Dr. Judy's Newsletter Mar-Apr 2022

Cooperative Learning is Needed NOW More than Ever

Cooperative learning opportunities aren’t new learning tools, but they have never been more valuable than they are now. With less interpersonal contact and collaboration during remote learning, students spend more time in the digital world. The return to in-person classes gives us the value and need for cooperative learning to guide their brains’ reconstruction or boosting of social-emotional cue awareness.

Common threats to students include making embarrassing mistakes in front of the whole class, being called on when they don’t know the answer, concerns about their mastery of English as a second language, and for older children, fear of appearing too smart or not smart enough and risking ostracism by peers. These fears can be reduced by the interdependence and support of smaller group collaboration.

What Constitutes Cooperative Work? 
To qualify as cooperative work, rather than individuals working in parallel in a group, students need each other to complete the task. Students are expected to participate in tasks that are clearly constructed and necessary for the group’s success. The learning objectives are clear and connect to their interests, and students have prerequisite knowledge and know how to seek help when they need it.

The inclusion of belonging to a group, where a student feels valued, builds resiliency, social competence, empathy, and communication skills. The interactive and interdependent components of cooperative learning offer the emotional and interpersonal experiences that boost emotional awareness, judgment, critical analysis, flexible perspective taking, creative problem solving, innovation, and goal-directed behavior.

Planning is essential for developing cooperative group activities, especially in stressful times. When you plan groups, make sure to weigh each member’s strengths in order to have authentic importance for the ultimate success of the group’s activity. This means designing groups where all participants have the prerequisite knowledge to participate in general as well as opportunities to enhance the group goal with contributions —from unique past experiences, talents, and cultural backgrounds. This planning can create a situation where individual learning strengths, skills, and talents are valued, and students shine in their fortes and learn from each other in the areas where they are not as expert.

Consider these questions when planning: 

  • Is there more than one answer and more than one way to solve the problem or create the project?
  • Is the goal intrinsically interesting, challenging, and rewarding?
  • Will each group member be able to contribute in ways that will be valued and appreciated?
  • Will each member have opportunities to participate through his/her strengths?
  • Is  participation by all members  necessary for the group’s goal achievement?
  • How will you monitor group and individual skills, learning, and progress?
  • Is time planned throughout the experience, and not just the end, for metacognition and revision, reviewing not only goal progress, but also their group’s interpersonal interactions? 

Designated, rotating individual roles can promote successful participation by all. These can include recorder, participation monitor (who can act to decrease overly active participation and use strategies to increase participation in those who aren’t engaged). Other roles are creative director (if a physical product such as a poster or computer presentation is part of the project), materials director, accountant, and secretary as needed. When these roles are rotated in projects extending over days or weeks, students build communication and collaboration understanding and skills.
Participants can also periodically check in with each other during group time to answer collaboration questions during the activity, perhaps initially with a checklist. They can consider:  “Is everyone talking? Are we listening to each other? Are we giving reasons for our own ideas and for why we don’t agree with another member’s opinion or ideas? What can we do differently?”

Examples of Collaboration in Different Content Areas
Math: Groups collaborate on open-ended problem solving with members sharing different approaches, strategies, and solutions.  Students expand their perspectives as they get to test one another’s conjectures and identify what seems valid or invalid. They are engaged as they discover techniques to test one another’s strategies.
Social studies: Students in groups, use their individual skills and interests, to put on a political campaign supporting Lincoln or Douglas through posters, political cartoons, oral debates, skits, and computer or video ads. In this small, safer place they try out ideas as they work together to negotiate rules for campaigning, debating, and scoring the debates.
Reading: Pair-share with a partner. Reading or being read to becomes a learning experience as all students process the material with their partners. They can be guided on topics to discuss such as big idea, predictions, personal connections with the material, or the literary style and tools used by the author.
Science: Dinosaur Extinction—Science and Math (Project-Based Cooperative): 
Students select a question that they want to evaluate about dinosaur extinction (e.g., Cretaceous-Tertiary Asteroid Theory, Asteroid Impact, Over-foraging, etc.). They join a group with their same favorite theory. All members read text, articles, or view videos about their chosen dinosaur extinction theory. Then, through a strategy of tea party, card party, or jigsaw, the groups then disperse, and members join new groups, as the experts on their theories. They then build and carry out plans to evaluate which theory the group will support, why, and how they will represent the validity of their conclusion.

Outcomes of Cooperative Learning
As students have more positive experiences in their small groups, they become more comfortable with participation and academic risk taking  (willingness to risk being wrong, offer suggestions, defend their opinions, etc.).
Since it is impossible for all students to have frequent one-on-one teacher experiences throughout the day, cooperative groups can reduce their dependence on their teachers for guidance, behavior management, and progress feedback.

The nature of cooperative group interdependence increases emotional sensitivity and communication skills.  The planning of cooperative learning transfers the responsibility of decision-making and conflict resolution to the students. 

 It’s reassuring in times of change and unpredictability to have the supportive and growth experiences of well-planned cooperative learning.


Keep igniting, Judy

Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. jwillisneuro@aol.com www.RADTeach.com




Additional Books & Articles by Judy Willis, M.D.

Research-Based Strategies To Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist/Classroom Teacher, ASCD 2006 http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107006.aspx

Learning to Love Math: Teaching Strategies that Change Student Attitudes and Get Results,
ASCD 2010 http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108073.aspx?utm_source=ascdfacebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=math-willis-fb

The Neuroscience of Learning: Principles and Applications for Educators. (2014) Bridgepoint Education, Inc. https://learn.thuze.com/store/product/THUZE.HSS.PSY.9781621781639

How Your Child Learns Best
: Brain-Based Ways to Ignite Learning and Increase School Success. Foreword by Goldie Hawn. Sourcebooks: 2008. http://www.amazon.com/Your-Child-Learns-Best-Brain-Friendly/dp/1402213468

Teaching the Brain to Read: Strategies for Improving Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension ASCD August 2008. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107073.aspx

Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom, ASCD 2007 http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107040.aspx

Inspiring Middle School Minds: Gifted, Creative, And Challenging. Great Potentials Press, 2008. http://amzn.to/1wwMsg4
Below is a sampling to some of my popular links to which you can link and reproduce the items of use to you:
Edutopia’s 'Big Thinker on Education' and Staff Blogger
“Meet Dr Judy Willis, EDUTOPIA Staff Blogger”  https://www.edutopia.org/users/judy-willis-md (This works best if you cut and paste web address)

NBC News Education Nation Staff Expert and Blogger Parent Toolkit

Psychology Today" How Children Learn online staff writer: Articles regarding learning and the brain: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/radical-teaching