Spencer Kagan's Cooperative Learning Structures|
by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (Aichi University of Education)
Keywords: : Cooperative learning, cooperative learning structures, multiple intelligences, positive human relationships
One of the plenary speakers at Peace as a Global Language II was the American educational psychologist Dr. Spencer Kagan, famous for the so-called structural approach to cooperative learning. This pedagogical approach has two aims. One aim is to foster positive, cooperative relationships between learners studying any subject in a class. The second aim is high academic achievement for all learners in a class.
During a two-week visit to Japan, Kagan gave two experiential workshops at the conference, and numerous workshops prior to the conference dates. I was able to attend many of the workshops and talk with him about his approach to cooperative learning. I will explain briefly the fundamentals of his approach, relative especially to critical thinking and positive classroom relationships.
The structural approach to cooperative learning
Kagan (1994; Kagan and Kagan, 1998) has developed roughly 200 classroom "structures", which may be thought of as steps to classroom activities. These structures stress positive interpersonal peer relationships, equality, self-esteem, and achievement. Students can work together by following the steps to the structure, using material or content selected by the students themselves or by the teacher.
The structures have various aims, such as: building team spirit and positive relationships among students; information sharing; critical thinking; communication skills; and mastery (learning/remembering) of specified material. Many of the structures can fulfill a number of aims simultaneously, depending on how the teacher uses them. Structures can be mixed and matched, and adapted to the particular student group.
[ p. 1 ]
Let us look at some example Kagan structures and some of their uses.
(1) Timed pair share
Students pair off, then number off, 1-2. The teacher chooses a number, 1 or 2, to speak first. That student speaks about a specified topic for a specified length of time. The other student listens quietly and can nod or smile, but cannot speak or interrupt the speaker. After the allotted time has elapsed, the other student speaks for the same period of time on the same, or another, stipulated topic, with her or his partner in the listener role. After both partners have had equal opportunity to speak, the teacher randomly chooses a number of students, and asks them to summarize what their partners have said. (In a small class, all students could perhaps report.)
This structure encourages self-expression and idea exchange by having students "share the floor" equally. Listening is encouraged by students' need to summarize their partner's contribution after the exchange is complete (students cannot accomplish this step without listening). If the teacher does not wish to call on all students to report what has been said, randomly choosing a few students encourages all students to be ready to do so. Students do not know in advance whether or not they will be chosen to report, so they prepare in the event they will be chosen. In my own courses which typically have a large number of students, I use small name cards prepared by the students in order to randomly select students to report either orally, addressing the whole class, or in writing, for example, by students using the blackboard.
(2) Folded value line
A problem, or issue, is raised (e.g., U.S. policy towards Iraq; capital punishment; building shelters for the homeless). The teacher elicits which students are strongly supportive of, or against, the issue or idea via a show of hands. Students who feel strongly for or against the issue stand at either end (the "poles") of the Value Line, where one end of the line represents strong support for an issue/concept, and the other represents its opposite. The rest of the class physically position themselves along the line at the point reflecting their own opinion. Thus, those who feel squarely in the middle of an issue stand at the middle, while those who feel rather strongly in agreement with either "pole" stand near that end of the line.
For students to first think about and articulate views with others holding similar views, students can pair off with persons standing next to them in the line. In pairs, they can exchange opinions and explain rationales for their viewpoints. This can also be done in groups of three or four. It can also be practiced first in pairs, followed by two pairs joining to create a group of four, participating in an idea exchange which includes reiteration of points made during the first pair exchange. Summarizing earlier conversations gives students additional language practice (in language courses) and/or helps students find out what was heard/understood/remembered.
Subsequently, for students to listen to views different from their own, the line can be divided in half. The two halves can then be lined up as two parallel lines of students facing each other. To illustrate, if you have 24 students in a class standing in a single line, with person 1 strongly supporting the issue/statement, and person 24 being strongly against it, the line would initially look like this:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
The teacher can then ask students to divide the line between persons 12 and 13. Person 13 leads the second half of the line over to person 1. The second half of the line then thus pairs off with the first half like this:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Students can now exchange opinions easily with the person standing across from them. The lines can be repeatedly divided and refolded to regroup students, who then repeat their idea exchanges, to allow further airing of diverse views. It is also possible to combine this structure with ones like the Timed Pair Share, in which student exchanges are structured for equal participation via time limits and rotating speaking order.
