Research on Cooperative Learning










Candida Tejada


Professor Hartman

Spring 2002




                               Define and Describe Cooperative Learning     

     What is cooperative learning?  Cooperative Learning is a teaching approach that is unique in its own way.  Cooperative Learning is when individuals come together as a group to teach each other what they know or understand of any given subject.  The true definition of Cooperative Learning is the “instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning”. ( 

     There are five basic elements in cooperative learning that when structured, helps positive efforts and helps the cooperative learning group achieve their goal.

1.) Positive interdependence:  This will be achieved only when all individuals of the group feel that they cannot succeed unless everyone succeeds. “If there is no       positive interdependence, there is no cooperation.”(

2.) Promotive interaction:  Student’s need to do work where they help each other understand by encouraging, supporting and helping one another.

3.) Individual and group accountability:  The group should be responsible for achieving its goal and each student should be responsible for his or her share of work.

4.) Teaching students the required interpersonal and small group skills: Social skills must be taught . “ Leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management skills empower students to manage both teamwork and task work successfully”(

5.)  Group processing:  Group members can discuss between each other how well or how bad they are achieving their goals within their group.  Groups need to describe what proceedings can be changed in order to have a successful working relationship.

     “When efforts are structured cooperatively, there is a considerable evidence that students will achieve higher, learn more, use higher level reasoning strategies, build more complete and complex conceptual structures, and retain information learned more accurately”(Eric ED437841). Cooperative learning promotes and builds self-esteem.

 “Positive goal interdependence requires acceptance by a group that they “sink or swim”   together. A cooperative spelling class is one where students are working together in small groups to help each other learn the words in order to take the spelling test individually on another day.”    In a cooperative setting students needs to be concerned with how he or she spells and how the other students perform in the spelling group. (

     First example: Small groups of boys and girls, high and low ability students, from different ethnic backgrounds would work together for a long period of time.  “ At high school level, an in-depth research project or class presentation might be assigned to cooperative learning groups in which each student receives both an individual and a group grade” (Sadker& Sadker). There are many different methods for example, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles or a game. (Sadker &Sadker).   This helps the teacher see what was the best way for the student to learn whatever subject they were teaching each other.

Second example – Benefits : There is a different group facilitator for each day.  The facilitator is in charge of the group.  The facilitator will distribute and collect materials for the group. This is great because in reality you are only dealing with 7 groups of facilitators in a class of 28 students.  There is also a reduction in time needed to put things away because there is only one person per group that is in charge for that day that will take care of the necessities. Students explain things better to another student than a teacher to a class.  The teacher can be boring, therefore a student can make the subject more interesting because he or she is using words that their fellow classmates can understand better and are accustomed to. “ Questions are more likely to be asked and answered in a group setting.  This saves a lot of time”.  “Students have a shorter attention span than they did years ago”. “And finally today’s job market is looking for people with good interpersonal and problem-solving”.  Participation in cooperative learning can help promote and achieve these skills. (

    “According to researchers, cooperative learning groups work best when they are heterogeneous and at least in the beginning should be small, perhaps limited to two to six members” (Sadker&Sadker).  According to Robert Slavin all the student’s work is not finished until all student’s in the group understand the material that is being studied. (Sadker&Sadker). 



   “There are three basic ways students can interact with each other as they learn.” ( They can compete against each other to see who is the best or they can work toward a goal without paying attention to others.(  There is a big difference with having students working in a group that is organized or just simply working in a group without cooperative help.  There is no positive interdependence involved when a group is not structured. There should always be rewards available for students that achieve the goal that is expected from the group.  To be specific a group that only one student does all the work and the others take the credit for it, is not considered a cooperative group.

        Teachers fool themselves believing in that working together means as a team when it can really mean let’s work against each other.  Lessons have to be organized in such a way that students would not have any problem working cooperatively. In learning the correct way of directing a cooperative group, a teacher will take lessons and courses and organize them cooperatively. Educators would diagnose the problem and work on “increasing the effectiveness of the group”. (http://www.clcrc/pages/cl.html).






                                         Research and theory

    There are pros and cons when you look at all the aspects of cooperative learning and depending on what research you come across.

Pros: According to researchers, cooperative learning groups work best when they meet the following criteria:  “ Groups should be heterogeneous and, at least at the beginning, should be small, perhaps limited to two to six members” (Sadker &Sadker).

 “Research shows that cooperative learning promotes both intellectual and emotional growth”: (Sadker&Sadker)

1.) Students achieve higher achievement, especially for math in the elementary grades

2.) “Students have higher levels of self-esteem and greater motivation to learn”

3.) Students can sense the positive regard they have for one another

4.) “Understanding and cooperating among students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds are enhanced” (Sadker&Sadker)

    Research shows that cooperative learning improves achievement and relationships (Santrock).  Students of different ethnic backgrounds when working together, “learn to respect and like each other, as well as focus on higher academic goals”. (ED415756) 

Even though cooperative learning is great, the teacher should still expect to monitor the group’s progress for any difficulty.

The following steps are helpful ways to establish cooperative learning with your students:

1.) “Start with cooperative learning projects that are short and simple.”

2.) “Make sure students understand how important it is to work cooperatively with other people.”

3.) Don’t think that students know how to work in groups, teach and help them understand what cooperative learning is all about.

4.) “Praise students when they use skillful social behaviors.

