Cooperative learning is one of the mainstays of my teaching. This approach gives students of varying strengths and abilities the opportunity to work together to solve problems and it’s research-based — always a plus if you want to raise student achievement.
— Thomas Leighty, High School Social Studies Teacher
All students can benefit from working with partners to cognitively process important vocabulary and content knowledge. But the cooperative learning model is essential for struggling readers to succeed in your classroom. Cooperative learning differs from simple group work in two important ways: (1) Individual and group accountability are built into every activity so that all group members are required to participate and produce, and (2) group members are taught and then expected to fulfill certain roles during the cooperative process. If students arrive in your classroom without cooperative skills, consider using a simple activity like Scripted Cooperation in Dyads (Dansereau, 1988). In this activity there are just two roles for you to teach your students, recaller and listener. The steps in the script are as follows:
- Both partners listen to the presentation (or read the text chorally or silently) and take notes.
- One partner plays the role of recaller.
- The other partner plays the role of listener.
- The recaller summarizes the presentation orally without looking at any notes (recalls out loud from memory all the things that can be remembered from the presentation).
- The listener listens carefully to discover any errors or omissions (the listener can use his or her notes when listening to the summary).
- When the recaller is finished, the listener provides feedback to the recaller on errors, distortions, and material omitted.
- Together partners elaborate on the material presented: develop analogies, generate images, relate the new information to prior knowledge, or reformat the material. (Wood et al., 1995, p. 39)
The script keeps student partners on task and ensures that meaningful processing takes place. This activity can be used following a brief teacher presentation or after students have read an assigned portion of text.
Before you use this scripted process, teach it to your students using an “I Do It, We Do It, You Do It” model. You may also find it useful to develop a simple rubric to help students evaluate their own effectiveness as partners or groups and to help you as you evaluate their work products.
Many teachers use the cooperative model to engage students in the evaluation of written work products, such as summaries, concept maps, or graphic organizers. For example, each cooperative group might receive two or three summaries of a section of content text to evaluate. The summaries have been previously rated by the teacher according to a rubric that has been previously taught. Students are expected to read the summaries individually and then work together to rank them according to the rubric. They are then asked to explain precisely what made them rate each summary the way they did.
Heterogeneous cooperative groups provide all students with control over their own learning and provide struggling readers with the opportunity to work with strong academic role models. To maximize the benefits of the cooperative model, provide students with instruction in the model and your expectations.