A final step can be for randomly selected students to orally summarize to the class the views they heard, or for students to write a paper for homework that describes the breadth of opinions they heard, complete with supporting and opposing arguments that were given. Students could also be instructed to write/speak from the point of view of an opinion they heard which is opposite, or very unlike, their own opinion, rather than their own, to encourage perspective-taking.
This structure can be used to encourage self-expression, listening, paraphrasing, turn taking, and trying to understand and appreciate various viewpoints. Listening to, and then evaluating, various viewpoints boosts critical thinking skills as students consider an issue from various angles. Students can be asked to note, for example, the strong points of each diverse view, or to come up with a composite view incorporating what they believe to be valuable in all viewpoints.
[ p. 2 ](3) Corners
As with the previous structure, Corners can be used to have students express, and listen to, various opinions on a topic, honing listening, critical thinking, and self-expression skills. The teacher can make each corner of the classroom represent a stipulated view. For example, three possible corners could constitute For, Against, and Undecided relative to a topic. Students move to the corner that represents their viewpoint. Next, students discuss their opinions, or respond to a comment, within their corners. This could first be done in pairs, and later with pairs joining other pairs to make groups of 4, or with subsequent changes of partners to form new pairs.
Students can begin by summarizing their earlier conversation to their new partner(s). Summarizing or repeating ascertains whether the listener listened and understood, and helps validate the ideas of former speakers. The views of all members in one corner can be aired for the benefit of the entire corner after ideas have initially been exchanged in smaller groups. For example, students stand in a circle in the corner, and each person summarizes what the person on their left said. Asking students to summarize what another person said encourages them to listen to others, since if they haven't listened, they will not be able to complete this task.
After students have finished their in-corner discussions, they can rotate around to other corners in order to share their corner's viewpoints. One way to do this is for the teacher to randomly select two representatives from each corner to go to another corner and summarize their corner's viewpoint. They can rotate to all other corners, making their presentation to each new corner; these presentations can be performed within specified time limits to give all representatives an equal chance to speak. The final step could include randomly choosing students, other than rotating representatives, to report to the class on what was expressed, heard, or learned.
(4) Team statements; Blackboard share
Students first think about a stipulated topic alone, such as What can we do to rectify economic disparities?, or What can we do to alleviate gender based job discrimination?. After students have had time to think ﾑndash; and perhaps take notes if they wish ﾑndash; they share their ideas in pairs or small groups.
Next, students again work alone and devise one statement that reflects their view. Students then alternate presenting their individual statements to each other, allowing other students in their group to ask for clarification, or further information. The team then creates a Team Statement that represents an opinion everyone in the group agrees with relative to the topic.
After this, (some or all, depending on class size) groups in the class share their team statements orally, or in writing, with the rest of the class. One simultaneous method of reporting, called Blackboard Share, is a structure that can be used at this stage. Blackboard Share requires the teacher to section off portions of the blackboard equally for groups to use. After groups write their Team Statements on the board, these can be viewed/discussed by the entire class.
If not all teams share (such as in very large classes), one technique is for the teacher to randomly choose only some teams to share. Since no team knows in advance which teams will share, all prepare in the event they are called on to share.
Team Statements is designed to give students practice in self-expression, consolidating views, and reaching a consensus despite differing opinions. Blackboard Share can be used to have students simultaneously summarize any individual or team view or result in writing for the whole class.
(5) Draw a gambit
A "gambit" is a sentence or expression that can be used orally during a face-to-face interaction. "Draw a gambit" can be used to help students learn and practice social skills (in a native or foreign language). In a foreign or second language course, expressions socially acceptable in the target culture could be the focus of instruction.
Students, or the teacher, can create expressions to be used in interactions focusing on a specific skill, such as showing interest in what is being said, disagreeing politely, or praising the speaker. These expressions are then written down on strips of paper by students (for example, after being copied off the blackboard), and placed in a deck or pile. Students, in pairs, or groups, then have a conversation. While listening, listeners draw expressions from the deck and use them during the interaction in ways they think are appropriate. Teachers or peers can monitor this as desired; for example, through real time observation followed by commentary, or responding after listening to or watching audio- or video-taped exchanges.
