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COOPERATIVE LEARNING IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES

and the following two comments represent their view of student understanding of concepts since the implementation of cooperative learning:

We understand the concepts more easily because we have the opportunity to discuss and share our ideas [POSTSI1].

… our way of thinking about economics has changed, and our understanding of the concepts have improved greatly since the group work being implemented [POSTSI7].

Figure 5.4: Cooperative Learning Implementation Issues

5.4.1 Definition of Cooperative Learning Pre-Intervention

Before the implementation of cooperative learning lessons both teachers and students were asked whether they were familiar with cooperative learning. It appeared that none of them knew what cooperative learning was about, nor how it could be implemented to teach economics. However, two of the nine teachers had heard of the concept of cooperative learning through professional development workshops but were not very sure how it could help students to learn economics.

Cooperative learning, therefore, was a new method of teaching and learning for teachers as well as students. As a result they were unable to define the concept.

The following two quotes represent all teachers’ comments with regard to the question on whether they have heard of cooperative learning:

No, I haven’t heard. Not yet. This is the first time that I heard the concept [PRETI1].

Not really, but a supervisor from the MoE once told me that cooperative learning is an effective teaching method. He also said something that students are working in groups to learn things, but I

Professional Development Definition of

CL

Resistance Lesson

Planning

Stages Culture

Cooperative Learning Implementation Issues

Language

Workload Duration of Class Period

don’t know how students could learn things in groups without a teacher? [PRETI8].

Post-Intervention

After the implementation of cooperative learning all nine teachers and four students were able to define and explain the elements of cooperative learning.

According to their definitions of cooperative learning, students work cooperatively in small groups facing each other, helping one another in order to complete the groups’ assigned tasks based on the criteria outlined for them. The following two definitions share their view of cooperative learning:

… cooperative learning is the learning where students sit together in groups and help each other to complete the group’s learning activities. In other wards individual group members are accountable for their own learning as well as their peers learning… thereby the entire class understand things better than the conventional teaching methods [POSTI2].

… cooperative learning is where students work in groups to help each other in order to complete the group’s activities. Students should be accountable for their work as well as their group mate’s work. They should work together in groups facing each other and discussing the learning activities based on the criteria to achieve the whole group’s learning rather than achieving the individual member’s learning [POSTTI9].

Students also appeared to have broader knowledge about cooperative learning and how it works for them after the intervention. Although they had a clear idea about working cooperatively in groups not all students were able to give a general definition of cooperative learning. However, four of the nine students gave a quite reasonable definition of cooperative learning. The following definition represents all four students.

… cooperative learning is a process where students and teachers work together to achieve their learning outcomes. Teacher divides the class into small cooperative groups then asks us to complete certain tasks according to the criteria. We need to help each other to learn the activities [POSTSI6].

5.4.2 Professional Development

The issue of professional development training programmes, specifically training on issues that are related to the current teaching and learning of economics, were raised by all teachers. Although a couple of teachers had received some type of

professional development training on basic assessment and evaluation, the majority of the teachers did not receive any type of training to up-skill their knowledge with regard to the issues of teaching and learning economics since they had been employed at these schools. Some of them were teaching for more than eight or nine years without professional development training. Lack of training could be a reason why the teachers were unaware of or not familiar with innovative methods such as cooperative learning. Another reason could be because the school authorities and the Ministry of Education did not initiate such training programmes for them or encourage teachers to use different methods of teaching and learning in schools. Whatever the reason it was clear that teachers now believed that they require more training in order to have healthy learning environments in schools. All nine teachers appreciated the training they received from the workshops on cooperative learning, and acknowledged the changes these brought to their classes. The following two comments were made during the post-interviews and represent all nine teachers:

So it’s better the teachers get trained in this model that will help the implementation of such lessons more effectively in the Maldives. For instance I had a very basic idea of cooperative learning from the workshops. You and I have seen the results in such a short period of time. This training made me to think positively and now I prefer to have more cooperative learning strategies… [POSTTI5].

