Teachers learn a variety of different skills and strategies throughout their college education. Once employed, teachers hone their skills by finding out what really works in the classroom for them. Many teachers also further their education by attending graduate school or other professional development workshops and seminars. In so doing, teachers keep abreast of the most effective teaching strategies. The most recent trend among teachers of all kinds is Cooperative Learning. Cooperative Learning can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Cooperative Learning in its true meaning is probably occurring a fraction of the time that a teacher thinks it is in their classroom.
Cooperative Learning in its true form has groups of students working together to achieve a common goal or task. The problem is we usually end up with group work. Group work is drastically different from Cooperative Learning. When group work is occurring, students are usually bored, unmotivated and not actually cooperating much at all. One student may do all the work and give the answers to the other members of his/her group. Other times, each student may do a few questions each and then give the answers to everyone else in their group. The bottom line is, group work does not allow all students to gain as much as they can from the lesson. It is an unstructured learning experience where some students did a lot of the work and others did very little or none. Because of the lack of structure many students also feel left out.
In true Cooperative Learning, students are given a structured task where everyone is involved and individual accountability is built in. Students are working together to achieve success and have a positive learning experience. They all will participate equally so individuals aren’t left out or stuck doing the majority of the work. In following through with these basic principles, students can become successful learners and more involved in achieving certain life skills that they can hold onto throughout their school years and careers. Teachers must rid themselves of the same old group work routine and begin challenging their students to be a part of the process so that everyone can benefit from the success of the class.
Cooperative Learning is not the almighty solution to the education of our students, but it provides a framework ensuring that all of our students can be the best they can be. This set-up not only allows for a positive learning environment where everyone is engaged, but it also closely mimics the “real world” that our students will be thrown into. The majority of careers involve people working in teams to complete a common task. Our children must learn the value of cooperating with each other to be effective throughout the course of their lives.
The educational process may seem stagnant over time, but it should never remain still. Educators need to continue to further the variety of strategies that they use in the classroom throughout the course of their teaching careers. Ironically enough, teachers hold the key. Spreading the word of what works and what does not is achieved by educators sharing ideas. Whether it be veteran teachers or first year teachers, everyone must help out in a collegial setting to accomplish a common goal: Education of our youth by the best means possible.