Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cooperative learning in practice is one of just many strategies that embrace social learning theories - the idea that people learn best when engaged in discourse with others.  Cooperative learning can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.  Pair-shares are a quick means of having two students dialogue about the content and check each other for understanding.  Groups of 3 works much in the same manner but can be utilized for making predictions, responding to prompts, or the like.  Jigsaws are a personal favorite of mine.  Students are members of not one but two groups (the original group and a sub-group) where they become the expert on the subject matter "teaching" their original group about the research they conducted.  The teacher's role becomes that of facilitator as opposed to the expert dispensing information.  Students can be placed in groups according to abilities, interests, diversity, or age.

Technology supports this type of learning.  Skype, blogs, wikis, GoogleDocs, Facebook and the like are all geared toward the sharing of information and understandings.  These technologies link students together in a way that is not possible in a traditional classroom.  Groups can research and post their findings with the assurance that all members have access immediately to the same information.  Edits and additions can be collaboratively agreed upon and made by any group member.

One exciting technology that is utilizing social learning theories in particular is VoiceThreads.  An individual or group can compose a VoiceThread on any topic of their choosing.  Then, once posted and shared, it is available for comment by anyone, anywhere with an internet connection.  I tried my hand at creating a problem-based VoiceThread on the Battle of Gettysberg.  Here is the URL to view and comment on it:


  1. Hi Sandra,

    Although the voice thread is a powerful tool for cooperative learning, in the sense that it might be needed when several group members are required to share something, it also might have a different use in education settings. In other words, always there will be some students that prefer to work on their own or simply refuse to work in groups for one or another reason (feel insecure or shy) and the voice thread can be used by them to demonstrate the mastery of the content or a particular skill.
    Similarly, it might be used to record lesson and even lecture as an extra ressource for our students. This information can be accessed by them at any time from their homes.

  2. Sergio,
    I was concentrating on the cooperative applications of VoiceThread but as you so eloquently stated there are numerous benefits to all students when technology like this is incorporated into the traditional classroom setting. Thanks for the ideas.

  3. Sandra-

    I do like cooperative learning as a strategy and have used many variations of it. I do not have a great deal of experience with Jigsaws, even though I have been exposed to the idea. What time constraints or issues to you deal with when you implement a Jigsaw of a topic or theme? Do students understand they will be teaching their main group what their topic-specific group learned about and discussed? I really love the idea of reciporical teaching and I do agree that people can learn more when they have to teach something. I wanted to see your take on the Jigsaw strategy and how I can get myself closer to using it in my classroom (as I have heard great things about it from other teachers in my district). Thanks for your post, Sandra!


  4. Scott,
    When working with a jigsaw for the first time, I would recommend having some sort of guide for the students to answer and then reteach to their respective groups. This will get students familiar with the strategy and comfortable with the idea that they are responsible for conveying content to their peers. Time constraints can be tricky to delineate as some students take longer to process the information than others. If you start out small, then feasibly a jigsaw can be completed in one 90 minute block period. As with many teaching strategies rubrics are a great way to ensure that objectives and goals are shared with students as well as assessing their group and individual work. Once students are well versed in this learning approach it can enliven even the driest of content and increase motivation in your students.

  5. Sandra,
    I also use many cooperative learning techniques with my students. When grading I always give individual grades and a group grade. I would like to know how you solve the grading questions that pop up when using cooperative learning.