Since I can remember I have always been the type of student who had to have repetition when learning new topics. Growing up, I would rewrite my notes or call a classmate to discuss a topic or an assignment to ensure I understood it. If teachers had given me an opportunity to participate in cooperative learning more often, I would not have wasted time rewriting notes, calling classmates, or doing my own research to understand. Having to rewrite notes and call classmates was my way of developing a cooperative learning environment.
What is cooperative learning?
According to the Cooperative Learning Institute, cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning. According to Estes, Mintz, and Gunter (2011), learning with others others can increase knowledge through modeling and coaching (p.259). Students are allowed to share cultural experiences and examples that provide an opportunity for increased learning by all groups members (p 261).
Cooperative learning is effective because of the learning template, which consists of:
- Positive interdependence to ensure work is is equally distributed among all participating students.
- Individual accountability, meaning that each student is responsible for his or her own learning.
- Face-to-face interaction in which students explain to one another how to solve problems, share information, and connect information to prior knowledge.
- The explicit teaching of social skills.
- Group processing when a discussing ensues whether the activity met cooperative learning goals.
To ensure the cooperative learning environment is correct, the teacher must ensure the groups of students are divided properly with various levels of understanding. The teacher must give explicit instructions to the groups so each student is informed about the project or assignment. There are steps for planning and implementing the cooperative learning atmosphere. According to Estes, Mintz, and Gunter (2011) the planning steps:
- Design objectives: Know, Understand, able to Do (KUD types)
- Plan size and composition of groups, thinking purposefully about what the groups should consist of.
- Plan for all key elements of cooperative learning activities or steps.
And the implementation steps (p.263) are:
- Explain the task.
- Identify critical social skills.
- Monitor and provide feedback during group work.
- Ask each group to summarize.
- Asses group processes.
Cooperative learning is a great tool because there is a great deal of thought that goes into planning the lesson from the teacher as well as from the students participating. Teachers has to figure out how to group and partner students and students have to figure out how to work together to get the assignment done. As a student and a future educator, I see myself using cooperative learning as a tool to help students understand lessons and also gives them the opportunity to learn from each other. I would like my future classroom to be a continuous learning environment where we all learn from each other.
Cooperative Learning within Sexuality Education
Using a cooperative learning environment in sexuality education can be a beneficial method to use, especially when teaching safe sex practices. Initially, the teacher would break the class up into groups of two or three people. Depending on the class size, each group will be responsible for highlighting various aspects of safer sex practices. For example, group 1: methods for safer sex practices, group 2: how to communicate safer sex practices with a partner, group 3: which authoritative figures and organizations and/ or agencies which can provide counselling and information for safer sex practices, group 4: communicating with a parent or guardian about safe sex practices, group 5: consequences of not engaging in safer sex practices. After each group has compiled a list about their particular aspect of safer sex practices, each group will have an opportunity to discuss their findings. As a class, everyone will give their input about the specific topic while having an open dialog about safer sex practices. Having students work in smaller group initially, gives everyone an opportunity to give input and understand specific aspects of safer sex practices.
Within the small groups, students are able to experience the learning template of cooperative learning and develop their understand of communicating and engaging in safer sex practices. If a student is not currently sexually active, then the student will gain skills they can use in the future when they become sexually active. Discussing safer sex practices in a small group gives people who are naturally quiet an opportunity to give their opinion and share their knowledge. Cooperative learning makes students more accountable for their learning, which helps students absorb the information better because they have made a personal contribution to the lesson.
Estes, T. H., Mintz, S. L. , & Gunter, M. (2011). Instruction: A models approach. Boston: Pearson.