How do we encourage cooperation in the classroom?

As teachers we always want our children to form sustainable, healthy relationships with their peers. We teach many of these skills everyday throughout the year, as well as within lessons such as PSHE and the encouragement of teamwork within PE lessons. Some schools have also subscribed to programs that help to encourage such skills.

According to Kagan (1999), cooperative learning activities embody four elements, referred to as PIES: Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction.

Isn’t co-operative learning just group work?

No, in traditionally group work children are normally say within ability groups however, the Kagan approach involves children being sat in groups of 4, where possible. Each of these groups are mixed ability and ideally have two boys and two girls. The idea being that all the children are actively involved. The teacher would ask a question, give the children thinking time and then the pairs/groups would discuss their answer together. In these small mixed ability groups, the children tend to be more confident to talk.

The seating plan in Kagan is prescriptive- the high student should be sat next to the low-medium student whilst the high medium student should be next to the low student. This allows for the more able being able to help the lesser able but also puts children of similar levels opposite each other allowing for the comfort of having someone nearer their own ability facing them.

Nowadays, many new methods and schemes include a ‘co-operative’ learning style in their program. However, these are run in a slightly different way to the Kagan approach. These programs have the children in ability classes. Both Read Write Inc and Success for All have a strong emphasis on reading and its necessary skills, both programs believe that these are best served when children are ‘set’ in classes of similar reading ability. Therefore, their partner/group consists of children at a similar reading level. From my experience of teaching both programs as a class teacher and more recently a supply teacher I have found that once established they work very well and the children make good progress in both their reading skills and their formation of friendships and working relationships with their peers.

In both, the children read a phonetically appropriate book together. Both programs have designed their own texts for this purpose. (Visiting their respective websites will allow you to view a sample of their resources and details on finding further information- links above.) Both programs have a variety of different texts for the children to read and the books follow their respective ‘phonics’ teaching systems, thus allowing the children to become confident readers knowing that they will have been taught any phonemes or tricky words within the chosen text.

I take my hat off to anyone who can write a good phonics story- it is not as easy as you would think- as was proved at a recent training!!!!

The books include what both programs call red words (tricky words) and green words (those that can be spelled phonetically). They also have question suggestions that the teacher can ask the children. Both come with step-by-step lesson plans following in the style of ‘explicit direct instruction’ (see post on ‘traditional teaching’).

Reading a wide variety of ‘real’ books is advocated by both programs. They stress the importance of storytime sessions with the children so that they are exposed to as wide a literary diet as possible. The programs are built around the concept that each school is different, so they offer a variety of formats. Generally, this equates to teaching the ‘program’ over five days or three days. Thus if choosing the three-day approach a school can use the other two days to look at wider literary texts such as those relating to topics. If choosing the five-day approach, schools can include their ‘real’ text either within the ‘lesson structure’ or as a separate session.

In a nutshell this teaching is based on ‘I do’ (teacher), ‘We do’ (teacher and children) and finally ‘You do’ (this could be in groups, pairs and then finally individually). The basis of the process is that repetition helps memory.

Within the ‘You do’ stage, the children need to work together and even as adults, we know this can be tricky. The lessons nurture the relationships between the children to enable the teacher to get the best out of every child in the session. They teach the skills of sharing, helping, and listening to each other. This is done in a safe supportive environment and the children enjoy ‘being the teacher’ when helping their partner.

Each section has elements of the explicit teaching style such as the ‘My turn’, ‘Your turn’ from Read Write Inc, and the modeling of sentences before the children write their own in Success for All.

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