Cooperative and collaborative learning are instructional contexts in which peers work together on a learning task, with the goal of all participants benefiting from the interaction.
The likelihood of participation by all students is increased when there are only two individuals involved. The larger the group, the more opportunity there is for diffusion of responsibility among group members or for exclusion of some members. Active participation in the collaborative process is essential for learning to occur.
- In cooperation, partners work together to learn text material.
- In reciprocal peer tutoring (RPT), students work together to teach one another, and they alternate between the roles of student and teacher. This technique combines elements of both motivational and cognitive approaches to collaboration
- Guided peer questioning technique is explicitly intended to promote knowledge construction through higher-order thinking. This technique can be used with larger groups. It involves a process of question asking and answering, which is guided by the provision of question starters
One of the advantages associated with the techniques described above is the increased participation in cognitive activities by more students in a classroom than would be possible in whole-group instruction. In whole-group instruction, for example, teachers typically ask questions (often low-level questions such as those that simply require the recall of factual information but do not probe understanding) and a small number of students have the opportunity to construct a response. With the focused activity of guided peer questioning, all students have the opportunity not only to respond to questions, but to generate them as well. The techniques previously described promote active processing of material using activities that are strongly linked to achievement. In all of these techniques, the interactions of students are very structured, and this structure is important to the success of the techniques.
Teachers who wish to use cooperative and collaborative leaning to promote students’ achievement need to be thoughtful in considering the implications of their decisions about group size, rewards, group composition, and their own role in the classroom. The variety of theoretical perspectives available to inform such decisions can be confusing. Fundamentally, cooperative learning that promotes student achievement depends on the quality of student interaction. Such interaction needs to be task oriented, helpful, characterized by deep processing of content that involves organization or restructuring of knowledge, and elaboration of that knowledge. Making decisions about group size, for example, becomes simpler if the teacher focuses on the expected quality of interaction among students. Large groups limit participation while smaller groups provide more opportunities for interaction. Other decisions such as the composition of the group will also be informed by a focus on the quality of interaction. If the group is of mixed ability, other interventions may be needed to maintain the quality of participation (such as the use of question stems or other ways of structuring the interaction to maximize quality) or to guarantee the inclusion of all participants.