Cooperative Learning in the Thinking Classroom


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Jacobs, G. M., Lee, C, & Ng, M. (1997, June). Co-operative learning in the thinking classroom. Paper presented at the International Conference on Thinking, Singapore. Cooperative Learning in the Thinking Classroom: Research and Theoretical Perspectives Introduction Cooperative learning is organised and managed groupwork in which students work cooperatively in small groups to achieve academic as well as affective and social goals. In hundreds of studies, cooperative learning has been associated
  Jacobs, G. M., Lee, C, & Ng, M. (1997, June). Co-operative learning in the thinking classroom. Paper presented at the International Conference on Thinking, Singapore. Cooperative Learning in the Thinking Classroom:Research and Theoretical Perspectives Introduction Cooperative learning is organised and managed groupwork in which studentswork  cooperatively in small groups to achieve academic as well as affective and socialgoals. In hundreds of studies, cooperative learning has been associated with gains insuch variables as achievement, interpersonal skills, and attitudes toward school, self, andothers (for reviews, see (Cohen, 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 1989; Sharan, 1980, Slavin,1990). Beyond these overall gains, research also suggests that cooperative learning maylead to gains in thinking skills (Johnson & Johnson, 1990; Qin, Johnson, & Johnson,1995). Therefore, as a classroom organisation and instructional method, cooperativelearning merits serious consideration for use in thinking classrooms. Indeed, severalthinking skills programmes, such as Dimensions of learning (Marzano, 1992),recommend that their programmes be implemented with the use of cooperative groups.In this paper, the following key questions will be examined. What is distinctiveabout cooperative learning, which makes it different from just groupwork? What hasresearch found about the effectiveness of cooperative learning in promoting thinking?What conditions in cooperative learning help promote thinking? What theoretical perspectives support the “cooperation - thinking” link? What is different about cooperative learning? Cooperative learning is more than just groupwork. A key difference betweencooperative learning and traditional group work is that in the latter, students are asked towork in groups with no attention paid to group functioning, whereas in cooperativelearning, groupwork is carefully prepared, planned, and monitored (Jacobs, 1997;Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Ng & Lee, 1996). Instructional models and structures have been designed, which teachers can adopt and adapt, to help the group work operate moreeffectively by creating an environment for interactive learning (Abrami et al, 1995).Several conditions that promote cooperation are seen as criterial elements of cooperative learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1990) - clearly perceived positiveinterdependence (the feeling among group members that what helps one member helpsall and what hurts one hurts all); face-to-face promotive interaction (students need to beinteracting with one another, not just members of the same group); individualaccountability (each group member feels responsible for their own learning and for helping their groupmates learn); the teaching of collaborative skills; and group processing (groups spending time discussing the dynamics of their interaction and howthey can be improved. 1  A cooperative learning lesson often begins with some direct instruction wherethe teacher presents new material. This is followed by cooperative groupwork. Duringthe group work, students often take on roles in order to help them feel responsible for  participating and learning. The teacher monitors groups to see that they are learning andfunctioning smoothly. “Team spirit” is stressed with students “learning how to learn” by participation with their peers (Adams & Hamm, 1990; Kagan, 1994).Teachers who use cooperative learning have learning objectives that areacademic, affective, and social. Students are encouraged not to think only of their ownlearning but of their group members as well. Cooperation becomes “a theme”, not just ateaching technique (Jacobs, 1997). Further, cooperation features throughout the school,e.g., teachers cooperate with one another and let their students know about thiscollaboration.Communication is structured very differently in cooperative learning classes.Because students learn in collaboration, they consequently engage in extensive verbalnegotiations with their peers. The cooperative group provides a more intimate settingthat permits such direct and unmediated communication (Shachar & Sharan, 1994).Such a context, proponents of cooperative learning believe, is key to students engagingin real discussion and wrestling with ideas. In this context then, students will be givenopportunities to stretch and extend their thinking. What is thinking? There are such a variety of definitions of thinking that any attempt to define itwill be incomplete. We shall in this section articulate only the thinking skills andstrategies that are pertinent to the discussion that will follow.Thinking, according to Costa (1996), is seen not only in the number of answersstudents already know but also in their knowing what to do when they don’t  know”. Inhis view, intelligent behaviour is in the manner of the individuals’ responses to questionsand problems to which they do not immediately know the answer. Teachers concernedwith promoting thinking should therefore try to observe how students  produce knowledge rather than how they merely reproduce knowledge. Here, the criterion for thinking is knowing how to act on information which one already has.Presseisen (1985) distinguishes between thinking skills and thinking strategies. Inher model of thinking skills, which draws from Bloom’s taxonomy of instructionalobjectives and Guildford’s Structure of Intellect model, she defines five categories of thinking skills and processes as shown in Figure 1: 2  The five categories suggested in the Presseisen’s framework are essentialthinking skills. On the basis of these essential thinking skills, more complex thinking processes (i.e., thinking strategies) are developed. Cohen (1971) identified four keythinking strategies: ã Problem Solving - using basic thinking processes to solve a known or defineddifficulty ã Decision Making - using basic thinking processes to choose a best response amongseveral options ã Critical Thinking - using basic thinking processes to analyse arguments and generateinsights into particular meanings and interpretations ã Creative Thinking - using basic thinking processes to develop or invent novel,aesthetic, constructive ideas, or products, related to precepts as well as concepts, andstressing the intuitive aspects of thinking as much as the rational.Figure 1 - Presseisen’s Model of Thinking Skills: Basic Processes CAUSATION  - establishing cause and effect, assessmentPredictionsInferencesJudgementsEvaluations TRANSFORMATIONS  - relating known to unknowncharacteristics, creating meanings:AnalogiesMetaphorsLogical induction  RELATIONSHIPS  - detecting regular operationsParts and wholes, patternsAnalysis and SynthesisSequences and order Logical deductions CLASSIFICATION  - determining common qualitiesSimilarities and differencesGrouping and sorting, comparisonsEither/or distinctions QUALIFICATIONS  - finding unique characteristicsUnits of basic identityDefinitions, factsProblem/task recognition 3  In addition, there are different levels of thought that the human mind mayoperate at. These levels are: ã Cognition - the skills associated with essential and complex processes ã Metacognition - the skills associated with the learner’s awareness of his or her ownthinking ã Epistemic Cognition - the skills associated with understanding the limits of knowing,as in particular subject matter, and the nature of problems the thinkers can address.Marzano’s (1992) work concerns the basic types of thinking that occur duringeffective learning. His model of instruction is based upon the interaction of fivedimensions of learning:1.attitudes and perceptions that create a positive classroom climate2.acquiring and integrating knowledge3.extending and refining knowledge4.making meaningful use of knowledge5.developing favourable habits of mind Source : RJ Marzano. The Many Faces of Cooperation Across the Dimensions of Learning. In NDavidson & T Worsham (1992) Enhancing Thinking through Cooperative Learning, p 7 The types of tasks that help knowledge develop can be divided into two broadcategories: those that help “extend and refine knowledge and those that “use knowledgein meaningful ways”. Marzano has listed the following set of tasks, which are particularly applicable to knowledge extension and refinement within the subjectcontent. ã Comparing: Identifying and articulating similarities and differences between bodiesof information relative to their specific attributes ã Classifying: Grouping items into definable categories on the basis of their attributesFigure 2 - MARZANO’S FIVE DIMENSIONS OF LEARNINGAttitudes & PerceptionsAcquire and Extend UseIntegrate and KnowledgeKnowledge Refine MeaningfullyHabits of Mind 4
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