Cooperative Learning: A Powerful Way to Add SEL to the Classroom - Social Emotional Workshop

Cooperative Learning: A Powerful Way to Add SEL to the Classroom

By Laura Driscoll | Social Emotional Skills

Aug 23
Cooperative Learning is a key SEL teaching practice.

Group work can feel like students splitting up work and completing the task in parallel. We all know there is so much opportunity for rich interactions in group work and a chance for students to learn to work well with others and collaborate. The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders found 10 key social emotional learning teaching strategies. One of those, Cooperative Learning, helps elevate typical group work and develop social emotional skills. 

"Cooperative Learning refers to a specific instructional task in which teachers have students work together toward a collective goal. Teachers ask students to do more than group work; students are actively working with their peers around content in a meaningful way."

To transform group work into cooperative learning, you must have 5 elements in place:

  1. Positive Interdependence
  2. Individual Accountability
  3. Face to Face Promotive Interaction
  4. Interpersonal and Social Skills
  5. Group Processing

Now those terms don't mean much to me and I'm sure you are thinking huh? Let's dive in and break it down into everyday terms and examples.

Cooperative Learning Strategies

Group Sink or Swim 

This is Positive Interdependence. When the group has a goal and the group efforts will cause them to succeed or fail together. The each person's efforts benefit themselves AND everyone else in the group.

CLASSROOM STRATEGIES

  • Give different parts to each student. Each person in the group possesses different knowledge, skills, or experience so that the group needs to engage to complete the work together.
  • Give students different roles in the group. 
  • Tasks that require turn taking back and forth to complete or understand.
  • Student-led instruction. Students learn information and then have to teach their part to the other members of the group.
  • Increase task difficulty so no one can complete the task on their own.
  • Build in a plan B for when a student is struggling to meet their group responsiblities. Can the group help them without taking on their work?

Check out this quick video from Edutopia on assigning cooperative learning roles for groups.

Responsibility

Individual Accountability is about responsibility. While students have to work together as a group, they also need to be accountable for their own contributions to the group's success.

CLASSROOM STRATEGIES

  • Use team and self evaluations.
  • Checks for understanding for everyone throughout the task or project.
  • Check-ins as the project or activity goes along to see how each member is performing.
  • Individual and group scores/grades.
  • Individual presentations or other demonstrations of learning in addition to a group product.

Teamwork

Face to Face Promotive Interaction is about real teamwork. Individuals encourage and support each other's efforts to meet the group’s goal.

CLASSROOM STRATEGIES

  • Groups create group norms to support positive interaction.
  • Students explain how to solve a problem to group members.
  • One group member discusses a concept with others.
  • A group member teaches classmates about a topic.
  • Students help each other connect present and past learning.
  • Students question the conclusions or ideas of other group members.
  • Students provide constructive feedback to their group members.

Some group work may be done individually, but group members provide feedback, challenge each other's conclusions, and teach and encourage one another. 

Social Skills

Applying Interpersonal and Social Skills is, well self-explantory. Students help, support, encourage, and praise each other's efforts to learn. 

CLASSROOM STRATEGIES

  • Preteach social skills that will be necessary to work together as a group, such as decision making, conflict resolution, and effective communication.
  • Continue to teach these skills throughout the year and group projects will go better and better.
  • Add an SEL learning objective to your lesson plan to think through how you are going to integrate this into instruction.

Reflection

Group Processing is group discussion about how things are going. Group members should feel comfortable sharing concerns and applauding others in the group. They should discuss how they are progressing towards their goal and what is and isn't working well with the group. 

CLASSROOM STRATEGIES

  • Give time to reflect after a project, as a group and privately. This should include reflection about the project and the group.
  • Group members set goals to improve their group participation and work.
  • Celebrate accomplishments of the group and individuals.

Reflection Questions

The strategies above will help you create true cooperative learning out of group work, but it is essential to reflect and write down a plan that you can tweak throughout the year as your class develops.

Ask yourself the following questions from the SEL Coaching Toolkit:

  • How do you use cooperative learning in your classroom? 
  • Is there a particular model or approach that you use?
  • Which elements do you use (group sink or swim, personal responsibility, team encouragement, social skills, group processing)?
  • How do you encourage students to collaborate with one another, particularly when they are having difficulty with classroom content?
  • How do you ensure that students have the appropriate social and emotional skills (e.g., communication, self-regulation) to successfully accomplish group tasks?
  • How do you help students provide and receive feedback from their peers?

Check out this Social and Emotional Learning Coaching Toolkit from American Institutes for Research for more detail about teaching practices that support Social Emotional Learning.

How will you make cooperative learning more effective in your classroom?

Comment below!

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Cooperative learning is a power SEL teaching strategy for the classroom.

About the Author

Laura is a former school psychologist passionately trying to bring social-emotional learning to every student at every tier. Click here for hands-on resources for the classroom and counseling.

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