— UKEdChat (@ukedchat) 17 December 2017
What is the biggest cause of behaviour disruptions in classrooms? Engagement. In general, when children are 100% engaged, there’s no room for disruptions, because they want to learn. Easier said than done. We all know that as teachers we are faced with problems on a daily basis that are out of our control; children coming to school with no breakfast, very little sleep, or consumed by anxiety or stress. So how do we combat these issues and engage all children?
Cooperative learning is the key! Cooperative learning is a successful teaching pedagogy where small teams, each with students of mixed ability, use a range of learning structures to improve their understanding of a skill or topic. Every member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for supporting their teammates learning, therefore creating an atmosphere of achievement and positivity. Every student in each team is working towards a common goal, in which they all need to participate in order to be successful. In a cooperative learning classroom, every child has a role, no one can hide. In a cooperative learning classroom, there are no hands up (to answer questions), because everyone is enabled to answer through structured talk, even if they didn’t know the answer at the start of the structure, they’ll know it at the end. In a cooperative learning classroom, 100% of children are engaged 100% of the time.
Kagan Cooperative Learning is just one example of a successful program. In Kagan Cooperative Learning schools every child is given a role through using table manage mats similar to the example at uked.chat/kaganmats.
So your dialogue as a teacher changes from “talk to your partner” (where one child, in general, does most of the talking and the other child can switch off), to “As tell Bs – you have 30 seconds” and then swap. This means that both children are participating equally and you know as a teacher that every child is engaged. In addition, you are able to choose any child at random to share with the class because everyone has had an opportunity to both speak and listen equally. Questioning techniques such as “tell me about your partner’s thoughts” are great too, as it encourages children to truly listen to their partner and not just take it in turns to speak. Encouraging children to paraphrase what their partner has said, and also praise their effort and responses, fosters positivity, true collaboration and builds self-esteem. It also develops and promotes those social skills which are essential to being successful, not just throughout school but in adult-life too. The most challenging part of initially implementing cooperative learning, is teaching children to participate in groups equally, but it comes with time!
There are three integral factors in order for cooperative learning to be successful:
Shared Goals – teams work towards group goals, and each member works to earn recognition for the progress and success of each member of the group. Children should also understand that each child is responsible for the success of the team, a positive interdependence. When outcomes and goals are linked, we support the success of others and when we cannot do a task alone, we work better with others.
Individual accountability – students are expected to perform as an individual in front of someone – this could be one teammate, their team, or the class. There are some children who really struggle to perform in front of a class, but if they are delivering a presentation to their partner they thrive. The learning gains of individuals form the basis of a team score.
Equal opportunities for success – if one child is successful, a team is successful. As children are sitting in mixed ability groups, progress is celebrated and individual expertise is shared. For example, a low-ability child in a reading may be an amazing artist, and therefore would become the expert in those projects, and vice-versa. This allows every child to feel valued and experience success.
Research has shown improved academic achievement, improved attendance and behaviour, increased self-confidence and motivation, and increased liking of school and classmates has been the result of implementing cooperative learning. Cooperative learning is also relatively easy to implement and is inexpensive. On a personal note, I have found it transformative with every class (more so the most challenging ones) I have taught over the years. It fosters classrooms full of fun, positivity and collaboration. Ultimately, children who love coming to school, learn better and make more progress (and make our jobs as educators much easier!).
Sarah Murphy @smwordlaw is a Primary Assistant Headteacher and Year 6 teacher. Leader of Teaching and Learning with a particular penchant for Computing, Project- Based Learning and Music and Performing Arts.