I do believe better training teachers in cooperative learning methods would give more positive results … training is important for us to implement such innovative techniques. Without training we cannot bring changes to the classrooms [POSTTI1].

5.4.3 Stages

As we have seen in previous sections (5.2 Teaching Issues; and 5.3 Learning Issues) passive learning by students was demonstrated in each school. Although some students had some kind of informal group-based learning at private tuition centres, generally at school students sit quietly in classrooms while teachers transfer or communicate to their students through direct explanation. This type of teaching and learning has a long history in the Maldivian education system and this traditional approach has been the norm for generations. Teachers who participated in this study appeared to have embraced this method from their predecessors and continued to practice like this in classrooms. Consequently, over

a period of time students became accustomed to this but did not appear to be particularly motivated or enthusiastic about learning. Moreover, they did not have opportunities to discover any other methods of learning until cooperative learning was implemented in their classrooms. This new method of learning appears to appeal to both teachers and students. However, teachers were aware that a sudden change from one particular method to another would not be an easy task but required gradual introduction and the development of necessary skills.

The gradual introduction of aspects of cooperative learning was raised and discussed during the implementation phase. As we discussed during the workshops, all teachers had implemented the lessons by starting with simple tasks in very small groups then gradually making the tasks more sophisticated and increasing the size of the groups. As a result, students seemed to grasp the basic ideas and principles of cooperative learning after a couple of lessons. No major problems with the implementation of those lessons were observed.

However, two out of the nine teachers felt that a sudden introduction of cooperative learning to Grade 10 students would not be an ideal Grade to start with but would be more effective if it had been introduced in Grade 8, then the relevant skills were gradually developed through Grade 9 before students reached Grade 10. They argued this sequence would help students take it more seriously because they would have more time to think and develop the necessary skills for effective learning. The following two comments were made by them regarding the importance of the gradual introduction of cooperative learning:

… I think the introduction of cooperative learning in Grade 8 would be a good idea. Because if we could introduce the elements of cooperative learning in early stage then they will be interested and they will follow it, and they will come to know that this is their teaching method… [POSTTI6].

Actually they [students] found it very interesting. But in my class [Grade 10] students may think this is their final year and getting ready to do their final Cambridge Exam soon, so they may think, suddenly, this type of teaching methods is not meant for them. But it would be very effective if we could start from Grade 8 and continue through other Grade levels [POSTTI1].

5.4.4 Lesson Planning

Cooperative learning requires continuous planning and preparation of lessons and related learning activities. The effectiveness of classroom learning is very much dependent on the teacher’s ability to plan and implement such lessons. This requires proper training and time. As mentioned previously, lesson planning and preparation was not a major emphasis for teachers but since the introduction of cooperative learning teachers found it quite difficult and challenging to prepare activities for each lesson. However, they all managed to plan individual lesson plans and prepare learning activities according to the criteria outlined in workshops.

Issues related to planning and preparation were raised during the implementation of the cooperative learning lessons. Four teachers expressed their concern about the lesson planning because of their basic level of knowledge on cooperative learning, the unavailability of resources in schools and the time available for them to do it. The following two comments share the view of all four teachers:

Here [at schools] we used to make lessons for each week in advance… We didn’t make individual lesson plans but we had the outlines for whole week’s lessons. Hence, preparing individual lessons according to the cooperative learning criteria was difficult and time consuming… [POSTTI6].

… for effective lesson planning we need more resources. We cannot depend on only textbooks any more … and also with the basic knowledge of cooperative learning you cannot expect us to do much without further training [POSTTI4].

5.4.5 Culture

The Maldives has a long history of extended family values that involve helping each other, looking after elderly people and taking care of younger ones (Nazeer, 1997). The whole society is built on the cooperative values of Islamic culture.

Islam teaches people to be socially responsible for each other (Lapidus, 1997;

Reagan, 2000). Based on these values children are encouraged to help and cooperate with each other in everyday life. For example, parents expect their children to provide all the support when they get older, and children see this as their responsibility.

