Previously, we defined cooperative learning and looked at some advantages and disadvantages of using this teaching method. When determining if cooperative learning is a method appropriate for your lesson, it’s important to understand the various kinds.
There are three main types of cooperative learning groups: informal learning groups, formal cooperative groups and cooperative base groups. We’ll define each and discuss the best situation to use each type of group.
Informal Learning Groups
These groups are short term and not very structured. They typically involve activities where classmates turn to a neighbour to discuss a problem or concept for a few minutes. Informal groups are generally small, usually two but no more than three people. It’s most convenient to use informal learning groups for quick activities such as checking for understanding, brainstorming, quick problem solving, summarising, or review. These groups are a great way to change up a lecture format by giving students a few minutes to discuss a concept with a peer.
Formal Learning Groups
Formal learning groups are assigned a task or project and stay together until it is complete. There is a clear structure to these groups set by the teacher that includes task and behaviour expectations. Formal learning groups can be heterogenous or homogeneous, depending on the assignment. Most groups perform well with three to four people, any more than five can become unproductive. Doing a project, solving a series of problems, reviewing for a test, or writing a report are all examples of how formal learning groups can be used in a classroom.
Cooperative Base Groups
These groups are different from the previous two in that they are long term support groups. Base groups should last for a minimum of a semester but can be anywhere up to several years. Since they are long term commitments, typically these groups become more than just academic problem solving groups. Members in base groups often become a personal support system for each other, building relationships and trust during the duration of their cooperative learning process. The goal of cooperative base groups is that the members develop peer accountability and support each other while learning together.
It is acceptable to use more than one type of group at a time! For example, you can assign a project using formal learning groups and still use informal groups during teaching time where the formal groups aren’t working together. If you have a class where cooperating is a challenge, you may need many opportunities for your students to practice working together. Start out simple and work your way towards more formal cooperative learning situations.
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