The Learning Cooperative is a specific teaching methodology through which students learn in small groups, helping each other and feeling jointly responsible for each other’s journey. Within the group the differences turn into opportunities for improvement for anyone, regardless of personal characteristics. The characteristics of individuals, including persons with disabilities and/or difficulties, in this methodology become general resources for the development of personality and abilities of each. The trainer takes on the role of facilitator and organizer of the activities, structuring“learning environments” in which the students, favored by a positive relational climate, transform every learning activity into a process of “problem solving group”, achieving objectives whose realization requires the personal contribution of all. These objectives can be achieved if within small learning groups students develop certain social skills and competences, understood as a set of “interpersonal and small group skills essential for developing and maintaining a high level of cooperation”. Compared with a traditional approach to work, research shows that Cooperative Learning has the following advantages:
a) Improved student results: all students work longer on the task and with better results, improving intrinsic motivation and developing greater reasoning and critical thinking skills;
b) More positive relationships between students: students are aware of the importance of each other’s contribution to joint work and thus develop mutual respect and team spirit;
c) Increased psychological well-being: students develop a greater sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem, better cope with difficulties and stress.
The theoretical foundations of the Cooperative Learning are:
– the working group,
– the role of the trainer
The working group
With regard to the group, the following aspects should be considered:
a) The social interdependence. Cooperative social interdependence is that in which the responsibility for achieving a common goal is entirely entrusted to the whole group. This interdependence between the members of the group is positive because the possibility that everyone has to achieve their own goal depends on the possibility that others have to achieve their own. This positive interdependence between the members of a group arises at two levels: objective and subjective. The objective level is when to achieve an objective, Dependence on others is necessary and fundamental because the nature of the task is certainly greater than the possibilities of each one, either because of its complexity or because of the conditions or constraints in which it must operate. There is subjective interdependence when“members perceive“to be related to each other, that is to say, that everyone is aware that they have to coordinate their efforts with the efforts of others in order to achieve a result. The condition of positive interdependence urges individuals to communicate, to inform themselves, to ask for and to give help, to exchange points of view, to manage conflicts in a positive way. It therefore has an immediate and direct effect on motivation, commitment, effort and productivity. The trainer must also bear in mind in the application of cooperative learning that there are different types of positive interdependence, some of which are:
- purpose: when group members work together to achieve a common result that they would not be able to achieve alone
- reward: when members of a group cooperate together for a purpose for which they will have recognition
- of resources: when the members of a group, in achieving their purpose, depend on differentiated skills and abilities (interdependence of resources) or materials (interdependence of materials)
b) Communicative competence. The success of cooperative learning is based on the good interpersonal communication skills of the group. The Learning Cooperative does not assume that the members of a cooperative group possess this competence; however, it considers that it should be carefully examined before it is taught, In other words, both the ability to send a message and the ability to understand must be verified.
c) The distributed leadership and the leadership functions. Cooperative learning, starting from the observation that each situation may require different leadership skills, believes that the group that ensures the distribution and rotation of leadership positions among the various components is more effective. Cooperative learning embraces situational theories according to which all members of a group can be leaders if they stimulate the group to accomplish the task and maintain a good relational climate. Leadership actions can be divided into two categories ( D.W. Jhonson and F.P. Jhonson): task-oriented actions (person will present new ideas, give suggestions/information, assign roles, etc.) and those oriented to the satisfaction and pleasure of being with the other members of the group (the person encourages the participation of all, facilitates communication, raises tensions, etc.).
d) Constructive conflict management. A foundation of the Learning Cooperative is the strategy of negotiation. It requires that two or more contenders neither enter into a climate of competition, nor seek an individualistic solution of their interests, but seek to communicate openly on what causes the conflict, clearly manifest their own deep needs, respecting each other. From mutual understanding, the two must seek creatively and without preclusion those solutions that can completely satisfy the interests and needs of each and decide for a solution that can be controlled so that those who violate the agreements made will be called back up. The Learning Cooperative is a methodology that helps to prepare for the ability to resolve conflicts constructively through the structure of the“”by expressly educating in the capacity to negotiate the conflict co-operatively when it arises.