However, one could say that home-based cultural values in the Maldives, to some degree, contradict the way children have been taught in schools, reflecting competitive and individualistic values. Naturally, such contrasting value systems can have adverse effects on students’ thinking, and ultimately it might affect the way they attempt to learn things in the classrooms. According to Heath (1983) and Moll and Dias (1987) children's experiences outside the classroom greatly affect their success at school, and generally the closer the match between the two the better the children’s chance at success.

Cultural issues were brought up by the two local teachers who took part in this study. None of the expatriates mentioned anything about the cooperative values in Maldivian culture. In fact local teachers also did not realise the contradicting factors of the values of home and school culture until very late during the implementation phase of cooperative learning. Their reflections were:

… and also what you call collective responsibility isn’t it part of our Maldivian culture? This is another quality that can be developed among the students through cooperative learning [POSTTI8].

Now I realise that our culture is very much based on the principles of cooperative learning. I think if we have the same cultural values in both schools and homes our children will do better in schools [POSTTI9].

5.4.6 Language

Although Dhivehi is the official language of the country, English has been the language of school instructions since the introduction of English medium education in the Maldives in the early 1960s. However, it appeared that the majority of students had some kind of difficulty in developing English language skills in schools. Hence, it is believed that poor language skills might affect the students’ ability to learn in schools. Three out of the nine teachers expressed their concerns about some of the students’ ability to learn due to poor English language. They acknowledged the need for grouping these students in order to maximise learning in schools. Some of their comments with regard to students using Dhivehi language in groups include:

… [I] realise the importance of Dhivehi for them to understand the concepts because the majority of them have some difficulty of

English language. They get the opportunity to use Dhivehi when we put them in groups [POSTTI1].

… the other benefit of cooperative learning is good students can explain it in Dhivehi so their peers would take it more easily [POSTTI2].

Mother tongue [Dhivehi] is used more that’s what I found also, and they are able to understand the concept well, one boy is able to explain other boy, so they understand things well [POSTTI5].

However one teacher did not think allowing students to discuss in Dhivehi would help them to maximise their learning, stating that:

… they [students] will talk in Dhivehi and ask them to explain in Dhivehi, so it is not very helpful for weak students … [and] we’ll not know what they [students] are talking about, that’s a problem [POSTTI2].

The above comment was dismissed by another teacher who allowed the students to use Dhivehi to discuss the issues, arguing that:

Low achievers will be gaining more information from their friends, who have scored high marks in the exam or high achievers or intelligent ones because they get chances to talk and discuss in Dhivehi [POSTTI9].

In contrast, all nine students were in favour of using Dhivehi in groups to discuss the problems and issues because they argued not many of their peers were good with English language. The following quotes share their ideas with regard to cooperative learning and its likely effects on their learning:

… I think it is an effective method to learn economics because we understand things much better when we have the opportunity to discuss and share our ideas. Not everyone in this class is good in English so we use Dhivehi that is easy for everyone to understand [POSTSI1].

… I think because we help each other to learn and also we get chances to use Dhivehi language to clarify things [POSTSI6].

… we can share our ideas and help those students who need help in completing the work. There are some of our friends who need help because their English is not very good so they need someone to explain the material in Dhivehi. Group learning provides this opportunity for us to help each other [POSTSI7].

5.4.7 Resistance

It is quite natural for people to resist new ideas and the changes accompanying those new ideas. Such resistance occurs even in most liberal societies, but it was expected to be greater in predominantly conservative societies like the Maldives.

Cooperative learning was a new method of teaching and learning for both teachers and students in the selected schools. They had previously used traditional methods of teaching for their entire careers. Hence, no one would expect that they would accept such a new method of teaching and learning without questions or concerns being raised. My belief was that teachers and students would resist, to some degree, the cooperative learning at the beginning but gradually would accept the changes as they saw the benefits that it would bring to the climate of the classroom and to student learning.

