Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cooperative Learning: A Teaching Technique That Would Bring A Shift In Teaching Trend From Teacher-Centered Learning To Learner-Centered Learning.

Nowadays, there is a significant shift in pedagogy trends worldwide from teacher centered method in which instruction is managed and controlled by the teacher who holds power and responsibility in class, to a more student-centered method which allows learners to become more active in the learning process. However, many countries in the world still practice traditional teaching methods in spite of the emerging innovative teaching methods.  Bhutan is no exception. Traditional teaching is still a dominant teaching method. Instruction is facilitated in conventional ways: the use of textbook learning, rote learning, spoon-feeding technique, rote memorization, and learning is limited to the two covers of the books and the four walls of the room. The prevalence of such practice is evident from the results of many recent studies. For example a study conducted by REC in 2009 to study classroom practice in schools stated the following findings:
·Teaching consists of one-way talk by the teacher to convey textbook content without being able to get the students to comprehend and demonstrate learning.
·Classroom instruction shows predominance of one-way talk by the teacher and writing on the chalk board with lesser evidence of student-centric activities.
·There is lesser evidence of active dialogue between the students and teachers.

Such learning atmosphere has many drawbacks. Students become passive learners. They do not get opportunity to engage in active interaction with teacher and among themselves which keeps them from asking questions and sharing ideas. Their doubts, opinions and questions remain to themselves. They do not get enough opportunities to engage actively in the learning process and have less experience in learning themselves.  They rely on teachers to decide what, when and how to learn. They also lack social skills like communication, leadership and decision making. This generally leads to poor understanding of concepts.. These drawbacks of teacher centered learning has lead to low test scores. Besides, students develop negative opinion towards learning. Students also feel that the concepts they learn have no practical value in their life and have low level of learning satisfaction.

The existence of such a trend is a setback in the growth of education system. Today there is public hue and cry over deterioration of the quality of education. One of the factors attributing to deterioration of the quality would be the prevalence of teacher-centered learning. Time has changed. Today our children need different skills and knowledge to be able to live successfully. These skills are aptly called “twenty first century skills.”  The need to provide new skills and knowledge calls for changes in teaching practice and the onus is on all stakeholders and more importantly on teachers. Teachers cannot afford to stick to traditional teaching methods. It is time we come out of the box and be of age. We need to be seriously innovative and practice innovative teaching techniques.

Over the past decades cooperative learning method has emerged as a leading new approach to classroom instruction. Researchers like Roger and David Johnson, Robert Slavin, Spencer Kagan, Cooper, Graves and Graves conducted hundreds of studies to study the effectiveness of cooperative learning in diverse school setting and over wide range of content areas and revealed that students learning through cooperative group tasks have higher academic test scores, higher self esteem, greater number of positive social skills and greater comprehension of content and skills they study. Further, Johnson and Johnson (1989) stated that cooperative learning is an alternative to competitive-individualistic structures and traditional classroom teaching methods. Since cooperative learning has its root in learning theories that places learners in the center, such as Vygotsky’s theory and Piaget’s theory, it is child centered by nature. Cooperative learning represents a shift in educational paradigm from teacher-centered learning to more child-centered learning. So, cooperative learning method would best be an alternative teaching method to traditional teaching in Bhutan.

What is cooperative learning? Examining dictionary, to cooperate means to work or act together for a common purpose. The educational meaning of cooperation is ‘an approach to teaching and learning in which classrooms are organized so that students work together in small groups to achieve a common goal.’ Johnson and Johnson (aka Johnson brothers) proponents of cooperative learning method defined cooperative learning as ‘the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other's learning.’ Cooperative learning requires cooperative interaction and negotiation of meaning among heterogeneous members engaged in tasks in which each group members have both something to contribute to and learn from other members. Kagan, also a leading researcher in cooperative learning defined cooperative learning as ‘a teaching arrangement that refers to small, heterogeneous groups of students working together to achieve a common goal.’ Artz and Newman (1990) defined cooperative learning as ‘small groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task or accomplish a common goal.’

A common feature in all the definitions is that students work in small groups. However, cooperative learning is more than just small group activities. It must be well structured. Simply placing students in groups and telling them to work together does not produce a cooperative effect by itself. A cooperative lesson must be well structured and characterized by the five components or principles (1) positive interdependence (2) individual accountability (3) face-to-face interaction (4) social skills and (5) group processing. It must be ensured that lessons include these five components.

(i) Positive interdependence: The heart of cooperative learning is positive interdependence.  Students in cooperative group depend on each other for ideas, resources and moral support for the success of the group. They work on a common goal and they must think that they are linked to each other.
(ii) Face-to-face interaction: It requires children to discuss, share ideas, views and materials, providing and getting feedbacks, encourage to keep one another highly motivated to complete that task they are assigned.
(iii) Individual accountability: Students in cooperative learning are responsible for their own and group’s learning. Having small sized group enhances group accountability because each member will be accountable for learning.
(iv) Interpersonal and small group skills: Students in cooperative groups practice and develop teamwork skills like leadership, decision making, trust-building, communication and conflict management.
(v) Group processing: Students in cooperative groups discuss how well they have achieved the goal, describe what member actions are helpful and unhelpful and make decision about how to continue or change.

