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3.3.3 Cooperative Learning

In contrast to competitive and individualistic learning, cooperative learning students work together in small groups towards a common goal. Research has indicated that cooperative learning activities promote academic achievement and prosocial development, and enhance motivation for learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Kagan, 1994; Polloway, Patton, & Serna, 2001; Sharan & Sharan, 1992;

Slavin, 1990, 1991; Webb, 1989). One could wonder why this type of teaching and learning situation is so effective. It is, perhaps, because cooperative learning provides opportunities for students to interact and work together in teams, and encourages them to help and support one another so that students may achieve their team goals (Marr, 1997). As discussed in Chapter Two, cognitive and motivational theories provide theoretical perspectives on how students encourage, learn and benefit from one another as they work in cooperative environments.

Cognitive psychology is rooted in the belief that knowledge is constructed and that knowledge is acquired through interactions with the environment (Perret-Clermont et al., 1991; Vygotsky, 1978). In other words, when students interact to discuss concepts and problem-solving, and teach one another, they increase their understanding of critical concepts (Marr, 1997).

When teaching each other they often provide information, prompts, reminders and encouragement to others’ requests for help or perceived need for help (Gillies &

Ashman, 1998). Vygotsky (1978), one of the prominent advocators of social constructivism, indicated that students’ collaboration promotes growth and understanding. One could therefore, say Vygotsky's work stressed the benefits of collaborating with a more expert peer because what a student carries out jointly with another could be incorporated into his or her individual repertoire (Jacob, 1999). In addition, cognitive constructivism is based on the idea that knowledge is constructed and made meaningful through an individual’s interactions and analysis of the environment. Hence, Piaget's work stressed the benefits of cognitive conflicts among students that expose students' misconceptions and lead to higher-quality understandings (Jacob, 1999).

In addition, motivational theories of cooperative learning also focus on reward and goal structures that are believed to be the important elements of cooperative learning (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1986; Slavin, 1990). Positive interdependence is one such important element of cooperative learning, where students perceive that their success or failure lies within their working together as a team (Johnson et al., 1986). According to Slavin (1990) "cooperative goal structure creates a situation in which the only way group members can attain their personal goals is if the group is successful" (p. 14). Hence, in order to attain their

personal goals, students are likely to encourage team members to work cooperatively and help each other with the learning activities to succeed and achieve the group goals.

Over the years, in many different countries, cooperative learning has been used extensively within mainstream classrooms (Almasi, 1995; Gambrell, 1996; Jones

& Steinbrink, 1991; McTighe & Lyman, 1988) becoming a widely used teaching procedure in all subject areas, and in all aspects of teaching and learning (Johnson et al., 2000). It is believed that over 900 cooperative learning related research studies have been conducted, providing substantial validation for the effectiveness of cooperative learning over competitive and individualistic methods (Cohen, 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 2002; Sharan, 1980; Slavin, 1991).

A wide variety of researchers in different subject areas have reviewed and compared the effectiveness of competitive, individualistic, and cooperative learning methods on student learning (Bartlett, 2006; Becker & Watts, 1998;

Humphreys, Johnson, & Johnson, 1982; Johnson & Johnson, 2002; Johnson, Johnson, & Maruyama, 1983; Johnson, Maruyama, Johnson, Nelson, & Skon, 1981; S. Kagan, 1992; Newmann & Thompson, 1987; Sharan & Sharan, 1992;

Slavin, 1990). Humphreys, Johnson, and Johnson (1982) conducted a research study in science classes in which they compared competitive, individualistic, and cooperative learning methods to find out the effects of these methods on students’

learning. Their findings suggest that students taught by cooperative methods learned and retained significantly more information than students taught by the competitive and individualistic methods. Similar results were reported by Sherman and Thomas (1986) whose study involved high school mathematics’

students who were taught by both cooperative and individualistic methods.

Moreover, Peterson and Miller (2004) compared the quality of undergraduate educational psychology students’ cognitive, affective, and motivational experiences during cooperative and large group teaching, and found that overall the quality of student experiences was greater during cooperative learning.

Slavin’s (1983) review of 46 experimental studies indicated that cooperative learning groups performed significantly higher than did control groups in 29

classrooms and no differently in 15 classrooms. His review of another 60 studies of cooperative learning conducted in elementary and secondary schools between 1972 and 1987 found cooperative learning to be an effective means of increasing student achievement (Slavin, 1989). Similarly, a meta-analysis of 122 studies on cooperative learning was carried out by Johnson et al., (1981), and their analysis supports the overwhelming superiority of cooperation for promoting student achievement and productivity over competitive and individualistic methods.

