Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Teaching Cooperative Learning

My students received an occupational diploma which means they had to learn how to get a job and keep a job. The hardest problem my students had was learning to work together and I think this was true for most students, not just special ed students. When I talked to employers about what skills they wanted me to focus on in my classroom, the most popular response was to teach the students how to work as a team. The employers felt they could teach them the necessary skills to complete their job but they didn’t have the time to teach them how to work together in order to get a job done most efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, I have seen this with many adults in education and outside of education also.

When I introduce cooperative learning, I explain that this skill will be practiced all year long. Like any sport, the more you practice, the better you get at it. We talk about assembly lines and car manufacturers and how each person has to do their job and pull their weight or the final product will not be of high quality. We also talk about other jobs where employees work as a team and the things they do to show this. This always lends itself to a lively discussion! This is also a great time to explain that we don’t always have to like the people on our team but we do have to learn to work together in order to get a job done.

When I put the students in groups of 3 and I have them assign a job for each person. One person is the timekeeper (keeps track of the time allotted for the job), one person is the recorder and writes everything down, one person is the manager and keeps everyone on task. I rotate around the room as they work to make sure they are on the assignment. I also change groups at least once a month so they learn to work with different people.

At least once a week, I give them a problem to solve. My favorite one is to give them 5 items and tell them to make something with it. Then they have to present it to the class and explain its function. Sometimes I will give them a problem work situation and have them come up with a solution. The students are reluctant at the beginning of the year but after about a month, they seem to look forward to these group lessons.

I also videotaped these lessons at least once a month and it was interesting to see how much they have changed by the end of the year. By teaching cooperative learning, I hope they are learning some skills in order to have successful careers.


Wendy said...

Pat, Thanks for your great blog. I was looking for some good ideas on cooperative learning. This area really interests me. I teach 3rd grade and that is something that I start with at the beginning of the year. I want the students to know what to expect during the year, right away. I believe that third grade is the year for responsibility. By the end, I want them to be able to come into the room at the beginning of the day and know exactly what needs to be done, without anyone telling them. There are always some students that don't get the message. I like the way you talked about it with your students. I will have to try that. I really liked the responsibilities that you give members of a group. Each person has a job. That is information that they will be able to use in the future with their jobs. Working with adults can be equally challenging. I will have to try this method this next year. It will be interesting to see how the students adapt to these jobs. Again, thank you for your great ideas. Can't wait to use them.

loonyhiker said...

@Wendy I'm so glad you found some of this useful. My students responded well to the responsibility and it seemed to work. Good luck and if I can help you in any way!

Holly T said...

Being a special education inclusion teacher, I am always looking for ways to provide my students with opportunites to work in cooperative groups, but because so many of the students in my classroom have discipline concerns, I am very reluctant to do so. I think cooperative grouping is a great idea. It gives the students ownership in their learning. I love the idea of giving them a job while in cooperative groups and that is definitely something I will use. I think the idea of video taping the students to document growth is great also. Thanks for the insight.