrepreneurs
4. The growing importance of interpersonal relationships
Johnson and Johnson (2014) believe it is through developing and maintaining cooperative efforts throughout the schooling years learners develop the skills and competencies they need to manage cooperation at personal, societal and global levels. What is cooperative learning? Are there elements of cooperative learning? Why are teachers taking about cooperative learning so much these days?
Johnson and Johnson (1999) define cooperative learning as pupils’ learning goals that may be structured to promote cooperative, competitive, or individualistic efforts. In every lesson, instructional activities are aimed at achieving goals and are conducted under a goal structure. The teacher decides which goal structure to implement within each lesson. A learning goal is important as it is a desired future state of demonstrating competence in the subject area. The goal structure will specify the ways in which pupils will interact with each other and the teacher during the instructional session (Johnson & Johnson, 1999). Cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that pupils work together to maximize their own learning as well as others’ (Johnson at. el,. 2013).
BASIC ELEMENTS OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING
Johnson and Johnson (1999) outline five basic elements that allow successful cooperative learning:
Positive Interdependence: Pupils feel responsible for their own and the group's effort. In essence, positive interdependence refers to the idea that all the pupils in the group must understand their task or goal clearly in doing any given activity. Besides, they also need to depend on each other and be committed to personal success as well as the group’s success. It is either all of them succeed or they meet with failure. The members hold to the concept of sink or swim together.
Face-to-face interaction: Pupils encourage and support one another. This means that pupils promote each other's success by sharing resources. Group members help, support, encourage, and praise each other's efforts to contribute and ensure group’s success. Both academic and personal supports are part of this mutual goal.
Individual and group accountability: Each student is responsible for doing their part and contribute a fair share of the work to achieve the group’s goal. No one can be a “passenger” or just “hitchhike” on the work of others. Pupils must know that they are working cooperatively and collaboratively, so the teacher’s responsibility is to allow them to be aware that they must help, support, and encourage one another. The performance of each individual must be assessed and the results given back to the group.
Social Skills: Group members gain direct instruction in the interpersonal, social, and collaborative skills needed to work with others. In this element, social skills play a fundamental role. Pupils should learn how to work as a group, how to deal with discrepancies, and how to negotiate with each other in order to make decisions that are important for their success in completing their task.
Group processing: Group members need to feel free to communicate openly with each other to express concerns as well as to celebrate accomplishments. Group members analyse their own and the group's ability to work together. At the end of a cooperative learning activity, the teacher should have pupils assess their own performance; the work that they just did so that they can identify their weaknesses and come up with possible solutions and minimise mistakes or weaknesses in future activities. In short, group members should discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships.
Figure 1: Basic elements of cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1999)
Johnson et, al., (2005) also highlight the element of democracies in cooperative learning activities. In cooperative learning groups, pupils work cooperatively to accomplish mutual goals. Moreover, they are responsible for contributing to the group’s work, have the right and responsibility to express their ideas, and are obligated to offer leadership and make sure decisions are effective. Every group member is considered equal. Decisions are made after careful consideration of all perspectives. Group members embrace a set of values that include contributing to the well-being of their group members and the common good.
TYPES OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING
Johnson and Johnson (2014) introduce four types of cooperative learning; formal cooperative learning, informal cooperative learning, cooperative base groups, and constructive controversy.
Formal Cooperative Learning
Formal Cooperative Learning requires pupils to work together, for one class period to several weeks, to achieve mutual learning goals and complete cooperatively specific tasks and assignments. In formal cooperative learning, the groups are formed, with from 3 to 5 pupils and they should be heterogeneous and the pupils can start studying according to the cooperative learning strategy assigned to them by the teacher who shall be there to supervise them (Almuslimi, 2016). For examples, pupils have to solve a set of problems, write a report, conduct an experiment, or read a book. In Formal Cooperative Learning, teachers may play these roles:
Specify the objectives for the lesson (one academic and one social skills)
Make some crucial decisions about how to structure the learning groups. Normally, teachers determine the size of the groups, how to assign pupils into their groups, what roles to play, how to arrange materials, and the room.
