The benefits of cooperative learning in the classroom are many, but it is not an easy task at first. The group must be prepared to work cooperatively (which goes beyond doing group work) the activities must be adapted to the learning objective that we pursue, the teacher becomes a guide and reference of the students' work and more importantly, it is necessary to adapt to the characteristics of the students (age, learning styles, abilities, etc.). But you also have to know some exercises and cooperative learning activities that are interesting for children.
The first thing that we must take into account for cooperative learning to be effective is the need to organize the course. The implementation of cooperative work can be sequenced as follows:
- The first term of the course It can help us to start the cooperative spirit in the classroom, to practice with some cooperative activities, to form groups or sporadic pairs of students to get to know how they work, how they work, how they relate to each other ...
- The second trimester It can help us to form teams, assign roles and begin to practice the first cooperative activities and tasks themselves. It is also the ideal time to file and correct faults that can be detected.
- The third trimester is consolidation of this type of task in the classroom.
When it comes to proposing cooperative activities, as we mentioned at the beginning, one of the first tasks we have to carry out is the formation of groups. Here it is important that these are heterogeneous, that is, there must be students with different levels of performance, abilities and styles, so that the different teams are balanced.
Therefore, it is necessary that the teacher takes time to get to know the students and know their different levels and abilities. This is what we will do the first term of the course. As for the ideal number of members in each team, 4 students is ideal (4 or 5 students depending on the students we have in the classroom).
Before proposing the learning activities themselves, we can dedicate some previous sessions to carry out group dynamics so that the students get to know each other, and understand what cooperative work consists of. In short, these are activities that prepare the group and guide it towards a dynamic of cooperative work in the classroom. Before launching into cooperative work, training is needed, by the teacher and by the students. Therefore, it is important to start with activities that can be done in pairs, to continue with groups of two pairs.
Some activities that we can do:
1. Cooperative tangram, puzzles, etc.
We divide the class into groups of 4 or 5 students. Each group has to complete 5 puzzles, tangrams or puzzles. We give each group 5 envelopes, one for each member and in each envelope there must be pieces of the puzzles to be completed, mixed together. Participants cannot speak, and pieces cannot be ordered, rather it is the partners who have to be aware of the pieces that their partners need to complete their puzzles. The team that manages to complete all the puzzles of their team wins.
This dynamic can be done with elementary and middle school children, varying the difficulty of the puzzles to be completed.
2. Group dynamics: group conflict resolution
It is about carrying out activities and group dynamics to energize the classroom. The teacher can observe how the students solve the tasks and thus know the style or role of each one within the group. An example of these group dynamics is that of the wolf and the bridge: A shepherd has to cross to the other side of a river with a wolf, a goat and a lettuce. He has a boat that only fits himself and one of the other three things. If the wolf is left alone with the goat he eats it, if the goat is left alone with the lettuce he eats it. How should you do it? Riddles like this, in addition to being a fun task, help the group to share ideas, defend points of view, etc.
3. Cooperative readings
With groups of 4 or 5 students, each team member is given a reading, which can be from a study topic or from a reading book. One member of the team begins to read a paragraph or paragraphs, and the other members follow the reading quietly. At the end of this reading, the next member makes a summary of what the partner has read, shares with the group and continues the reading. Thus, until the proposed reading is completed.
It can also be carried out in pairs. A student reads a paragraph to his partner, and he has to say what is the main idea of the paragraph that the partner has read. If both agree, they underline it in the text, if they do not agree they debate and give their opinions until they reach a common idea. The first listener to read another paragraph and so on.
This is a dynamic that helps us both to put cooperative dynamics into practice in the classroom, and within the cooperative activities themselves at the beginning and end of the work topic.
4. Correct homework in pairs
At the beginning of class, the students meet in pairs to share their homework and the work they have done at home. The pairs begin by comparing both the result and the process followed in their tasks. If they agree, they move on to the next one. If not, they must agree on the correct way to do it. At the end, the teacher conducts a brief discussion to confirm that the corrections are correct.
Once we have practiced, and the class group already has experience of group work and cooperative experiences, we can begin to design cooperative learning activities.
To design cooperative activities, it is not enough to design tasks for students to work in groups, it is necessary to carry out an activity design based on a cooperative technique or procedure.
Some commonly used cooperative learning procedures are:
5. Experts in different topics
To put this technique into practice, we start from a content that can be divided or fragmented into different parts (knowledge of the environment, for example), as many as there are members of each group. All teams will work on the same topic or content. Each member of the team will receive a fragment of the information of the topic they are going to investigate and becomes an expert in that section, and does not receive the one that the rest of his teammates have.
Each expert meets with the experts in the same section as the rest of the teams, and they seek information on that section with resources provided by the teacher or other types of resources (online, textbooks, etc ...), they make diagrams, content maps , etc.
Afterwards, each one of them returns to their original team and takes responsibility for explaining to the group the part that they have prepared. Together they form the global theme.
In this technique it is important that students have a sufficient level of autonomy and cooperative skills. You have to explain the different phases very well, make sure they have the materials and resources necessary to develop their part of the topic.
6. Learning together
Students work in small groups (3 people) that are heterogeneous. The task is posed in a way that makes interdependence necessary (with a single material or with a division of activities that are later integrated).
The groups work with activity sheets specially designed by the teacher and when they have finished doing these tasks, perform a single collective work that they deliver to the teacher. The group's product is evaluated based on certain criteria specified in advance, rewarding the team that has performed the best.
7. Group research or project work
Here the distribution of students by teams is made according to the preferences of the students themselves. The students choose, according to their aptitudes or interests, specific subtopics within a topic proposed by the teacher and the teams are formed. Students with the teacher's advice and help plan the tasks and objectives for the study of the subject.
Each team works on its topic and distributes the specific tasks that it implies among its members to develop it and prepare a final report. The teacher encourages and advises the development of a plan that allows the task to be carried out well, using various materials and sources of information and discussing it among the team members, who at the end present the result of their work to the class. Both the teacher and the students evaluate the product of each group.
Prior to any activity or cooperative work, the teacher makes a presentation of the topic to be worked on and feels what the students know about it, what interests them the most and explains the task to be carried out. During team work the teacher supervises and acts as a beacon and reference that guides, guides and encourages students in their work.
There are many cooperative learning techniques, here we only propose three of them, the teachers will select the most appropriate to the learning objective and the needs of the class group.
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