This structure helps students practice socially acceptable language. The goal is to help create a positive ethic in the class by having students practice skills such as praising (being verbally supportive), or disagreeing politely (avoiding threatening or non-peaceful manners of communication), etc. This instruction can be combined with teaching socially acceptable body language, for example, modeled by the teacher, practiced in groups, and monitored by other learners and the teacher.
(6) Paraphrase passport; Rally robin
Paraphrase Passport requires students engaging in a group discussion to paraphrase what others have said. Before a student can go on to offer their own opinion or input, they must paraphrase what was last said. The person whose statement was paraphrased indicates whether the speaker has correctly captured their meaning. Once the speaker is satisfied that she or he has been accurately paraphrased, the discussion continues with the next speaker's comments. Thus, each person taking a conversational turn must paraphrase the prior speaker's comments before giving their own ideas.
This structure aims to give all speakers in the group a chance to be heard and feel understood. It is also a useful device for checking comprehension in a language class. It can be combined with other structures such as Rally Robin. Rally Robin is a structure requiring students to alternate speaking in a set order. It is used so that all students take turns speaking, so that everyone will receive an equal chance to participate.
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(7) Other structures
Many other structures can be found in Kagan (1994), and Kagan and Kagan (1998). Kagan and his associates have identified approximately 200 cooperative learning structures of which the above are just a few examples.
The "PIES" concept
More than just clever classroom routines, each Kagan structure is based on four factors that Dr. Kagan considers essential to his structural approach to cooperative learning: (P) positive interdependence; (I) individual accountability; (E) equal participation; and (S) simultaneous interaction.
Positive interdependence means a "win-win" condition in which the success of one student is linked to the success of others in the class in a positive way. In other words, students need each other to succeed, and a gain for one student is a gain for others. In this kind of relationship, students care about each other and help each other so that all learn. In the positively interdependent relationship, a loss for one student is a loss for the whole group; in other words, the failure of one member is not merely an individual failure but a group failure, if the group did not adequately support the learner. Yet an individual success can be a group success if the group helped each team member succeed.
We can contrast this concept with negative interdependence, where one student's failure could be another student's gain, such as when teachers grade on a curve (norm-referenced grading). With norm-referenced grading, a student doing badly increases the chance that another learner's score will be rated more highly. Thus, a loss for one student becomes a gain for another. Negative interdependence is often characterized by competitive rather than cooperative relationships between learners.
Cooperative learning teachers reject norm-referenced grading in favor of criterion-referenced grading. With criterion-referenced grading, any learner can do well assuming s/he meets the specified criteria. Some cooperative learning teachers also use specific incentives and rewards in addition to positively interdependent task design to increase the level of positive interdependence among a team or in a class.
No interdependence means that what one learner does has no effect on another learner.
Positive interdependence is built into Kagan structures in that the activity cannot be successful unless the students cooperate ﾑndash; the students need each other for success. They cannot do the activity alone, and if they do not cooperate well the result will be failure; yet if they cooperate well the result will be success.
While there are various models of cooperative learning, of which Kagan's structural approach is only one, all cooperative learning theorists and practitioners agree that cooperative learning must incorporate the concept of positive interdependence, and this characteristic distinguishes it from mere "group work".
The concepts of positive/negative/no interdependence have origins in Morton Deutsch's studies of conditions which foster conflict as opposed to cooperation (see Deutsch, 1973).
Cooperative learning research has found positive interdependence to create better results in terms of learner achievement, human relationships, and psychological health, versus negative interdependence or no interdependence. For a more thorough treatment of research results, see, for example, Johnson and Johnson (1989).
Individual accountability means a procedure to check that each participant individually contributes a fair share to a group effort. It also means there is a way to evaluate the quality of the effort/result of each member.
