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(The information in this section has been taken from Gender dimensions, by Andrea Allard and Jeni Wilson.)
What is co-operative learning?
Unlike traditional group work, co-operative learning involves sharing responsibility, sharing resources and working toward common goals. The development of co-operative group skills involves time, practice and reinforcement of appropriate behaviour. The teacher plays an important role in establishing a supportive environment, one in which students feel secure to take risks, an environment where all students' opinions are valued.
Co-operative group work can help all learners by enhancing understanding, and promoting enjoyment and positive attitudes towards work and self. But in order for all students to benefit from co-operative group activities, all students need access to a variety of skills and roles. For example, many girls will need experience as reporters and many boys will need experience as scribes. All students need to develop assertive speaking and active listening skills (see the Communication section).
Some children have not learned how to value the ideas of others. This can be particularly obvious when children work in mixed-sex groups. Girls will often also accept the ideas of boys (rather than the other way round) to avoid conflict. Many boys tend to dismiss or ridicule the ideas of girls. If some boys continually dominate the talk time, other students miss out on opportunities to speak their ideas and clarify their opinions. How can they become confident in asserting their ideas?
In choosing the different roles for co-operative learning work, it may be fairer (and seem fairer) to draw names, pick colours, keep a "rotation record", for example, so that everyone has to take responsibility for different tasks over the month and everyone's contributions are encouraged and valued.
It should be noted that some cultures believe that real learning comes from only the teacher and so therefore, do not see the value or the benefits of working in co-operative groups. While differences in preferred learning styles should be acknowledged, the skills children develop through co-operative learning will be useful to them, regardless of their different cultural backgrounds.
Co-operative skills can be most effectively developed within meaningful contexts. Ideally, activities should be integrated with classroom topics, and many activities can be adapted for co-operative groups. Activities that are open-ended and require divergent thinking (such as problem-solving tasks), and that value many viewpoints and allow for alternative outcomes or require sharing resources/tasks are particularly suitable for developing co-operative group skills.
For more information, see Interpersonal skills for learning.
Source "Gender Dimensions" pp. 80-81.
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Last revised April, 1999
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