Overview of the Instructor's Tasks
The following section was adapted from Johnson, Johnson, and Smith Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity, pages 57-69 (Johnson, et al., 1991, 1998). It outlines some of the major responsibilities of the instructor using collaborative learning structures.
Specify instructional objectives
Decisions before instruction begins
- academic objectives
- social skills objectives
Structuring the task and positive interdependence
- Determine the group size: Generally, the shorter the task the smaller the group
- Assign students to groups:
The instructor should select the group. Heterogeneous groups are generally better. The length of time the groups stay together is dependent on the specific collaborative learning activity; however, keep in mind that time is needed for groups to become cohesive.
- Arrange the room (if possible) so students can face one another and the instructor can walk up to each group.
- Plan instructional materials to promote interdependence especially with newer groups or inexperienced students:
Provide only one copy of the instructions per group or provide different members with different resources.
- Assign group roles to ensure interdependence.
Monitoring and intervening
- Explain the academic task:
- Set the task so the students are clear about the assignment.
- Explain the objectives of the lesson and relate the concepts and information to be studied to students' past experience and learning to ensure maximum transfer and retention.
- Define relevant concepts, explain procedures students should follow, and give examples to help students understand what they are to learn and do in completing the assignment.
- Ask the class specific questions to check students' understanding of the assignment.
- Explain your criteria for success.
- Structure positive interdependence by reinforcing that the students have a group goal (not just an individual goal) and that they need to rely on one another
- Structure individual accountability by observing members' participation, giving quizzes, having group members edit another student's work, having students explain the concepts to another member, or asking specific group members questions.
- Structure cooperation among groups if so desired.
- Specify desired behaviors, such as:
- Each member explains how to arrive at the answer.
- Each member relates what is being learned to previous information learned.
- Everyone in the group understands the material and agrees with the answers.
- Everyone participates.
- Each listens accurately to what other group members are saying.
- Members do not change their minds unless they are logically persuaded (majority rule does not promote learning).
- Remember to criticize ideas, not people.
Evaluating learning and processing interaction
- Monitor students' behavior to make sure they are working collaboratively and to observe their thinking process.
- Assist with tasks as needed to clarify instructions or concepts.
- Intervene to teach social skills if students are having difficulty working together.
- Praise good collaborative exchanges when observed.
- Provide closure to the lesson by having students summarize the key points (or the instructor may wish to summarize these points).
- Evaluate the quality and quantity of students' learning
- Teams process how well the group functioned and reflect on what occurred in their group.
Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Smith, K. (1991). Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., and Smith, K. A. (1998). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.