Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Why Cooperative Learning Works

This post was first published on the St. John's Prep
GOOD to Go blog and was authored by Chad Konecky.

It’s a classroom technique that goes by a number of aliases—peer-to-peer, small-group and team-based learning, to name a few—but at its core, the concept is rooted in 
cooperation—a classroom priority at St. John’s Prep that’s been proven to work.
A synthesis of 168 studies conducted over the course of 73 years by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that cooperative learning is almost 150-percent more effective than instructor-focused learning in terms of greater academic achievement, increased persistence throughout courses and programs, and more favorable attitudes toward learning in general. Another Harvard-published study showed that students working in teams ask more questions and are more engaged than non-grouped students. Kerry Gallagher, St. John’s assistant principal for teaching and learning, knows the research well, but says that seeing is believing.
Cooperative Learning
“I think peer-to-peer teaching and learning is a hallmark of an effective classroom and very much aligns with our ‘no one walks alone’ mindset here at St. John’s,” says Gallagher. “Research shows that adolescents and young adults are affected as much by feedback from their peers as feedback from parents and teachers. Students’ primary role is to learn, but we encourage them to understand the importance of their stepping up and seeing themselves as teachers as well. And when their teachers model that kind of growth for themselves, conveying that thirst for lifelong learning, everybody wins.”
For Eddie Amodeo ’19, his classroom experience reflects many of the attributes Ms. Gallagher highlights.
Prep teachers recognize the fact that being able to work with others is a very important skill to take with us into the real world,” says Amodeo. “By working directly with classmates in my Spanish conversation, cinema and literature course this year, not only have my comprehension skills improved, but also my ability to better express emotion in a different language.”
Andrew Behling ’20 reports that he’s reaped the benefits of collaborative work in his calculus class. “Collaboration has been a heavy focus in this year’s class, and it’s helped me adapt to the challenging pace,” he says. “Many times this fall, I’ve been able to consult a classmate about a specific lesson or computational function. When we were learning about implicit differentiation, I was struggling to complete the problems quickly enough, but a classmate provided me with a method to work more efficiently, and that carried through to our test on that unit.”
Gallagher points out that peer-to-peer learning carries benefits beyond pure problem-solving and subject-specific advancements. A cooperative, small-group or team-based component to classroom learning fosters broader perspectives that often result in students making cross-disciplinary connections.
“I think there’s a focus at St John’s on broadening the horizons of every student, and for me, that’s helped me to think outside the box,” confirms Amodeo. “That approach has made me more aware of wanting to learn the next thing. For instance, group work has encouraged me to learn more about topics and ideas that are less familiar to me as opposed to continually focusing a specific subject that’s always interested me.”
“I feel like the teachers give us the freedom and space to tap into knowledge from another class and bring it into their own classroom,” adds Behling. “That’s taught me to look at the bigger picture, and I’m now able to see connections across many different subjects. For example, in English, when we discuss a certain time period of literature, I’m now able to see the direct relationships between the literary themes of that time period and the topics we’ve discussed and debated in history class.”

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