Polloway, Patton and Serna (2001) also found that cooperative learning arrangements are useful for increasing achievement, encouraging student involvement, and enhancing motivation for learning. Another study conducted by Veenman et al., (2000) involved teachers’ use and evaluation of cooperative learning along with pupils’ reactions to cooperative learning and the quality of group cooperation in Dutch primary schools. They found that social skills, on-task behaviour and pupil self-esteem improved as a result of having pupils work in groups. They also found that pupils’ attitudes towards cooperative learning were positive and rated their work in groups as effective. Similarly, Whicker, Bol, and Nunnery (1997) conducted a study on the effects of cooperative learning on student achievement and attitudes in a secondary mathematics classroom and found that students in the cooperative learning group had increasingly higher test scores than students in the individualistic group. Their findings also suggest that most students liked working in cooperative groups and appreciated getting help from other students, especially for learning difficult concepts.

In addition, Lampe and Rooze (1996) investigated the effects of cooperative learning and the interaction of gender on social studies and self-esteem at the fourth Grade level in a lower socioeconomic Hispanic population, and concluded that students who received instructions in cooperative learning groups performed more highly than those who received instruction in traditional method based groups. The results of a two-year study of the cooperative elementary model by Stevens and Slavin (1995) suggest that students in cooperative elementary groups had significantly higher achievement in reading vocabulary after the first year of implementation, and significantly higher achievement in reading vocabulary, reading comprehension language expression, and math computation than did their peers in traditional schools.

The overall outcome of the above reviews indicates that cooperative learning can and usually does result in positive student outcomes in three primary domains:

academic achievement; interpersonal abilities; and social development (Karnes &

Collins, 1997). These include higher achievement and greater productivity, high-level reasoning, generation of new ideas and solutions; motivation for learning;

personal responsibility, more caring, supportive, and committed relationships, and social competence and self-esteem. Likewise, Slavin (1983), and Sharan (1980) argued that cooperative learning develops general mutual concern and interpersonal trust among students and increases students' propensity for prosocial behaviour.

Finally, it is believed that teachers who employ cooperative learning methods could accomplish a number of important goals simultaneously. Johnson, Johnson and Holubec (1994) outline how teachers could achieve such goals. Firstly, cooperative learning provides opportunities for teachers to maximise achievement and greater productivity of all students. Secondly, cooperative learning helps to create a positive environment where teachers build positive relationships among students. Thirdly, cooperative learning provides collaborative experiences for students, which are needed for healthy social, psychological, and cognitive development. It is also believed only cooperative learning provides opportunities for students to work on these three fronts at the same time, which places it above other teaching methods such as competitive and individualistic approaches (Johnson et al., 1994).

However, some cooperative learning as a conceptual model alone can be difficult to understand and complicated to implement. Hence, teachers require training and systematic instruction in the various techniques as well as consistent practice and effort to implement it successfully. Such lessons include five essential components—positive interdependence between group members, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, use of collaborative skills and group processing—these will be discussed later in Section 3.4. Caropreso and Haggerty (2000), Johnson, Johnson and Holubec (1994), and Van der Kley (1991) believe these components are needed for successful cooperative learning groups.

However, not every lesson is suitable for cooperative work and there are times

where students can not cooperate and need to work differently, such as by themselves. For example, teachers need to adapt content to appropriate cooperative lessons.

While the literature points to the many benefits of cooperative learning (Abrami et al., 1993; Bartlett, 2006; Ghaith, 2003; Gillies & Ashman, 2003; Johnson et al., 1981; Sapon-Shevin, 2004; Slavin, 1996) some concerns have been raised (Abrami et al., 1993; Sapon-Shevin & Schniedewand, 1992; Slavin, 1990). First, there are practical concerns with regard to the classroom physical arrangements, noise, time, and curriculum materials. As Johnson et al., (2002) indicated face-to-face student interaction is a basic element of cooperative learning; many Maldivian classrooms are generally too small and compact to arrange face-to-face interactions accordingly. In addition, the level of noise associated with small group discussions is often louder than the traditionally controlled classrooms.

Hence, Abrami et al. (1993) suggested that “teachers must communicate to the principal and fellow teachers that the increased noise is not evidence of lack of control but of students actively engaged in learning” (p. 63). Furthermore, because cooperative learning is a relatively new teaching method finding appropriate materials for certain topics would be difficult, therefore, teachers need to work together to develop units for different certain topics (Abrami et al., 1993).

There has also been criticism of the possible free-rider problems that could associate with cooperative learning if the group work is not properly implemented (Slavin, 1995). Free-riding occurs when some members of the group limit the work that they put in, forcing others to choose between working harder or accepting a poor project and a lower grade (Maranto & Gresham, 1998).

According to Joyce (1999), the free-rider problem is, perhaps, "the biggest negative cost associated with cooperative learning" (p. 271).

Cooperative learning has also been challenged on the grounds that it can lead students to off-task behaviors (Lopata, Miller, & Miller, 2003). Poor communication and group conflicts are regarded as contributors to such student off-task problems in cooperative learning (Lopata et al., 2003). However,

McManus and Gettinger (1996) found that on-task behaviors of students declined when students worked in cooperative groups.