By using this method, each of your students will feel that he or she is an important member of the class
Imagine that you are walking past two different types of classrooms. Inside the first one, the teacher is leading the class as a whole but not much engagement is present among the students. Then you peek into the other classroom and see that the teacher is directing the beginning of an activity or lesson, where the students are actively participating and discussing the activity in small groups. Which classroom do you think is learning more socially and academically?
The majority of student learning happens within the classroom. However, it’s up to the teacher to manage and engage their learners by using various ways of learning styles. There are so many strategies that are used by teachers to get their students involved in their learning. Traditional classrooms usually have the typical rows with the teacher delivering the lesson standing at the front of the classroom. How does this show student learning? Students learn best through
interaction and inquiry. So how can we get our students to interact with each other more by participating through discussion? Teachers who may want their students to become more engaged; I would recommend moving away from the traditional classroom style. Changing the dynamics of the classroom really does affect the students. This is where cooperative learning comes into play.
What is cooperative learning? According to Teacher Vision, “cooperative learning is an instructional method where students work together in pairs or groups to complete a task.” The use of this method has shown increased student interaction and academic achievement. Instead of teaching the students as a whole class throughout the entire lesson, the teacher would provide some direction during part of the lesson, but then let the students be in control of their own learning and work with their own peers. While I was teaching my first few years in North Carolina, we were introduced Kagan Structures, and we implemented the strategies into our day-to-day lessons. Kagan Structures are instructional strategies that increase student engagement and cooperation. There are over 200 structures and they are content-free, where any of the structures can be implemented into daily lesson plans. Some strategies that I use quite often in my current classroom are RoundTable, Stand up, Hand up and Pair up, Match Mine, Quiz-Quiz Trade and Numbered Heads Together. I still have yet to implement more into my classroom with my Grade 1 students. By using several of these learning strategies, I definitely think that students benefit from cooperative learning. For more information on these strategies, please go online and search for “Kagan Structures,” which many can be obtained for free.
We see student learning by engaging and asking questions with other students. As teachers, we need to create an innovative learning environment where the students feel safe and comfortable to talk to their classmates. In a traditional classroom, the majority of students don’t feel comfortable when they are called out and have to come up to the front of the classroom to speak. Using these strategies, students would feel more comfortable by being in smaller groups and they will more likely participate in small group discussions.
From my own experience, it was a challenge for me to introduce these strategies because they needed to be used consistently in the classroom. Each strategy is quite different to implement, especially for my young learners because of the number of instructions given, but after the students understand, the strategies are quite invigorating. I suggest introducing 2-3 strategies a week, and then use them on a weekly basis in order to avoid explaining repeatedly. By using these strategies, the response from my students was unbelievable as they were not just communicating with their peers, but also excelling in their learning. I also saw their confidence boost, especially with my English as Additional Language (EAL) learners. I also witnessed more friendships develop and saw them grow as learners. When introducing and implementing these techniques, you have to keep reinforcing each strategy by how it should be displayed so that the students will receive the best outcome. The teacher should always monitor the students to ensure that they are staying on-task and the teacher should also be available to answer any questions the students may have during the discussion. They also need to be held accountable individually for their learning, as this will eventually help them boost their own confidence. The students’ motivation improves as well as their engagement. As teachers, we have to face challenges and overcome our fears of trying something new, but you will be surprised how these strategies can help your students.
Cooperative learning strategies can work in any classroom setting— regardless of age groups, the number of students in a class or subjects taught. I have used these strategies in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and even Grade 3. Every year, I have several EAL learners and by using these structures, it affects them in a positive way. I also like how these techniques can challenge my students to make them think more and improve their social interaction.
Education keeps evolving and every student learns differently. It is up to us as teachers to keep the students engaged in the classroom. When I was in elementary school, I clearly remember seeing the teacher up at the front of the classroom just talking and we sat listening. Then we would be handed worksheets to complete individually, which became evidently boring. Students just don’t learn that way anymore and as teachers, we need to use innovative ways to help boost our students’ learning and curiosity. This is why I believe the cooperative learning strategies help today’s learners.
BIO: Amy Melton is a Grade 1 teacher with a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Elementary Education at the International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP).