B. Group Functions -- Students may work in groups on any of the assignments they would ordinarily do alone. They may meet to collaborate on solving a problem, to discuss an issue without direct leading by the teacher, to brainstorm for new ideas or summarize what they have learned about ideas previously presented, to formulate concepts out of information and facts they have been given. Particularly valuable is the potential of a group to share the parts of a complex project or jointly produce an assigned product. Goals for the group might range from practice in group communication processes to preparation for a presentation to the whole class group.
C. Group Norms -- Teachers need to proceed slowly and with patience to introduce students to cooperative learning. It is not enough to rearrange the seating. A "culture" of group work needs to be developed that includes expectations regarding noise level, an atmosphere of trust, absence of "put-downs," equal participation, and willingness to help one another. The use of group grades is controversial, but Johnson and Johnson report good results from encouraging "we sink or swim together" mindsets. It is important that students learn to coach and teach each other. Brighter students' learning is enhanced by their efforts to teach the others; less-capable students benefit from increased one-to-one attention.
D. Group Skills -- Students need to be taught procedures and given practice opportunities for rearranging the classroom space, moving quietly into groups, responding to teachers' signals for attention, etc. So, too, it is important for them to receive explicit instruction and regular practice in the interpersonal skills that this method, as well as life in a democratic society, requires. These include:
E. Group Goals and Roles -- Clear instructions, goals, and time lines for group activities are essential to successful cooperative learning. It is also important that each member have a specific function within the group: recorder, reporter, monitor, observer, facilitator, etc. Roles should be changed frequently, so that members have opportunity to practice new roles, and should be designed to fit the group's particular task.
Living Lab Curriculum
Mount St. Helens