5.)“Use group roles to help students develop social skills.  For example, if you have a student who dominates group discussions, assign that person the role of observer”.(Sadker&Sadker)

Cons: Research also shows that cooperative learning can be a hardship to students when a group is not well developed.  There is a great burden placed on children in the cooperative learning group.  The great burden is making them responsible for each other’s learning apart from themselves. Cooperative learning group is based on one high-achieving student, two average and one low achiever (1999).  For obvious reasons the cooperative learning group is made up this way, basically because there should always be someone in the group that can learn the lesson and teach it to others. Therefore, the high achievers of the group will understand the material better than anyone in the group as they explain it to others. It is not only the smart students that suffer , “one study showed


that in groups of mixed ability, low-achieving students become passive and do not focus on the task”. (1999)

Theories and Theorists: One of the three theories that I felt was mostly related to cooperative learning would be Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory which implies the accomplishment of knowledge is based on the different types of intelligence a person has. There are three types of intelligence performance (1) analytical intelligence (2) creative intelligence and  (3) practical intelligence. Therefore depending on an individual’s motivation and interest on a particular subject that will determine how well they would learn.(Myers)

  Secondly. Vygotsky’s theory, which was based on the technique of scaffolding and the concept of the zone proximal development was another theory, which I thought was related to cooperative learning.  Scaffolding is basically a strategy which the teacher gives aid to students by giving them information and support until the students can rely on their own knowledge.(Hartman).”ZPD defines those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation”.(Hartman). The goal of scaffolding is for students to become independent and able to think by themselves, without the help of others.

Finally, Bruner’s Constructionvist Theory would also contribute to the concept of cooperative learning.  Bruner’s theory states that an individual attains most of his understanding from prior knowledge or experience, transferring to the present.  This can


be helpful in a cooperative learning group because you’re placing prior knowledge on what you know from the subject and placing them in the minds of your group.

Research: “Research into children’s behavior in groups and their productivity was pioneered at the University of Iowa’s Child Welfare Research Station.”(2001) The investigation on how children work together in groups was based on children making paper masks in three different groups , where two of  the three groups was directed by an adult. Each child was rotated through each of the three groups.  The results were extraordinary. “Researchers found that children in an autocratically led group seemed discontented, often aggressive, and lacking initiative. Students in groups without a leader experienced similar problems: members appeared frustrated and much of the work remained unfinished.”  In other words children in groups that were allowed to set their own program and principles were far more productive, socially content and independent in their work. (2001). 

   Cooperative learning is defined as a “classroom technique” (1999). “ The widespread use of cooperative learning is due to multiple factors. Three of the most important are that cooperative learning is clearly based on theory, validated by research, and operationalized into clear procedures educators can use.” ( Research has had “cooperative efforts” because of its diversity.  Throughout the years researchers have relied on “ achievement, higher-level reasoning,



retention, time on task, transfer of learning, achievement motivation, intrinsic motivation, continuing motivation, social and cognitive development, moral reasoning, perspective-taking, interpersonal attraction, social support, friendships, reduction of stereotypes and prejudice, valuing differences, psychological health, self-esteem, social competencies, internalization of values, the quality of the learning environment, and many other outcomes”. ( 

    Cooperative learning is another term for different methods of organizing and teaching a class.  Teachers use cooperative learning in numerous ways. In making the cooperative learning methods successful, there are researchers that have developed “cooperative learning procedures, conducted programs of research and evaluation of their method, and then involved themselves in teacher-training programs that are commonly credited as the creators of modern-day cooperative” (    “This combination of theory, research, and practice makes cooperative learning a powerful learning procedure.”( Even though there are many different types of cooperative learning methods, teachers have very little help or guidance on what methods works better on their students. The different types of cooperative learning methods are competition, individualistic efforts, direct cooperative learning and conceptual cooperative learning methods. In competition, the students work alone and rewards are given depending on their status form best to worst. Individualistic efforts either worked alone or minimum, which gave very little rewards and little opportunity for social comparison. “When the control condition was labeled as traditional instruction, the condition was coded as either competitive or individualistic depending on the description of the condition.” (  In direct cooperative learning methods the procedures are well prepared where as the conceptual cooperative method consists of a specific lesson or activity to fit the educators situation.  Many studies have been conducted, but if there are any shortcomings or problems in the cooperative learning method, it should really be blamed on the “result of methodological flaws”.(














    Based on my study, research and prior knowledge there were more advantages than disadvantages in Cooperative learning.  Cooperative learning can be an extraordinary teaching strategy if utilized correctly.  Cooperative learning gives students motivation and interest where other teaching strategies wouldn’t.  It helps build an individual’s competetion streak because the student always wants to be the facilitator instead of the follower. Students that are normally shy can overcome their shyness in a cooperative learning group.  Students can sometimes explain things better to a group of students that a teacher cannot.  A student can make it more interesting or more understandable because they would probably use words students their own age are accustomed to listening. 

    In overall cooperative learning would be a teaching strategy I would highly recommend and use in my classroom as a future teacher.  I truly believe that it works with the proper guidance.  As a future high school math teacher , cooperative learning inspired me to continue my studies in secondary education, because I saw a chance of giving my students what I always wanted in my classes. I always wanted to have group involvement and motivation in my classes but let’s face it times have changed, and what we have now we didn’t have then. Motivation and group work are the key words in making cooperative learning a success in your classroom , so reach out and make your classroom a cooperative learning class.





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Johnson, D., Johnson, R. An Overview of Cooperative Learning. Retrieved for the World Wide Web on April 3, 2002.

Johnson,D., Johnson, R. and Stane, M. Cooperative Learning Methods: A Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on April 3, 2002.

Millis, B., Cottell, P (1997). Cooperative Learning for Higher Education Faculty. Eric Digest (ED415756) Retrieved from Eric database on April 14, 2002.

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Sadker,D., Sadker, M. (2000). Teachers, Schools, Society. Hawkins Tn.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education

Santrock, J. (2000). Children. Dubuque, Ia.: McGRaw-Hill.