Teach the academic concepts, elements, and strategies that the pupils are to master and apply. Teachers also need to explain the task to be completed, r success criteria, positive interdependence, individual accountability and expected pupils’ behaviours.
Monitor the functioning of the learning groups. If necessary, teachers have to intervene and teach collaborative skills as well as provide assistance in academic learning.
Evaluate pupils’ performance against the pre-set criteria for excellence, and make sure that group members work together effectively.
Teachers can apply Formal Cooperative Learning to teach any subject or course after setting the goals for the pupils and explaining the elements of cooperative learning in order to make the learning process fruitful and meaningful.
Informal Cooperative Learning
Different from Formal Cooperative Learning, this informal learning involves pupils working together to achieve a joint learning goal in temporary adhoc groups that may last from a few minutes to one class period. Informal Cooperative Learning groups are regularly organized so that pupils engaged in three-to-five minute focused discussions before and after a lecture. Other examples of activities during Informal Cooperative Learning would be:
During lesson, a pupil discusses with his or her partner for 3-5 minutes based on the instruction or focus given by the teacher
During a demonstration, pupils are grouped and they have to observe carefully to describe the process demonstrated.
During a short film or video, pupils discuss on one focused aspect determined by the teacher.
The Informal Cooperative Learning can be conducted to set a mood conducive to learning or help set expectations as to what pupils will learn in a class session. Teachers can also use this type of learning to enhance direct instruction such as presentation, discussion and summarizing. Moreover, it can also be conducted to ensure that pupils cognitively process the material being taught and provide conclusion to a lesson. Almuslimi (2016) claims that it is also possible for teachers to ask pupils to discuss a question or summarize the main points of the lesson.
Base Group Cooperative Learning
According to Johnson and Johnson (2014), Base Group Cooperative Learning is long-term and may last for one year or more. Besides, it is also a heterogeneous group, with stable membership, in which pupils offer each other support to make academic progress. The group members should show commitment and they should provide support and encouragement to the other pupils to attend class, complete projects and do assignments. Gradually, pupils may have a permanent or lasting bond that could last from one to several years. Base groups do meet daily or whenever the members have classes together. When members meet, they normally:
help one another to develop cognitively and socially in healthy ways
hold one another accountable for striving to learn
provide long-term caring peer relationship which is necessary to influence members to consistently work hard in school
discuss academic progress of each member
provide support and assistance to each other
verify that each member is completing assignments and progressing satisfactorily through the academic programme
let the absent group members to know what went on in class when they miss a session.
Informally, base group members interact daily within and between classes, discuss assignments and help each other with homework. The implementation of Cooperative Base Groups helps to improve attendance, thus, improves the quality and quantity of learning. Almuslimi (2016) mentions that this cooperative learning is helpful when pupils want to master a course and complete it successfully. Furthermore, this type of cooperative learning is also relevant to help pupils improve social skills among them.
Constructive Controversy happens when two pupils seek to reach an agreement when a pupil’s ideas, opinions, information, theories or conclusions are incompatible with another pupil’s ideas or conclusions (Johnson & Johnson, 2014). Constructive Controversy begins when pupils are randomly assigned to heterogeneous cooperative learning groups. Each group, usually of four members, receives an issue on which they could be asked to write a report and pass a test.
Later, each cooperative group is divided in two; one half takes the con position on the issue and the other half takes the pro position. Each half receives the instructional materials necessary to define their position and point them toward supporting information. The materials highlight the cooperative goal of reaching a consensus on the issue. Pupils may synthesize the best reasoning from both sides and then write a quality group report. In addition, pupils would:
research, learn about, and prepare their assigned position
present a persuasive case that their position is correct
engage in an open discussion in which there is spirited disagreement
reverse perspectives and present the best case for the opposing position
agree on a synthesis or integration of the best reasoning from both sides
reflect on the process so that they may learn from the experience.