Equal participation means that all students receive the same chances and incentives to be involved in class. Kagan's approach uses careful task design (e.g. the task has equal sized and equal status roles for all participants in the activity, or if roles are not equal status, such as leader and checker, roles are randomly assigned and would be rotated over the course of the term), rewards, and accountability procedures to encourage equal participation. For example in Timed Pair Share, each member is given exactly the same amount of time to speak. Without using a structure --ndash; for example, just asking two students to talk for four minutes, versus to alternate speaking for two minutes each--ndash; the teacher may find that one student is inclined to do far more or even all of the talking; this could be, for example the older student in Japan, the higher status student, the more confident student, or the more extraverted student. However, a structure such as Timed Pair Share requires that both students speak for the same amount of time, regardless of individual differences of age, background, personality, or language skill. Accountability procedures can be implemented via devices such as teacher or peer observation, and requiring students to report on what the partner said (to quote Dr. Kagan, individual public performance must [also] be required).
Simultaneous interaction means that all students are actively engaged at the same time during the class. An example would be 20 pairs of students in a 40-person class all talking/listening simultaneously, as opposed to one student out of 40 answering a teacher's question, while all the others are or are not listening or participating.
In Kagan's view, these four characteristics (PIES) must be built into the activity itself (i.e. be part of the task design). His over 200 structures were designed with the four elements in mind.
Multiple intelligences and Kagan's structural approach
Gardner (1993) identified numerous kinds of human intelligence including: interpersonal ﾑndash; knowing how to effectively interact with others; intrapersonal ﾑndash; the ability to know oneself; mathematical; musical; linguistic; bodily-kinesthetic; spatial; and others. In Gardner's view, people may differ in their natural talents but all talents are important, can be honed, and are worthy of appreciation.
Kagan and Kagan (1998) present CL activities that promote the various multiple intelligences (MI), via peer collaborative tasks involving music or skills such as drawing, classifying, computing, moving the body, requiring students to collaborate in teams (interpersonal), or be introspective (intrapersonal), etc.
Use of interpersonal intelligence CL structures enable the teacher to target interpersonal effectiveness as a skill for student development, which in turn helps foster peaceful classroom social environments. Intrapersonal intelligence is also linked to positive human relationships; research shows that persons who do not understand themselves are incapable of understanding others, and thus incapable of responding appropriately to others (Ciaramicoli & Ketcham, 2000; Goleman, 1995; Goodman, 2002; Kagan and Kagan, 1998; Meyers, 1994).
Using a variety of MI activities in class highlights the MIs of students. As students witness the diverse abilities of peers, and notice their usefulness while performing the structures, they learn to appreciate and value each other's differing skills and gifts.
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Many of the structures and activities in Kagan and Kagan (1998) involve the activation of more than one intelligence. For example in A Song About Me, students first brainstorm their own unique qualities, drawing upon intrapersonal intelligence, and then include these qualities in a song they compose, drawing upon musical intelligence. In a structure called Self Portrait, students first draw their own portrait. Then, they tell a partner, orally or in writing, why they drew themselves as they did. Self Portrait calls upon visual/spatial, intrapersonal, and interpersonal intelligences. Being a Friend asks students to write about what it means to be a friend, share these writings with teammates upon completion, and then discuss with teammates similarities and differences among the team writings. This activity requires students to use linguistic, logical, and interpersonal intelligences.
If the teacher, or students, select a broad range of activities which require various MI to complete them, students will have a chance to see each other shine over the course of the term, as some students are likely to excel at tasks requiring musical intelligence, others at tasks requiring visual/spatial intelligence, or others at tasks requiring linguistic intelligence (etc.). Use of non-linguistic intelligences can also help to compensate for the still developing linguistic skills of language learners in Japan and elsewhere in language courses. For example, an activity where a student could draw their response rather than say it in a foreign language, or both draw and say it, aids comprehensibility.
Some teachers in Japan teach courses where students are grouped homogeneously by major. During the past academic year, for example, I have taught courses to math, PE, music, art, health education, intercultural studies, and other majors. Knowledge of MI can help teachers in such scenarios utilize activities that play to the likely strengths of students. We might, for example, expect PE majors to excel at structures where bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is emphasized, and art majors to prefer activities and structures in which visual-spatial intelligence is required. A balance of activities can give opportunities for students to both excel, and to stretch themselves, depending on whether the activity plays to the student's natural strengths, or to relatively underdeveloped areas. Highlighting the spectrum of MI, rather than a narrower focus on ability, could also help smash stereotypes, or negative images of students regarding their own or their classmates' abilities.
