By us­ing this method, each of your stu­dents will feel that he or she is an im­por­tant mem­ber of the class

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By us­ing this method, each of your stu­dents will feel that they are im­por­tant mem­bers of the class

IMAG­INE THAT YOU ARE WALK­ING past two dif­fer­ent types of class­rooms. In­side the first one, the teacher is lead­ing the class as a whole but not much en­gage­ment is present among the stu­dents. Then you peek into the other class­room and see that the teacher is di­rect­ing the be­gin­ning of an ac­tiv­ity or les­son, where the stu­dents are ac­tively par­tic­i­pat­ing and dis­cussing the ac­tiv­ity in small groups. Which class­room do you think is learn­ing more so­cially and academically?

The ma­jor­ity of stu­dent learn­ing hap­pens within the class­room.

How­ever, it’s up to the teacher to man­age and en­gage their learn­ers by us­ing var­i­ous ways of learn­ing styles. There are so many strate­gies that are used by teach­ers to get their stu­dents in­volved in their learn­ing. Tra­di­tional class­rooms usu­ally have the typ­i­cal rows with the teacher de­liv­er­ing the les­son stand­ing at the front of the class­room. How does this show stu­dent learn­ing? Stu­dents learn best through in­ter­ac­tion and in­quiry. So how can we get our stu­dents to in­ter­act with each other more by par­tic­i­pat­ing through dis­cus­sion? Teach­ers who may want their stu­dents to be­come more en­gaged; I would rec­om­mend mov­ing away from the tra­di­tional class­room style. Chang­ing the dy­nam­ics of the class­room re­ally does af­fect the stu­dents. This is where co­op­er­a­tive learn­ing comes into play.

What is co­op­er­a­tive learn­ing? Ac­cord­ing to Teacher Vi­sion, “co­op­er­a­tive learn­ing is an in­struc­tional method where stu­dents work to­gether in pairs or groups to com­plete a task.” The use of this method has shown in­creased stu­dent in­ter­ac­tion and aca­demic achieve­ment. In­stead of teach­ing the stu­dents as a whole class through­out the en­tire les­son, the teacher would pro­vide some di­rec­tion dur­ing part of the les­son, but then let the stu­dents be in con­trol of their own learn­ing and work with their own peers.

While I was teach­ing my first few years in North Carolina, we were in­tro­duced Ka­gan Struc­tures, and we im­ple­mented the strate­gies into our day-to-day lessons. Ka­gan Struc­tures are in­struc­tional strate­gies that in­crease stu­dent en­gage­ment and co­op­er­a­tion. There are over 200 struc­tures and they are con­tent-free, where any of the struc­tures can be im­ple­mented into daily les­son plans. Some strate­gies that I use quite of­ten in my cur­rent class­room are RoundTable, Stand up, Hand up and Pair up, Match Mine, Quiz-Quiz Trade and Num­bered Heads To­gether. I still have yet to im­ple­ment more into my class­room with my Grade 1 stu­dents. By us­ing sev­eral of these learn­ing strate­gies, I def­i­nitely think that stu­dents ben­e­fit from co­op­er­a­tive learn­ing. For more in­for­ma­tion on these strate­gies, please go on­line and search for “Ka­gan Struc­tures,” which many can be ob­tained for free.

We see stu­dent learn­ing by en­gag­ing and ask­ing ques­tions with other stu­dents. As teach­ers, we need to cre­ate an in­no­va­tive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment where the stu­dents feel safe and com­fort­able to talk to their class­mates. In a tra­di­tional class­room, the ma­jor­ity of stu­dents don’t feel com­fort­able when they are called out and have to come up to the front of the class­room to speak. Us­ing these strate­gies, stu­dents would feel more com­fort­able by be­ing in smaller groups and they will more likely par­tic­i­pate in small group dis­cus­sions.

From my own ex­pe­ri­ence, it was a chal­lenge for me to in­tro­duce these strate­gies be­cause they needed to be used con­sis­tently in the class­room.

Each strat­egy is quite dif­fer­ent to im­ple­ment, es­pe­cially for my young learn­ers be­cause of the num­ber of in­struc­tions given, but af­ter the stu­dents un­der­stand, the strate­gies are quite in­vig­o­rat­ing. I sug­gest in­tro­duc­ing 2-3 strate­gies a week, and then use them on a weekly ba­sis in or­der to avoid ex­plain­ing re­peat­edly. By us­ing these strate­gies, the re­sponse from my stu­dents was un­be­liev­able as they were not just com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their peers, but also ex­celling in their learn­ing. I also saw their con­fi­dence boost, es­pe­cially with my English as Ad­di­tional Lan­guage (EAL) learn­ers. I also wit­nessed more friend­ships de­velop and saw them grow as learn­ers. When in­tro­duc­ing and im­ple­ment­ing these tech­niques, you have to keep re­in­forc­ing each strat­egy by how it should be dis­played so that the stu­dents will re­ceive the best out­come. The teacher should al­ways mon­i­tor the stu­dents to en­sure that they are stay­ing on-task and the teacher should also be avail­able to an­swer any ques­tions the stu­dents may have dur­ing the dis­cus­sion. They also need to be held ac­count­able in­di­vid­u­ally for their learn­ing, as this will even­tu­ally help them boost their own con­fi­dence. The stu­dents’ mo­ti­va­tion im­proves as well as their en­gage­ment. As teach­ers, we have to face chal­lenges and over­come our fears of try­ing some­thing new, but you will be sur­prised how these strate­gies can help your stu­dents.

Co­op­er­a­tive learn­ing strate­gies can work in any class­room set­ting— re­gard­less of age groups, the num­ber of stu­dents in a class or sub­jects taught. I have used these strate­gies in Kinder­garten, Grade 1 and even Grade 3. Ev­ery year, I have sev­eral EAL learn­ers and by us­ing these struc­tures, it af­fects them in a pos­i­tive way. I also like how these tech­niques can chal­lenge my stu­dents to make them think more and im­prove their so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tion keeps evolv­ing and ev­ery stu­dent learns dif­fer­ently. It is up to us as teach­ers to keep the stu­dents en­gaged in the class­room. When I was in el­e­men­tary school, I clearly re­mem­ber see­ing the teacher up at the front of the class­room just talk­ing and we sat lis­ten­ing. Then we would be handed work­sheets to com­plete in­di­vid­u­ally, which be­came ev­i­dently bor­ing. Stu­dents just don’t learn that way anymore and as teach­ers, we need to use in­no­va­tive ways to help boost our stu­dents’ learn­ing and cu­rios­ity. This is why I be­lieve the co­op­er­a­tive learn­ing strate­gies help to­day’s learn­ers.

Amy Mel­ton is a Grade 1 teacher with a Bachelor and Mas­ter’s de­gree in El­e­men­tary Ed­u­ca­tion at the In­ter­na­tional School Saigon Pearl (ISSP).

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