When using cooperative learning, it wouldn’t be interesting to have students sit and work in cooperative groups over and over. To make lessons using cooperative learning interesting teachers should use variety of cooperative learning structures. Dr. Spencer Kagan designed some 250+ cooperative learning structures. The following are few:
Team Jigsaw, Roundrobin, STAD (Student Team Achievement Division), Team-Pair-Solo, Circle the Saint.....
The choice of these structures depends on the learning objectives, nature of learners, learning situation, nature of subject in question. 

Assessment is an integral aspect of teaching-learning process. Many teachers in Bhutan overlook or skip this essential aspect. What do we assess in cooperative learning? Well! In cooperative learning we basically assess three things; Individual success, group success and cooperative skills. The assessment could be done by instructor, individual/self evaluation and peers.
Individual success: Individual success can be evaluated by asking students to fill out answers to a worksheet as they progress through an activity; by having them record, analyze, and submit data; or by having them take a quiz. Some activities are structured so that each student turns in a product, such as a report or a poster that can be individually graded
Group success: Group success can be evaluated according to how well the group accomplished its assigned task. Was the task completed? Were the results accurate? If not, were errors explained and accounted for? Criteria such as these provide a framework for group evaluation.
Cooperative skills: Cooperative skills are evaluated based on teacher’s observations of students’ behavior in their group. Evaluating students’ use of cooperative skills will motivate students to use them. Teachers should use a formal observation checklist as he/she monitors students at work and log the frequency with which group members exhibit cooperative skills or disruptive behavior.

It is my hope that this exposition will give teachers an insight into cooperative learning so that they could use it or try it out. And I must mention at the outset that cooperative learning, when tried for first time, may not seem to work as smoothly. Teachers and students may find awkward to be in cooperative learning atmosphere. But that’s obvious because anything new comes in with some uneasiness. Moreover, teachers and students have deep rooted believe in teacher centered learning which would make them perceive CL as alien. But the effect of it would come only with consistent usage. It would need sometime for teachers and students to get acquainted to it.

When asked if cooperative learning method would really work in Bhutanese classrooms, many fellow teachers were skeptical. They said that an alien teaching method wouldn’t work in Bhutanese classrooms. Even if it did, they said, would be time consuming and would not facilitate the coverage of syllabus. Some speculated that CL would only be suitable in LSS and PSS. They also opined that cooperative learning would bring chaos and disharmony in the classroom.

Well! Let me make few things clear. Cooperative learning has been used in diverse cultural and social setting around the world. It has been used in places affected by war, racism, segregation, religion conflict, etc. It has also been used in diverse socio-economic settings, in underdeveloped, developing and developed countries. It’s been used for teaching children of diverse age level, ranging from as young as kindergarten to adulthood. In any case, CL has been found to be an effective teaching method. It has been found to increase test scores, learning satisfaction, and understanding. Students were also found to be enjoying positive learning experiences. 

In Bhutan, cooperative learning has already been pilot tested in many schools. The Singaporean Govt. in collaboration with REC piloted cooperative learning in many schools called ‘Beacon schools’ and in many grade levels. The project found positive results. It was found to be effective in raising students’ test scores, learning satisfaction and level of understanding. Even one of my researches, a personal undertaking, revealed similar results. As for syllabus coverage, cooperative learning has also been found to be effective in covering wide range of content while not compromising the level of understanding. Certain cooperative learning structures like team Jigsaw, STAD, etc has been found to be effective in covering a wide range of content in a short timeframe.

Thus, I request teachers in Bhutan to use cooperative learning and start to be an agent of bringing a shift in teaching trend form teacher centered learning to child centered learning. Let us not be hidebound in our practice. Modern era calls for new approaches to teaching and learning and we must tune our actions to the tide of the modern wind.

Humphreys, B., Johnson, R.T., and Johnson, D.W. “Effects of Cooperative,
Competitive, and Individualistic Learning on Students' Achievement in Science Class.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 1982: 351-356.
Johnson, D., and Johnson, R. Learning Together and Alone, Cooperative, 
        Competitive and Individualistic Learning, Needham Heights, MA: 
        Prentice-Hall, 1994.
        Learning:Lesson Plans for Teachers. Edina, MN:  Interaction Book,     
Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, R.T. Leading the Cooperative School. Edina, MN:
Interaction, 1989. 
Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, R.T. “Social Skills for Successful Group Work.”         Educational Leadership, 47(4), 1990: 29-33.
Kagan, S. Cooperative Learning Resources for Teachers. San Juan Capistrano, 
        CA:Resources for Teacher, 1989. 
Royal Education Council and iDiscoveri Educaion, (2009). The Quality of 
        School Education in Bhutan: Reality and Opportunities. Bhutan.
Sherab, K. Bhutanese Teachers’ Pedagogical Orientation in the Primary 
        Classes (PP-VI): A Factor on Quality of Education. 11-30, 2009.
        Boston:Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
Vygotsky, L. S. Mind in society: The Development of Higher Psychological  
       Processes.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978. 


dumcho wangdi said...

A researched professional piece on pedagogy.

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