One of the dominant aspects of individuals promoting each other’s success is disagreement and augmentation among members of cooperative groups when they have to make a decision or come to an agreement.
BENEFITS OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING
The cooperative setting promotes the values needed to be a good pupil, family member, neighbour and community member. The list of benefits might include the following:
1. Build commitment:
Fostering commitment is the hallmark of cooperative learning. Pupils are committed to themselves, their group members and shared goals (Johnson et, al., 2001).
2. Develop life skills:
Cooperating and collaborating are regarded as crucial skills that pupils will continue using far beyond their schooling years. They are key elements in a workplace in future, therefore, teachers need to get pupils ready to cooperate and possess other interpersonal skills for effective professional lives (Lewis, 2019).
3. Foster responsibility:
Responsibility towards self and others can be fostered through cooperative learning. Pupils are taught to understand and practise the concepts of “sink or swim together” or “win or fail together”. The responsibility to do one’s part of the group’s work to ensure group’s success is always given emphasis (Johnson et, al., 2001).
4. Promote deeper learning:
Cooperating with others engage pupils in thoughtful discourse and allow them to examine an issue from different perspectives. They also learn how to disagree productively and improve weaknesses cooperatively. All these experiences have a potent and positive effect on pupils’ thinking and learning (Lewis, 2019).
5. Appreciate diversity:
One of the crucial elements of cooperative learning is having members from heterogeneous backgrounds and proficiency levels. The diverse and unique talents, skills, proficiency and knowledge of each group member add on to the group resources (Johnson et, al., 2001).
6. Promote security and confidence:
According to Brown (2001), cooperative learning makes learners feel secure from criticism. This security is derived from the engagement in shared responsibility. If mistakes are made, embarrassment is “shared”, hence, pupils do not feel too embarrass when their mistakes are corrected among the group members. Through this way, all learners, even the shy ones, would become confident and be active participants in the leaning process.
7. Nurture caring individuals:
Cooperative learning moulds learners to be selfless as they are not only concerned about their personal success but also about group’s success. Group members are required to offer assistance to members who are struggling or need help (Johnson et, al., 2001).
To sum up, cooperative learning is one of the most effective methods in the process of learning and it has gained its reputation in the field of education and research (Yassin and Razak, 2018). Cooperative learning has its own elements and principles. It is crucial for teachers to understand cooperative learning clearly as without it, the implementation of cooperative learning will not be efficient and pity the learners for they will not gain all the benefits that they should get. We, the teachers should not allow such malpractice to happen.
Almuslimi, F. K. A. 2016. The Effect of Cooperative Learning Strategy on English Reading Skills of 9th Grade Yemeni Pupils and Their Attitude Towards the Strategy. International Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts and Literature 4(2): 41-58.
Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching by Elements: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. 2nd Ed. New York: Longman.
Johnson DW, Johnson RT. (1999). Making Cooperative Learning Work. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/243775553_Making_cooperative_learning_work
Johnson, D.W., & Johnson, R. T. (2014). Cooperative learning in 21st century. Anales de Psicologia, 30(3), 841-851. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268235485_Cooperative_Learning_in_21st_Century
Johnson, D., Johnson, R. and Holubec, R. (2001). Cooperative Learning. The Newsletter of Cooperative Learning Institute, Volume 16, Issue 1, February 2001. Retrieved from http://www.co-operation.org/journal-articles
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Lewis, B. (2019). What Is Cooperative Learning? Teaching Pupils to Collaborate Effectively. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-cooperative-learning-2081641
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Yassin, A. A. and Razak, N.A. (2018). Cooperative Learning: General and Theoretical Background. Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal – Vol.5, No.8. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331812539_Cooperative_Learning_General_and_Theoretical_Background
Zarifi, A. and Taghavi, A. (2016). The Impact of Cooperative Learning on Grammar Learning among Iranian Intermediate EFL Learners. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 6, No. 7, pp. 1429-1436, July 2016. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305487335_The_Impact_of_Cooperative_Learning_on_Grammar_Learning_among_Iranian_Intermediate_EFL_Learners