The structural approach used to create a peaceful classroom
As described above, Kagan structures can be used to create equal opportunities for all students in the classroom; cooperation among students; positive interpersonal relationships; listening, turn-taking, self-expression, and other appropriate communication and social skills; critical thinking: respect for diverse persons and abilities; appreciation of various viewpoints; and consensus-building.
Learning appropriate (nonviolent) communication skills and appreciating diversity in all its forms can be a foundation upon which to create a peaceful classroom. Dr. Kagan believes using the structures can help build personal character, because while students are performing the activities, they can, at the same time, practice skills, or fulfill roles, such as leadership, helpfulness, caring, impulse control, understanding, praising, kindness, cooperation, courtesy, citizenship, and others associated with virtuous character.
Students carrying the knowledge of socially appropriate behavior, critical thinking, and appreciation of differences with them outside of the classroom will be better equipped to evaluate information and interact peacefully with others. Researchers (Cohen, et al, 1990; Johnson and Johnson, 1989; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991; Miller and Harrington, 1990; Ochi and Sugie, 2001; Slavin and Cooper, 1999) have found the results of cooperative learning to include higher self esteem of students, more positive peer relationships including improved inter-ethnic/cross-cultural relationships and lowered levels of prejudice, and equal or higher academic achievement, compared to classrooms where students worked without cooperation (independently) or structured competitively (negative interdependence).
Dr. Kagan, along with other cooperative learning theorists/practitioners, believes that traditional competitive classrooms do not foster pro-social human behaviors. In a classroom where no student-to-student interaction occurs, students do not learn to interact with each other, share information with each other, or help each other succeed. In a classroom where student-to-student interaction occurs, but is not properly managed, structured, or planned by the teacher, the result can be unequal participation, competitiveness, and non-peaceful interaction. Kagan writes:
We need to include cooperative learning experiences in our classrooms, because . . . students no longer come to school with an established caring and cooperative orientation . . . Additionally, we need cooperative learning if we are to preserve democracy. Exclusive use of autocratic, teacher-dominated classroom structures leaves students unprepared for participation in a democratic society. Democracy is not nurtured by a system which models autocratic decision-making, and expects passive obedience among pupils (Kagan, 1994, pp. 2-10).
Cooperative learning can be easily combined with a student-centered curriculum. With the structural approach, the content can be chosen by the students themselves, and the students' own ideas and input can become the main lesson material.
Japanese university student comments about Dr. Kagan's lecture/demonstration
I was able to read undergraduate student comments about Dr. Kagan's ninety minute bilingual lecture/demonstration held at Aichi University of Education.
[ p. 5 ]On the day of the workshop, students received bilingual handouts including a booklet containing steps for ten structures and explanation of the approach (handouts and booklet courtesy of Kagan Cooperative Learning). After attending the workshop and receiving the distributed materials, students wrote short informal reports giving their reactions.
I read sixty reports that included comments about the workshop. There were no negative comments in the reports, except for one student commenting that teacher training would be required for implementing the approach, and one student who said that proof was needed that the approach worked in Japan.
Student comments focused especially on their view of approach as leading to active student learning, described by them as beneficial. Some students contrasted an active learning approach with a lecture-style approach, where students may be tempted to not pay attention in class. Some noted Kagan's approach as being especially useful for language learning, since it required, in their view, all students to participate actively and produce language. Other student comments focused on the advantage of the approach in its capacity to encourage cooperative human relationships:
3rd year student: I identify myself with his opinion. I think it is important for students to take part in the actively. I think his structure is wonderful. His lecture was very useful for me. I was glad to have joined his lecture. This was a good chance for me. I want to be a teacher and practice his structure in the future.
3rd year student: If teacher use a structure--ndash;rally robin, every student can participate in the class. Some students who are shy can take part in the class, too. I think that it is good that everyone can join in the class easily.
4th year student: Cooperative learning can prompt students to participate in class activity. And, it improve sophisticated thinking ability more and more that we analyze whether the information is known or not, and need or not...I think cooperative learning is the most suitable for Japan rather than competition learning and individual learning, because Japanese have a strong fellow feeling.
4th year student: During I experienced these activities in the workshop, I could get a consciousness that I was always participating actively. I found great advantages of cooperative learning personally: students never be absent-minded, moreover, it is easy to grasp students' participation and comprehension.
