Friday, April 1, 2011

Clarifying Cooperative Learning

The H.E.A.T./H.E.A.R.T. walkthrough form includes several references to cooperative and collaborative learning. What are the key attributes of cooperative and collaborative learning? Does students assembled in clusters of three or four chairs in a classroom always constitute cooperative or collaborative learning?

First of all, cooperative or collaborative learning requires some type of group goal. Both cooperative and collaborative learning involve students working together in groups toward the completion of this goal or task as well as sharing and comparing procedures and conclusions. However, the end goal can only be reached when every member of the group contributes effectively. Students working together to solve an open-ended math problem or to find a solution for reducing energy consumption in their classroom illustrates the foundation of cooperative or collaborative learning.

A major distinction between the two forms of small group learning is that cooperative learning tends to be more teacher-centered than collaborative learning; meaning, students in a cooperative learning configuration typical respond to a teacher-generated question or problem to solve. The teacher gives the students an assignment, often helping them to divide up the work that needs to be done so that each individual in the group has a certain role to play.

Collaborative learning gives students opportunity to create their own connections among information sources and develop networks. A network may be a community of learners (e.g., a classroom), a digital environment, or a social structure where ideas are shared with others, thereby “cross-pollinating” the learning environment In this context, collaborative learning empowers students to find solutions to their own self-generated problems, make inferences, and draw conclusions, even though they may be different from their teacher's perspective.

When conducting classroom walkthroughs, simply viewing students in clusters does not necessarily guarantee either cooperative or collaborative learning. Listening to students’ interactions with one another or asking either a student or the teacher a clarifying question about the lesson objective can give you the needed insight to determine the presence of small group learning.


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