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3.4.5 Learning Together

Johnson and Johnson at the University of Minnesota developed the Learning Together (LT) method to cooperative learning which involves students working together in small heterogeneous groups to produce a group project (Slavin, 1983).

Group members provide help and assistance to one another in a friendly environment based on a collaborative or helping relationship among the participants (McCulloch, 1985; Slavin, 1986). As students work towards a common goal in groups, academic learning and achievement presumably become valued by peers (Slavin, 1987). This is because they know they have to learn assigned material and make sure that all other members of their group do likewise, and also they believe that they can reach their learning goals only if the other students in the learning group also do so (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).

Although the ideal size of the group depends on each lesson’s objectives, students’ age and experience working in groups, the availability of materials and equipment, and the time limits for the lesson (Johnson & Johnson, 1991), typically it ranges from two to four members in each group. Since the group members produce a single product and receive rewards together, group building

activities and regular discussions within groups about how well they are working together is the main emphasis of this method (Thousand, Villa & Nevin, 1994).

As has been indicated earlier, LT is not a structured process like STL, SA or Jigsaw to cooperative learning (Harris & Hanley, 2004; Jacob, 1999), but it is a conceptual approach that is used for both higher cognitive process as well as mastery of basic facts and skills (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). LT method is based upon the integration of five essential elements into each cooperative activity or assignment that is necessary to construct positive, effective cooperative group learning situations (Thousand et al., 1994), because simply placing students in groups and expecting them to work together does not in and of itself produce a cooperative effort (Johnson & Johnson, 1998; Kagan, 1994; Slavin, 1996). In support of that Gillies and Ashman (2003, p. 37) argued “some children will defer to the more able children in the group who may make over the important roles in ways that benefit them at the expense of other group members. Similarly, other students will be inclined to leave the work to others while they exercise only token commitment to the task”. As a result, LT method requires those essential elements to be included if true cooperative learning is to occur in small group learning (Thousand, Villa & Nevin, 1994). These elements are: positive interdependence, face-to-face interaction, individual accountability, interpersonal and small group skills and group processing.

Positive Interdependence

The most important element of the LT method is positive interdependence between group members. Simply it means that one student succeeds only if the other students succeed. Students must feel that they are linked with each other, and need each other in order to complete the allocated tasks for the group (Sirias, 2005), that is, their access to rewards is as a member of an academic team wherein either all members receive a reward or no member does. Therefore, group activities or tasks need to be structured so that students must depend upon one another for their own learning as well as the group's success in completing the assigned tasks and mastering the targeted content and skills (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).

Positive interdependence can be achieved through different approaches. One way is positive goal interdependency (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). Students must perceive that they can achieve their learning goals only if all group members attain their goals. For example, a small part of each person's grade can depend on each member of the team improving his or her performance on assignments, exams or tests (Cooper, Robinson, & McKinney, 2002). Another way is positive reward interdependency (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). Positive interdependence can also be achieved through positive resource interdependency (Johnson & Johnson, 1989), by assigning different members of each team a discrete amount of material to master that must be shared by all members of the group (Cooper et al., 2002).

In addition, it can also be promoted by linking the grades given on an assignment not just to an individual performance on the test but to the performance of the other group members (Tanner et al., 2003). Finally, positive role interdependency (Johnson & Johnson, 1989) could be promoted through team roles such as recorder, reporter, minute taker, etc.

Face-to-face Interaction

Face-to-face interaction is the second element of cooperative learning that creates more active rather than passive learning as in the traditional classroom. Through interactions students promote learning by sharing, helping, supporting, encouraging and praising each other’s efforts to learn (Johnson & Johnson, 1991).

It is believed that cognitive activities and interpersonal dynamics occur only when students get involved in promoting each other's learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1991; Kagan, 1994; Slavin, 1996). This includes orally explaining how to solve problems, discussing the nature of the concepts being learned, teaching one's knowledge to classmates and connecting present with past learning. In addition, face-to-face interaction provides and promotes opportunities for students to develop personal relationships that are essential for developing pluralistic values (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Johnson et al., 1993a).

The size of the group is an important factor in obtaining a meaningful face-to-face interaction in cooperative learning. It is a common perception that as the size of the group decreases, the amount of pressure peers may place on unmotivated group members increases, and vice versa (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). Hence, the

size of the group needs to be small but could range from two to six members. In addition, assigning group roles, often randomly, to each student in the group, such as facilitator, reporter or recorder could help to achieve face-to-face interactions.

This provides every member of the group an entry point for participation and begins to generate individual responsibility within the group (Tanner et al., 2003).

Individual Accountability

The third essential element of cooperative learning is individual accountability, which means that each student is held accountable for learning the material. All members of the group need to be clear about their own task or role and be accountable for achieving the group goals (Jacob, 1999; Johnson & Johnson, 1991). Also each member is accountable for contributing his or her fair share to the group's efforts (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1993b). It is important the group members know that a ‘free rider’ situation will not be productive.

Individual accountability can be achieved by grading students both on their individual work and on the work of the group (Tanner et al., 2003). Some of the ways to structure individual accountability include (a) giving an individual test to each student, (b) randomly selecting one student's product to represent the entire group, or (c) having each student explain what they have learned to a classmate (Johnson & Johnson, 1991; Johnson et al., 1993a).

