In the 1960s, the brothers David and Roger Johnson, two professors at the University of Minnesota (United States), began to investigate and reflect on whether the individualistic learning approach typical of the time was beneficial for students and they defined cooperative learning: “It is a carefully designed system of interactions that organizes and induces reciprocal influence among team members.”
This methodology works on five essential elements:
- Positive interdependence.
- Individual responsibility.
- Motor interaction.
- Social skills.
- Group procedure (when reflecting on the achieved goals).
This way, cooperative work promotes the establishment of a bound among the team members, fostering help, equitable participation, individual responsibility in each of the members, the analysis of the result by the group and the development of interpersonal skills related to encouragement, asking for help, give explanations, seek understanding, debating, solve problems or “criticize”ideas without criticizing people.
This learning approach gets students to work together (whether they want it or not) because their interaction is crucial to completing the task and achieving the common goal. That is, the goal is not only the final outcome, but also the process that leads to better learning.
The role of the teacher
In cooperative learning, teachers develop a proactive role. “They distribute students in groups, establish the rules and decide the roles that students will play. They also design the cooperative situation based on the elements that define this learning approach”, says Manso.
Activities to get them started
Cooperative learning can be implemented from the earliest stages of learning and in all subjects. In a cooperative situation, the teacher will establish the cooperative group-class structures, as well as the working path and interactions that students will follow.
For example, a task could be related to writing: a letter written among several students. To carry this out through cooperative learning, the following steps could be proposed:
- Prepare ideas separately. Each member prepares the ideas to be exposed in the letter, what fosters individual responsibility.
- Share ideas and decide which ones are essential. By doing so, they share material and can get a collective reward when performing well. This fosters positive interdependence.
- The role of the teacher. The teacher establishes the expected conducts within the group: participation of all members, not to leave the group, paraphrasing interesting ideas, etc., what promotes social skills.
- Support among team members. The participants support and encourage each other and share impressions. They write the letter in turns, so motor interaction is used.
- Final assessment. Finally, they check if all objectives have been achieved and they self-asses to find out improvement points, in a global group procedure.
These different steps and the interrelationship needs can be favoured with the creation of different spaces within the same classroom. The feeling of being in a safe space boosts confidence, acceptance and the commitment of each group member, and it fosters the skills and social maturing generated by cooperative learning.
Furniture as an ally
Understanding furniture as an enhancer of roles, interactions and experiences has helped boost these educational trends that are redefining the 21st century school.
Besides the comfort of a good structure, ergonomic design and high quality and sustainable materials, versatility is the main protagonist in the desks and tables proposed for cooperative learning.
By creating a favourable ecosystem, cooperation happens.