Research Based Instructional Strategies and Approaches

According to Marzano (2000), cooperative learning is one of the best researched instructional strategies in modern literature. Dotson (2001), defines cooperative learning as a teaching arrangement in which small and diverse groups of learners work together to achieve a common objective or goal. In these small and heterogeneous groups, students perform different responsibilities, support one another, and encourage each other. Additionally, the instructor encourages students to employs social skills that are beneficial to the groups as he continues to evaluate the progress of every member of the group (Johnson, Johnson and Stanne, 2000).

Cooperative learning was first applied in the United States as a way of promoting racial integration. In modern academic institutions, the main purpose of cooperative learning is to foster positive student interactions especially in classroom where students have got different levels of competencies (Marzano, 2000). This means that cooperative learning cannot be employed when handling all types of students. The instructor must therefore know when it is appropriate for him or her to use cooperative learning in a classroom. For example, cooperative learning is appropriate when there is a positive correlation in the individual gains of students. The main reason for using cooperative learning in such a case is to promote positive interdependence among students. In addition, cooperative learning is also appropriate when all students in a classroom can be held accountable for performing a given task and for mastering a new skill learnt. This assists the teacher or instructor to promote individual accountability among students (Dotson, 2001).

Cooperative learning is also appropriate when every member of a group has an equal opportunity to share into the responsibilities of the team. In such a case, cooperative learning will assist the instructor to ensure equal participation in a group. According to Dotson (2001), cooperative learning also occurs when a classroom session is designed to allow maximum student interaction. This way, the teacher manages to promote simultaneous interraction by implementing cooperative learning strategies in the classroom.

Majority of researchers have found that cooperative learning strategies are very beneficial in improving students’ achievement and their interpersonal relationships. According to Slavin (1991), cooperative learning strategies produce positive results in all major subjects in both urban and rural schools at all grade levels. Johnson, Johnson and Stanne (2000) point out that cooperative learning is widely used in schools today because it based on theory and therefore almost all teachers can find a way of linking the best cooperative learning method with students’ personal philosophies. This explains why these are different methods of cooperative learning that teachers can choose from depending on the needs of students. These methods include; Cooperative Integrated Reading & Composition (CIRC), Group Investigation, Learning Together and Alone, , Jigsaw Procedure, Team Accelerated Instruction (TAI), Teams-Games-Tournaments (TGT), Student teams Achievement Divisions (STAD), and Constructive Controversy.

In order to achieve maximum success from cooperative learning, the instructor must ensure that there is a well defined group goal and each and every member of the team can be accountable for every activity performed. In addition, the teacher needs to motivate students to participate in group activities, as this increases the likelihood that all members of a group will learn. Examples of ways through which the teacher can motivate students in teams include provision of grades and rewarding good performers. However, some people claim that using rewards when applying cooperative learning strategies allows less performing students to place much burden on their good performing counterparts (Dotson, 2001).

As explains, cooperative learning is useful in promoting social interactions in groups because it helps the instructor to meet the needs of students who are unable to learn new skills on their own. This is because, in the course of cooperative learning sessions, students learn how to interact with their peers which helps to increase their involvement in the classroom (Dotson, 2001). Positive interaction can only occur if it is preceded by social skills instructions that are easily achieved through cooperative learning strategies. The social skills that a student can learn from cooperative learning strategies include effective communication skills, how to build and maintain trust, conflict management, and how to provide team leadership. According to Marzano (2000), cooperative learning is a very useful instructional strategy in both low and high grades of learning. Specifically, teachers who are handling students in middle school level should extensively use cooperative learning strategies because they will effectively meet the needs of such students (Johnson, Johnson and Stanne, 2000).

There are three major implementation issues that surround the use of cooperative learning strategies. These issues are related to the manner in which cooperative learning groups are organize, the sizes of the groups, and the frequency with which cooperative learning strategies should be used. First, cooperative learning groups should be organized on the basis of the ability levels of students. Second, cooperative learning groups should be kept small and easy to manage. Third, cooperative learning strategies should be applied consistently and systematically but the instructor must take care not to overuse these strategies (Marzano, 2000). In order to effectively implement cooperative learning strategies, the instructor must take a number of issues into consideration. First, teacher must use a variety of principles to group students in order to ensure that students with various learning capabilities are randomly distributed within the group. It is advisable that these groups should consist of students with common interests such as sports and music. In addition, the students should have common experiences and common characteristics such as birthdays and school uniforms (Dotson, 2001).

Second, the teacher must combine both formal and informal base groups on order to provide all students with the opportunity to interact effectively with their classmates. In this manner, students will be able to appreciate different talents possessed by every member of the group. A teacher who is good at strengthening groups actively assists the group to work together, joins activities of the group voluntarily, and respects the opinions of each and every student. Third, the instructor must keep student groups to a manageable size, possibly of 3 to 5 students. The teacher needs to monitor the size of the groups and make changes when necessary (Dotson, 2001). Cooperative learning strategies should be combined with other classroom strategies such as similarities and differences, setting objectives and providing feedback, homework and practice, among others. This will give students time to think and work quietly as they practice and master what they have been taught. Consequently, instructors should monitor the impacts of cooperative learning strategies on their students’ learning to ensure that they are neither overused nor underused.

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