Instructional Strategy: Cooperative Learning
What is Cooperative Learning?
Cooperative Learning is the instructional use of small groups or pairs to facilitate students working together to maximize their own learning, other’s learning and social development. This strategy has been proven, over time, to successfully promote learning achievement in writing, problem solving, reading comprehension and science processes. (Gillies, Ashman 2000). Studies have shown that even when academic improvement is minimal this strategy is effective for reducing off-task behaviors.
· Use cooperative language during instruction. “Share your ideas with a friend.” or “Is anyone available to help a peer or classmate?”
· Create classroom rules that value cooperation and collaboration.
· Establish classroom routines that allow for cooperative skills.
o Example: Classroom discussions were student’s listen to one another.
o Classroom jobs/ chores so that students work together to manage the classroom.
· Teach social skills through direct instruction. (social stories, role play and conferencing). ( Prater, Bruhl, Serna 1998)
· Begin to replace times of independent work with activities that requires heterogeneous teams and groups.
· Choose a system of grading. Clearly define if groups get a single grade, each member receives different grades or each member receives more than one grade (one for group contribution, one for individual performance).
· Establish a reward system that allows groups to celebrate shared goals and reached milestones.

Benefits for students with learning disabilities:
Cooperative learning provides social benefits to students with and without disabilities in inclusive settings. Specifically students with learning disabilities often have difficulty with building social relationships. Students with learning disabilities deal with feelings of frustration and embarrassment about their academic weaknesses and are often reluctant to participate in group work and pairs. Cooperative learning helps students with learning disabilities to build the social skills by providing students with the opportunities to participate with non-disabled peers in a positive manner. Students gain self-confidence and independence through participating in cooperative learning activities. These students begin to receive positive attention from peers and teachers since cooperative learning reduces off-task and disruptive behaviors. This strategy produces advanced social skills and role model behavior in students. (Dietrich 2005)
Cooperative learning improves student’s academic performance as well. Since heterogeneous grouping is at the core of the cooperative learning strategy, students with learning disabilities can work closely with students that are functioning at advanced levels. This technique allows grouping or pairing them with students that may be strong in memory and metacognition skills. Overall, students with learning disabilities benefit in the social, behavioral and academic areas with the use of cooperative learning.
Practical Application:
Jigsaw- The teacher chooses a topic for students to study further. Students form an original group “base teams”. Each member receives different pieces of information about the topic a sub topic.
Ex: Topic- Polar Bears
Base Teams
Member #1 receives information on where polar bears live.
Member #2 receives information on what polar bears eat.
Member#3 receives information on polar bear behaviors.
Students leave base teams to form “expert teams”. These groups are made of students that have the same piece of information. During this time students work together to decide how best to teach their sub topic to their base teams.
Ex: Expert team #1 Where Polar Bears Live
Expert team #2 What Polar Bears Eat
Expert team #3 Polar Bear Behaviors
Then students return to the base team and each member teaches the group about their sub topic.
Students complete an independent activity about the entire topic (Where polar bears live, what polar bears eat, how polar bear behaviors).
Sample Lesson Plan

Think- Pair-Share
Teacher directs students to work together as partners. The teacher will ask a question. Each student will think about the question alone. After thinking alone students will talk with their partner about their ideas and what they have learned. The teacher will call on students to share what was discussed in their teams.
Circle of Writers
Students can work in pairs or groups. The teacher can give students one of various assignments (make a list of mammals, label a map etc). Students will take turns writing and passing the paper or map until the pair or group has completed the activity.
Web of Talk
The teacher instructs students to make groups and provides each group with ball of string or yarn. After the teacher gives students something to discuss students will begin discussions within their group. The first student who speaks will wrap the end of the string/yarn around the finger and pass the ball of string/yarn to the next member who speaks and that member will wrap the string/yarn and pass it to the next member who speaks and so on. The group members can pause at any time and see who has been contributing to the discussion and who needs to be included.
Cooperative Leaning and Cross-Age Tutoring
Students from upper grades are matched with lower grade students to complete teacher designed activities.
Cooperative Homework Teams
The teacher will deliver direct instruction on a specific academic concept. Then homework is assigned based on the instruction. The homework teams use one another to check each member’s homework before submitting it to the teacher. (McCaster, Fuchs 2002)
Bryant, D. P. (1998). Using assistive technology adaptations to include students with learning disabilities in cooperative learning activities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31, 41-55.
Gillies. R.M., Ashman, A. F. (2000). The effects of cooperative learning on students with learning difficulties in the lower elementary school. Journal of Special Education, 34, 19-28.
McMaster. K. N., Fuchs, D. (2002). Effects of Cooperative Learning on the Academic Acheivemnet Students with Learning Disabilities: An Update of Tateyama-Sniezek’s Review. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 17, 107-117.
Prater, M. A., Bruhl, S., Serna, L. A. (1998). Aquiring social skills through cooperative learning and teacher-directed instruction. Remedial and Special Education, 19, 160-173.
Dietrich, S. L. (2005). A look at friendships between pre-school aged children with and without disabilities in two inclusive classrooms. Journal of Early Childhood Research. 3, 193-215.
Jacobs, G. M., Power, M. A. & Wan Inn, L. 2002.The Teacher’s Sourcebook for Cooperative Learning. California: Corwin Press, Inc.