Interpersonal and Small Group Skills

The fourth element of cooperative learning is interpersonal and small group skills.

Students are required to learn these social skills in order to be a productive group member because such social skills do not appear magically when cooperative learning is implemented. Also it is unrealistic to expect all members of a group to come to group tasks fully equipped with the social skills necessary for cooperation (Tanner et al., 2003). Hence, they must be taught such skills if they do not already have them, and must be motivated to use them (Jacob, 1999; Johnson & Johnson, 1991).

Ways to foster skill development include teaching leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management (Johnson & Johnson,

1991). These skills are necessary for students to manage both teamwork and taskwork successfully in cooperative learning. Finally, today’s schools are becoming more culturally mixed, so social skills are required for interacting effectively with peers from other cultures and ethnic groups (Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Johnson et al., 1993a).

Group Processing

Group processing is the fifth element of cooperative learning. It exists when group members are given the time and opportunities to discuss and evaluate how effectively the groups are working to achieve their goals and maintain effective working relationships within the groups (Johnson & Johnson, 1991; Tanner, Chatman, & Allen, 2003). According to Johnson and Johnson (1991) such group processing involves five steps: (1) it allows the groups to focus on group maintenance; (2) each learning group receives feedback; (3) it facilitates the learning of social and collaborative skills; (4) the whole class processes how it is functioning; and (5) groups and the whole class celebrate their successes.

Examples of how group processing can be achieved involve allowing sufficient time, making it specific rather than vague, maintaining student involvement in processing, reminding students to use their social skills while they process, and ensuring that clear expectations as to the purpose of processing have been communicated (Johnson & Johnson, 1991).

Although the literature suggests that cooperative groups can be structured in different ways, the three types of cooperative groups identified by Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec in 1998 seem the most widely used in cooperative learning involving a combination of ad-hoc informal cooperative learning groups that last up to one class period, formal cooperative learning groups that last up to several weeks and base groups with stable membership for long-term mutual support (Thousand, Villa & Nevin, 1994). The main differences between cooperative and traditional learning groups as identified by Johnson & Johnson (1991; p. 59) are listed in Table 3.4.

Table 3.4: Differences between cooperative & traditional learning groups

Cooperative Learning Groups Traditional Learning Groups Positive interdependence No interdependence

Individual accountability No individual accountability

Heterogeneous membership Homogenous membership

Shared leadership One appointed leader

Responsible for each other Responsible only for self Task and maintenance emphasised Only task emphasized

Social skills directly taught Social skills assumed and ignored Teacher observes and intervenes Teacher ignores groups

Group processing occurs No group processing

Informal Cooperative Learning Groups

Informal cooperative learning groups are temporary, ad-hoc groups that last from a few minutes to a whole class period (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1992;

Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991). Informal cooperative learning groups can be used at any time but according to Johnson and Johnson (2002) they are especially useful during direct teaching such as lectures, demonstrations, or film to “focus students attention on the material to be learned, set a mood conducive to learning, help set expectations about material, what the lesson will cover, ensure that students are cognitively processing the material being taught, and provide closure to an instructional session” (p. 138). The challenges teachers face during direct teaching ensure that students do the intellectual work of organizing material, explaining it, summarizing it, and integrating it into existing conceptual structures or networks (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).

Formal Cooperative Learning groups

Formal cooperative learning groups range in length from one class period to several weeks to complete a specific task or assignment. Teachers can plan and structure any academic task, assignment or course requirement for formal cooperative learning. In formal cooperative learning there are five tasks or steps that teachers need to follow before and during the implementation of a lesson on cooperative learning. Johnson and Johnson (2002) outlined these steps. According to them, firstly, teachers need to specify the academic and social objectives to be

learned from the lesson or small group skills to be used and mastered during the lesson. Secondly, teachers need to make a number of decisions before implementing the lesson regarding the size of groups, the method of assigning students to groups and their assigned group roles, the materials needed to conduct the lesson and how the room would be arranged. Thirdly, teachers need to explain the task and the positive interdependence and individual accountability. Fourthly, teachers need to monitor students' learning and intervene within the groups to provide task assistance or to increase students' interpersonal and group skills.

Finally, teachers need to assess students' learning and help students process how well their groups functioned.

The heart of formal cooperative learning groups is to “ensure that students are actively involved in the intellectual work of organizing material, explaining it, summarizing it, and integrating it into existing conceptual structures" (Johnson, Johnson & Holubec, 1998, p. 1:7).

Cooperative Base Groups

Cooperative base groups are long-term, heterogeneous cooperative learning groups with stable membership (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991), whose primary responsibility is to provide each student with the support, help, encouragement, and assistance needed to progress academically (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1998).

Base groups consist of three or four participants who stay together during the entire course. It provides students with long-term committed relationships that help groups personalise the work required and the learning experiences in the course and improve the quality and quantity of learning (Johnson & Johnson, 2002). Base groups meet formally to discuss academic progress of each member, and informally, members interact every day within and between classes, discussing assignments, and helping each other with homework (Johnson et al., 1998).