I attempt to add a new, proven feature to my teaching each year. This semester, I am concentrating on adding true cooperative learning to my classes.
Any sort of learning can be categorized into one of three categories: “Individual learning,” “competitive learning,” and “cooperative learning.” An individual learning environment is where one student’s learning is not affected by any other student’s learning; every school where I have worked has had predominantly (solely?) a focus on individual learning (my courses included). A competitive learning environment occurs where one student succeeds at the expense of the other. An example of a policy that encourages competitive learning is the true grading curve, where only 10% of the class could earn an A. A cooperative learning environment occurs when students succeed or fail together.
Cooperative learning is more than simply using group work. Two aspects of cooperative learning that I have usually not included with run-of-the-mill group work are positive interdependence and individual accountability. Positive interdependence means that the group succeeds and fails together—there is no room for some of the group members to succeed while others fail. Individual accountability means that I have developed policies so that students cannot just let others do all of the work.
I am implementing cooperative learning policies in my course because the psychology research overwhelmingly shows that students learn more in cooperative environments than individual and competitive environments (individual environments tend to improve learning more than competitive). This is really the only reason I need, but the research also shows that students who have experienced true cooperative environments strongly prefer cooperative learning environments to individual or competitive environments.
I am going to introduce cooperation into my classroom through three policies:
- Students will work cooperatively on homework. I will assign them to groups of 3-4, collect all assignments from the group, randomly select one of the papers, and give the grade of that one randomly selected paper to the entire group. Of course, the students will be instructed to meet to make sure that all of their papers are correct.
This policy promotes a positive interdependence by giving everyone in the group the same grade. This encourages students to teach each other to make sure that they all understand the material. There is individual accountability because any one of the group members’ papers could be selected for grading; a slacker will cause the entire group to do poorly.
(Note: There will also be individual, rather than cooperative, homework. There is definitely a place for individualism).
- Students will have a similar experience for each midterm. I will again assign groups (likely the same groups from the previous homework assignment), give them an exam problem in advance, and then ask the students that question on the in-class portion of the midterm. Each group will get a grade based on how the entire group does. I have not yet decided on the method for determine which one grade all group members receive (feedback would be appreciated), but options are: randomly selected a question to grade, averaging the group members’ scores, using the lowest grade, or using the second lowest grade.
- Students will be creating a textbook for the class. This idea is from Patrick Bahls. This will be a lower stakes cooperative task, since I will not be giving the entire class a grade depending on how the students do. Rather, it will be a (hopefully) enjoyable task that promotes learning.
I welcome comments, particularly on the following two issues:
- How should I grade the cooperative homework? I strongly favor de-emphasizing grades, and I have previously been give an “All or nothing” grade with re-writes. However, I am afraid that I will not be able to grade everything if this happens (I am allowing unlimited re-writes on the individual homework assignments). I have considered a 0-3 scale for each problem, but that does not give them the feedback I would like. I really have not thought of a solution that I am happy with—please help.
- How should I score the cooperative question on the midterms? Average? Randomly selected? Lowest score?