WNET Education
Home About The Series Resources
Explanation Demonstration Exploration Implementation Get Credit

How do I get started using cooperative and collaborative groups?
What are the most effective small groups I can use for different learning objectives?
What are some challenges I might face?
How do I assess students' progress?
How can small-group projects involve parents and the community?
How can technology be used with cooperative and collaborative learning?

What are some challenges I might face?

The main challenge faced in cooperative and collaborative learning is group conflict. Students need to learn to work together. It is not always something that comes naturally. You can teach skills like praising others, taking turns for equal participation, and shared decision making. Each week, you could emphasize one of these techniques to help develop group work.

Teachers who haven't previously used cooperative or collaborative learning might also need to get used to the noise level in the classroom, which is raised during these activities.

peacemaker But what do you do when one or two students complain about their group's inability to work together? You could remove unhappy participants. However, a more effective approach is probably using simple conflict-resolution checklists.

Group cohesiveness occurs only to the extent that people's needs are satisfied. But how do you foster such cohesiveness? Whenever the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, diverse learning styles, or power imbalances obstruct a group's flow of communication, conflict-resolution strategies can assist students in resolving and diffusing the situation.

Students sometimes require assistance and may need to be reassured that they can positively interact with others. But if you remove students, the group learns that conflict should be avoided rather than resolved. Instead, you may want to encourage groups to:

. Listen to every member. The extent to which you genuinely hear others will increase confidence, acceptance, and success. Problems are more easily solved when people keep an open mind and listen to others' perspectives. Listening carefully to others also helps us understand and appreciate how group members feel and think.

. Define responsibilities. Whenever one person dominates by doing all of the work others feel less valued and tend to shrink back. On first glance it may appear as though some group members are simply lazy. But in reality, students accused of slacking off will often tell you that somebody else is bossing them without allowing choices or welcoming their contributions. The idea here is to agree on who does what, and by when. Collaboration takes place around the "how" and "what" questions.

. Value each person's gifts. Trouble occurs if one student is after marks only and fails to trust others in the group to attain high marks. So rather than welcoming each person's ideas and contributions, the domineering person relies on only one or two to demonstrate their talents. But we know that people are motivated by demonstrating their own individual strengths, not by coasting on another member's abilities.

. Model excellence. Rather than preach to other group members how to achieve excellent work, group members can demonstrate their own willingness to create quality responses. If one student falls short of the group's expectations, others can help by supporting and encouraging change. However, members should avoid sharp criticism and negative reactions to each other's ideas and insights.

. Promote humor. Humor often prevents and diffuses conflicts before they blow up. The best humor is created around a situation in which everybody can laugh, never laughing at one person's expense. People who have a knack for humor often laugh at themselves. This creates a safe environment in which others become more willing to take similar risks.

Even with the conflict-resolution strategies above, some students will require more help than others. To prevent or solve conflicts within groups, a checklist may be useful:

image Checklist to Help Students Resolve Small-Group Conflicts
(This checklist may be turned in with the projects, used as a point of discussion between students and teacher, or placed in a student's portfolio. The students should rate each criterion as "not at all," "some," or "very much.")


. We listened to each person's ideas each time we met. _____
. We used at least one idea from each person. _____
. We encouraged every participant to share. _____

Define responsibilities:
. We invited volunteers for each task. _____
. Every person chose a meaningful part. _____
. We took turns facilitating the others' input. _____

Value each person's gifts:
. We can describe the strengths of each person in the group. _____
. We can identify what each enjoys doing most. _____
. We give encouragement where people show weakness. _____

Model excellence:
. Each person had opportunities to show his or her best work to the group. _____
. We encouraged everybody to bring his or her very best work. _____
. Together we set goals for excellence. _____

Promote humor
. We laughed together. _____
. We did not laugh at each other's efforts. _____
. We worked together to enjoy our entire group. _____

With a group's weaknesses identified and problem areas articulated, students can create compromises, resolve disagreements, or seek further help. As a preventative measure, the group might discuss this conflict checklist before critical problems take root. Imagine each group member's unique and special gifts when working together to solve complex content problems. Now imagine that first important step toward unleashing each member's unique gifts through easing conflicts that prevent learning. The checklist provided here can help ensure success.

Here are some additional tips on dealing with students who have difficulty working collaboratively:

  • Examples of responses that help modify behavior:

    . Respect the student.
    . Identify specific and clear expectations.
    . Structure the environment.
    . Create contracts, perhaps with parents' help.
    . Affirm students' positive behavior.

  • Examples of unproductive teacher responses:

    . Ignore disruptive behavior.
    . Expect blind compliance to adult expectations.
    . Embarrass the student in front of peers.
    . Judge a student's motives.
    . Injure the student in any way.

Workshop: Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
Explanation | Demonstration | Exploration | Implementation | Get Credit

Concept to Classroom | About the Series | Resources | Sitemap | Credits

Thirteen | Thirteen Ed Online | thirteencelebration.org

© 2004 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.