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Pros and Cons of Collaborative/Cooperative Learning

(These items are from a listserv about teaching.)

When I first began teaching I taught the way that I had been taught. I left teaching and went into industry for 14 years before I returned to the classroom. I learned a lot about what students REALLY need to know. I highly recommend that all teachers spend some time in the "real world". Anyway, about CL....

I took one summer and completely re-did the curriculum for the Physical Science class that I was teaching with the idea that I was going to utilize the "new" concept of CL. It was tough but because I had already spent the summer preparing it wasn't as bad as I had originally feared. Once the students understood what it was that they needed to do (it was a real break from the way that they had been taught before) the year smoothed on out. There are some good and some difficult things that I ran across, particularly in the first year:

Good, students paid closer attention to my lectures, videos, reading assignments, and library research times because they knew that they were going to need the information.

Good, students liked working together to solve problems.

Good, students who were designated "Curriculum Mastery" and originally looked down on as less than capable were able to show that there is more than one form of intelligence. In fact, they became prime property when it came time to realign teams. Creative thinking is not a trait of only the "Gifted and Talented".

Good, attendance in my class went up and was above average for the school as a whole. I had one student ask me to count him absent one day. When I asked "why?", he informed me that it was easier to explain being out all day that it was to meet one mid-day class. Yes, he skipped the rest of his classes and came just to my class.

Good, we had some really innovative solutions to problems that I had never though of. Maybe you can know too much, at least too much of THE answers.

Bad, it really keeps you on your toes to made every group and keep them pointed in the "right" direction.

Bad, it takes time to make sure that you are prepared for student labs. Particularly when they come off the wall with something.

Bad, it was frustrating for some "A" students who had learned to play the memorize and regurgitate game. Creative thinking was difficult for them and they just wanted to know what the "answer" is. It was frustrating to them when they would ask "What is the answer?" and I would say "What did you work out? There is no right answer but some answers are better thought out than others."

Bad, some parents did not understand, at least initially, what I was doing. But, because I encouraged the students to ask their parents for suggestions the parents came around and many were very enthusiastic by year end. I have had parents tell me THEY enjoyed having the interaction with their children and their group members.

The benefits greatly outweigh the work and initial difficulties. The secret is persistence. I had the advantage of teaching in a small school and I had the same students over several years. It was great to teach then group problem solving techniques in the eighth grade and then have them ready (and eager) to go the next Fall.

I have taught CL in a number of inservice workshops and have heard great success stories over the years. I will not agree to work with a school district unless they agree to have several follow-up support group meetings over the course of the year as well as the initial training session. With the adoption of block (90 minute) scheduling, I don't see how teachers or students can survive if the teacher only lectures. In 90 minutes the kids would be removing the paint from the wall.

I used a mixture of lecture, cooperative learning, individual research, and class projects to make sure that the students and myself enjoy learning and all learning styles have the opportunity to be used.

Coordinator/Tech Prep
Rob Franks
rfran@nav.cc.tx.us
Navarro College Phone : 903-874-6501
3200 W. 7th Ave. FAX : 903-874-4636
Corsicana, TX 75110