4th year student: Now people tend to be individualist and some people do not emphasize teamwork. It may lead to increasing antisocial persons. We can say it is necessary to have the spirit of mutual helpfulness
My own experiences as a teacher with cooperative learning
I have been using CL in my university courses in Japan for roughly a dozen years. I draw upon Kagan's structures as well as other pedagogical approaches and techniques, such as student centered learning (e.g., Campbell and Kryszewka, 1992), stimulus based teaching (Woodward, 2002), transformative learning (Cranton, 1994), and ideas from other cooperative learning specialists.
Positive student response toward the method of instruction have increased steadily as my expertise in using CL has grown. Many years ago, when I first anonymously polled students about the instructional approach we used in the course, about 60% or so of students in all courses were generally in favor of it. However, the percentage of students in favor of the approach is approach is in recent years consistently 90-100% of all students. I believe the upwardly spiralling level of student satisfaction is due to the fact that now, as an experienced user of cooperative learning, I am better at implementing it. My classroom practice has gradually grown, it appears, based on student responses, more effective and enjoyable for students. As my CL repertoire has grown over the years, I can use a wider range of activities effortlessly. (A relationship between the length of teacher experience and teaching effectiveness with cooperative learning has also been reported elsewhere such as in Slavin, 1995.) A school-adopted evaluation of English courses in 2003 showed no student of the roughly 120 students I taught, anonymously polled by the university, reported dissatisfaction with the cooperative learning-based English courses.
Positive comments from students in anonymous end-of-term course evaluation questionnaires have focused most especially on their satisfaction regarding relationships with other students in the same class, their appreciation of the many chances to exchange opinions with peers in class, the active nature of learning, and, in English courses, their increased confidence in their English abilities over the course of a term. Other comments focus on knowledge gained, respect of students in the class, and appreciating the variety of classroom activities.
I use many of the structures outlined in Kagan's publications and demonstrated in workshops lead by Kagan and his colleagues. I have also adapted them, and developed my own structures for language and other courses in Japan (Nakagawa, 1999(a), 1999(b), 2000, & 2001). Many of the structures I use were inspired by, or improved upon, following exposure to Kagan training materials and the work of other cooperative learning specialists. Other than using the structures themselves, I believe that giving students choices about projects (in other words, adopting a student-centered curriculum), and changing peer groups every class meeting so students work with all the other students in the class throughout the term, are important factors that lead to student satisfaction. Many students specifically note that they like, for example, the grouping procedure, done by randomly shuffling name cards which are placed on desks to indicate where students should sit, with pairs and groups usually subsequently formed based on learners' physical proximity to each other.
Structures are indexed in Kagan (1994), and Kagan and Kagan (1998), according to which skills and abilities will be utilized by learners who complete the activity. The indexing makes it very easy to locate a structure for a particular purpose. Compared to other cooperative learning approaches or manuals requiring a significant investment of teacher time, the approach in these two training/teacher resource manuals is practical, flexible (steps can be altered and content can be determined by the teacher or students), and "teacher friendly" (structures are easy to find and follow).
[ p. 6 ]
In addition to Dr. Kagan's approach, I have also studied and learned from reading about and observing the approaches of cooperative learning specialists such as Aronson (Aronson & Patnoe, 1997), the Sharans (Sharan & Sharan, 1992), the Johnson siblings (Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, 1993 & 1998; Johnson & Johnson, 1981 & 1991; Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1991) and the Buzz Learning approach practiced by some specialists in Japan (Sugie, 1995 & 1999). The approach advocated by the Johnsons emphasizes social skills training of students, and includes a step by step approach to peer-mediated conflict resolution. It also offers an alternative to traditional (in the USA) competitive debate. Rather than ending in a lose-win, the Johnsons' "Academic Controversy" approach requires the conclusion of the learners' controversy ("debate") to be a composite view jointly constructed by team members that finds strengths on both sides (versus identifying a winning/losing team).
Aronson is famous for the Jigsaw Approach to cooperative learning, where each student initially has part of the information needed to complete a task, and subsequent cooperation at the team level is essential for completion of the task. The Sharans of Israel are best known for a collaborative project design approach known as Group Investigation. Other major approaches include those of Slavin (John Hopkins University), Cohen (Stanford University) and, in Japan, Buzz Learning, practiced by Sugie (Chukyo University), and others. A useful introduction to many of the various cooperative learning methods may be found in Sharan, (1994).
