of specific rewards for a group based on its members’ performance rather than on the particular cooperative method used. Ensuring the accountability of individual group members for the collective work can prevent one or two students from doing it all while the others simply copy or sit passively. The most effective methods combine group goals with individual accountability.
Effects of such grouping on outcomes other than achievement are more impressive. Cooperative grouping arrangements promote friendship and positive social interaction among students who differ in achievement, gender, race, or ethnicity, and they promote acceptance of handicapped students who have been placed in regular classes. Although there may be disadvantages to using cooperative groups, their judicious use may have potential nonacademic benefits.
For cooperative groups to be effective, students need to be taught how to work in this mode. Simply telling students to push their desks together and work on a task together does not ensure cooperative learning. Skills for working cooperatively have to be taught directly, and students need to be prepared for both the social and the cognitive demands of such work. Further, there is evidence that children’s collaborative interactions vary across social and cultural groups.45 For teachers to use cooperative groups effectively, they also need to select, organize, and present tasks that are well suited both to collaborative work and to the curriculum.
Cooperative grouping is one of many instructional practices that teachers may choose to use at times. It is neither a wholesale replacement for wholeclass instruction nor a disastrous technique to be avoided at all costs. Further, the cooperative methods that have been found to produce positive learning outcomes take knowledge and skill to implement. Like any practice, cooperative groups can be used effectively or not.
Information about students is crucial to a teacher’s ability to calibrate tasks and lessons to students’ current understanding and skills. Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Kaye have each designed the lesson to afford them critical information about their students’ progress. The tasks they frame create a strategic space for students’ work and for gaining insight into students’ thinking. Ms. Lawrence gets some of the same sort of information from her probing of Jim’s solution. Although Mr. Angelo and Ms. Lawrence get some idea of how students are doing by circulating around the room, they use the questions they ask during class as their primary mode of assessment during the lesson.