To my surprise, teachers and students did not seem to resist the changes in teaching and learning methodology as I have previously thought; instead they were very keen to embrace this new method. Also they were quite eager to learn more about this new method. However, as I expected earlier, but to a lesser degree, some of concerns were raised by a few students at the beginning of the implementation phase. It was not a major concern but they were curious to know about the changes in teaching methodology. This was clear from a comment made by one of the teachers:

At the beginning I had a few comments from one or two students saying that why are you not dictating the material in the classroom now? I told them about the purpose of this new method and how it helps them to increase their role in the class. I think they are very happy now because many of them came to me later and told me that they now prefer this new method of learning and they want to continue with this method throughout the year [POSTTI4].

None of the students raised any such concerns during the interviews after the intervention. In fact all nine students seemed delighted with the changes brought with this new method of learning. The following comment captured all students’

views with regard to this:

Last few weeks we were very happy because this was the first time that we had real opportunity to discuss things in the class [POSTSI1].

It was evident that teachers were aware of the fact that implementing such a new method of teaching and learning would require time and effort on all sides. In addition, they believed that they would face resistance not only from the students but also from fellow teachers. However, eight out of the nine teachers felt that cooperative learning could be implemented successfully although they had some difficulties in the early stage of implementation. Some of the comments made by the teachers included:

… initial stages you may see some difficulties or resistance. I think the cooperative learning culture can be developed in our classrooms if we have more practice to try with students [POSTTI1].

... all of sudden change of teaching methods, the students as well as teachers finds it difficult to cooperate and to cope with the new method, but later on as it happens in many cases they will be used to it. There won’t be any problems later [POSTTI1].

… that will happen everywhere even for us, so when we initially implement we may feel bit, I should not say inconvenience, sound of discomfort but once is implemented and we would be able to get the fruits from students, this is the main focus [POSTTI7].

Although the teachers had the same view with regard to cooperative learning one teacher felt that it could not be used all the time to teach economics because he feared that after a while students may react differently to this new method. Hence, he thought cooperative learning should be used once in a while as an alternative learning methodology to refresh students. The following is his reaction to the question on what happens in the classroom when there is a change in teaching methods/strategies:

I think the first thing is amazement, surprise and then most probably enjoyment. But if we do it [cooperative learning] again and again and again most probably they will think other classes [traditional methods] again. So once in a while just to break them you can insert one such lesson so they are much more refreshed and they would know that this is not only for express but for life as well [POSTTI8].

5.4.8 Workload

All schools in Male’ are run in two sessions – morning and afternoon – including those schools that have been selected for this study. Teachers of Grades 9 and 10 work in morning session from 7am to 12.30pm, while teachers of Grade 8 work in the afternoon from 1pm to 6.30pm.

It is important to note that it is a common practice for many employees of the Government in the Maldives to have more than one job. Teachers are not exceptional. So teachers who work in morning sessions could have some part-time jobs in the afternoon, or vice versa. All nine teachers who took part in this study had some kind of private tuition jobs in either morning or afternoon depending on their school working sessions. The basic reason for having more than one job was justified by the teachers and the following comment shares their overall view:

I think we all have part time tuition jobs. We have to work. Without these part time jobs we cannot support our families. The thing is that the government salary is not enough to support the whole family who is depending on my income [POSTTI8].

As I said earlier the average classroom teaching time for teachers who participated in this study was four 35-minute periods a day. That was an average total of 20 periods a week which was five periods less than the national average of 25.

Besides the classroom teaching, teachers were expected to do lesson planning, marking and classroom preparation. In addition, they were expected to help and assist with the extra curricular activities organised by the schools.

Although the teachers’ teaching workload was below the national average, four out of the nine teachers felt that the most difficult part of implementing cooperative learning was their heavy workload in schools. Some of their comments were:

… there are some difficulties at the moment because of the huge workload that we have in this school I found it little bit hard to implement according to the instructions that we received from the workshop [POSTTI6].

If we have cooperative learning then we need to make thorough lesson plans and the learning materials that we need to implement