Potential difficulties related to cooperative learning in Japan
CL may not be appropriate for the teacher who wishes to be the center of attention in the class, since CL makes students the focus of attention more than the teacher, especially if used in conjunction with a student-centered syllabus or curriculum. Although CL can be combined with other approaches, including teacher-centered and materials-centered approaches, it is essentially a student-centered approach. CL takes some time for teachers to learn, although Kagan's approach attempts to simplify the process by providing teachers with more or less ready-made structures for a variety of pedagogical purposes. Teachers who wish to focus only on academic results, rather than academic results as well as the psychological health of students and positive interpersonal relationships, may be uninterested in the approach. It is important to note, however, that CL can also be used to help students master specified material (e.g. for entrance tests), if that is an aim. For example, students can work collaboratively in CL groups to master grammatical points that they will, subsequently, be tested on. In this case the goal would be for everyone in the group to master the material. If the teacher's goal is not for all students to master the material, there would be no incentive to use CL.
A prominent Japanese educational psychologist (Sugie, 1995) explains that CL is not widely known or practiced in Japan. Although he cites studies showing its positive effects for Japanese learners, he believes that many Japanese teachers do not have the time or opportunity to study it, and that Japanese educational bureaucracies, concerned primarily with keeping costs down and increasing efficiency, create an inhospitable environment for it. He also notes that it may be difficult to inspire Japanese teachers or teachers in training, and believes that many teachers may tend to teach in the manner they were taught, which was likely not CL (see Sugie, 1995; 1999).
It was a great pleasure to be able to attend Kagan's practical and informative lecture/demonstrations of the structural approach to cooperative learning in Japan this year. His structures can be used for student mastery of material, active learning, equality, critical thinking, positive human relationships, and for raising student self-esteem and respect for others.
As a student workshop attendee commented, however, a teacher needs to be trained in the approach in order to use it. While it may take time before the teacher truly excels at CL, it may be possible to make some immediate pedagogical improvements by quickly learning a few cooperative learning structures as outlined by Kagan and his associates. My own view is that mastering the use of structures, learning how to teach social skills and conflict resolution strategies, and understanding the theory of CL, are all useful. Over time, the teacher may perfect her implementation of CL and be able to innovate CL pedagogy on her own adaptable to her particular classroom.
Although admittedly CL takes time to learn and perfect, one of the advantages to Dr. Kagan's structural approach which offers 200 nearly ready-made classroom activities for the teacher is that the teacher can learn to use a few simple structures even before having perfected her or his knowledge of the theory (as opposed to first learning the theory and then trying to figure out ways to apply the theory). At the same time, this author's belief is that a long-term commitment to increasing one's expertise in CL is a worthwhile endeavor.
If Japanese or Japan-based in-service teachers cannot find the time for teacher development in order to learn CL, it may be best to introduce teachers in training to CL while they are still at the pre-service level.
Among native English speaking/non-Japanese teachers in Japan, CL is not widely known or well understood, although it has been the theme of several articles published in the journals of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) (Kluge et al, 1999; Poel, et al, 1994). Increased awareness about this useful pedagogical approach could lead to further beneficial research and study in the Japan context.
Japan-based teachers interested in further study of CL may wish to contact the Japan Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education via its website www.jasce.jp/ or contact the author of this paper, a JASCE board member, via email@example.com. Further information about Dr. Kagan's approach can be found at www.KaganOnline.com.
Although I believe all cooperative learning approaches have merits and are worthy of study, I believe a particular benefit of Kagan's structural approach to CL is its practicality and teacher-friendliness, as well as its commitment to equal participation in the classroom found in ready-made, yet flexible and adaptable, classroom structures.
[ p. 7 ]References
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Cohen, E.G., Lotan, L. & Catanzarite, L. (1990). Treating status problems in the cooperative classroom. In S. Sharan, (Ed.). Cooperative learning: theory and research. pp. 203-230. Wesport: Praeger.
Deutsch, M. (1973). The resolution of conflict: constructive and destructive processes. New Haven: Yale University Press.
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