e) Solving the problems. The cooperative group will be faced with problems whose resolution depends on how it is addressed. The most effective process is: 1) to know when a problem is being faced; 2) to define the problem; 3) to find solutions and evaluate them; 4) to choose a solution and decide how to implement it. Some useful models for troubleshooting and following the process described above are: side thinking (DE BONO), creative problem solving (PARNES), Bonele-based problem solving -Buchanan, the solution of the problems of cooperative group (D.W. JONSON and E. P. JOHNSON). The trainer who decides to use the Learning Cooperative must know these models, choose the one that best suits the characteristics of the group, and finally guide the group to their application.
f) The decision-making process. Group decision-making is very important, so the group needs to know about it and be able to implement it. The decision-making process is usually described in three stages: a) identification of alternatives; b) evaluation of alternatives; c) selection of the alternative or final choice. The group must not only be able to proceed well in the best way, but must also be able to choose the most appropriate way. The good choice of a decision-making mode can be assessed on the basis of different variables: the time required and the time available; the situations, the quality of the solution, the participation, involvement and responsibility of members for the decision taken. D.W. JONSON and E. P. JOHNSON (1991) describe seven types of decision-making: a) authoritarian; b) based on expert recourse; c) based on consultation of the individual members of the group; d) based on the decision of a responsible member of the group after a group discussion; c) based on the responsibility of the decision entrusted to a restricted group; f) obtained by means of a vote intended to express the majority orientation; g) based on consensus.
The role of the trainer
The role of the trainer in the methodology of the Learning Cooperative is to form the group; to teach directly social skills; to control the work of the group during (monitoring) and after (processing); to evaluate.
- The formation of groups. The trainer should try to form etho-clinical groups, that is groups that are made up of members with a diversity of resources. The groups must be small (3-4 persons) in such a way that the processes of: interaction, assumption of responsibility, collaboration, resolution of possible problems are facilitated.
- Direct teaching of skills. Direct teaching of social skills is certainly one of the most significant features of the Learning Cooperative. First, the trainer will have to choose the social skills most useful to the group and most useful to the actual situation. The next phase will be that of its teaching which will take place bearing in mind that the condition for a competence to be fully acquired is the regular succession of phases: Theory of action– experience– reflection– modification of the theory of action– experience. A model that reflects these phases is that of D.W. JONSON and E. P. JOHNSON (1991) which is divided into five moments: a) helping students to discover the need for a certain social competence; b) ensure that students understand what the competence is that they are asked to apply; c) organise and prepare situations for exercise; d) ensure that students reflect and review the use they have made of their competence; and) check that they continue in the exercise of their competence.
- Control during group work (monitoring) and after (processing). Group work can be controlled in two ways: 1) the teacher’s observation during the work followed by the final review offered to the whole class; 2) the discussion in small groups of the work done. The performance of a good review by the trainer requires the trainer to decide beforehand: a) the social skills to be observed; b) the observation technique; c) whether to stop on a particular group or on more groups moving continuously in the class; d) the mode of observation; e) the value to be attributed to the observation made; f) the elaboration of a“observation sheet” on social competences. Processing is evaluation made after a group working time and can be done using observations collected during monitoring and in group discussion.
- Individual and/or group evaluation. The moment of evaluation is an important aspect of the Learning Cooperative. In order to assess them correctly, the trainer must: a) clearly define the objectives he intends to achieve and the criteria by which he proposes to evaluate their achievement; b) prepare tests which reflect the preparation it intends to measure; c) place the required performance in a precise and determined context; d) distinguish the operation of collecting information from that of the actual evaluation. The evaluation process should include, in addition to the quantitative and qualitative verification of learning, also the control of the improvement of social competences that mediate learning. Evaluation is good that it is individual compared to group because it is considered only a means or an operating tool that mediates the learning of individuals.
- The trainer’s skills in the Learning Cooperative. In the teaching inspired by Cooperative Learning, the trainer extends the limits of his educational competence as he activates and empowers students in their learning and also achieves cognitive objectives, emotional and motivational positive. In the Cooperative Learning, the experienced teacher, with respect to what he teaches the whole class, is the one who knows how to activate, organize, orient towards the task the resources present in the students. Specifically, the skills of the teacher do not change, but are considered from a different point of view. He must not only be aware of the subjects he teaches and be continually updated, but must also have the ability to choose a quantity of materials on which students can work, to divide them in such a way that they are addressed in a group, to trace paths of reflection or self-control of the learning, it must also be able to trace a cognitive path by which the students will learn.
from: COMOGLIO M. – CARDOSO M.A., Teaching and learning in a group. The Learning Cooperative. Ed. Las, Rome, 1996; Liceo M. mazzarello, Cooperative learning.