Cooperative Learning


The following are a series of short writing assignment for Cooperative Learning with Drs. David Johnson & Roger Johnson at the University of Minnesota in Spring 2015.


Cooperation

Cooperative Learning is a collection of theories and practices that encourage learning from positive interdependence and promotes individual accountability. Learning groups may be formed by formal and informal means, for long and short term assignments, respectively. Retention and achievement both improved as cooperative learning was integrated into the learning environment. Cooperative learning improved social skills of both students and teachers.

I find it striking that cooperative learning is directly related to improvements in achievements, positive social relationships, and improved psychological health. Compared to individual and competitive learning, cooperative methods are shown to provide a means to emotional maturity and strong personal identity. Students also realize people like and accept them, they contribute to their own and others’ success, and they develop a self-perception in a realistic way.


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Interdependence

Holding yourself accountable for the work required to learn material is a personal challenge I’m facing with this class. We are faced with a varying array of teaching methods and techniques, both in an effort to teach us material, but also to demonstrate these techniques in raw form. We are folding education inside out by studying positive interdependence and individual accountability.

Positive interdependence is an umbrella of nine types of independence structures. Of these, positive goal interdependence is required. The group must have a unified goal statement to work towards. Of the remaining, my favourites are role, identity, and celebration/reward. I like positive role interdependence because it gives each person a distinct purpose in the group. There’s no question what each person should do. With positive identity interdependence, I like how the team gains a unique identity. Positive celebration interdependence rewards the team for accomplishing a team goal. I did not like outside enemy interdependence because I do not like competition in general. Fantasy interdependence seems tailored more towards youth and younger ages. Task, resource, and environmental interdependence rounds out the remaining types.


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Social Skills

Social skills must be ingrained in the lesson plans. There are four steps to social skill mastery: awkward, phony, mechanical, integrated. This reminded me of a chart I saw back in early 2000s: unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, unconsciously competent, and consciously competent. In other words, (1) you don’t know what you don’t know, (2) you know what you don’t know, (3) you don’t know what you know, and (4) you know what you know. It’s with practice and continued feedback that I will master this topic!

One of my informal group partners came up with a great chart for the Four F’s of cooperative skills: formation, function, formulate, and ferment. Formation is the early organization into the group. Function is the action of being in a group, such as sharing and asking questions. When you formulate, you reiterate, summarize, and elaborate. Finally, you ferment when you integrate ideas and ask further questions. There is a progression of teaching social skills: Educate, Practice, and Refine/Reflect.

This resulted in a discussion with Roger about what you know inside (how I feel), what you know (I know what strawberries taste like), what you know about (I know about weather, but I’m not a weather expert), and what you don’t know about (I don’t know about the French language). It is with practice and continued feedback that I will master this class!


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Observing and Assessment

A teacher has a lot to do for class: make a lesson plan, instruct to that plan, manage 30 billion student relationships, ensure those students are building solid relationships, and that students are learning the material. This class session, we observed, assessed, and processed the group dynamic of class. It seems pretty straight forward, and I don’t have a lot of questions about the steps involved. It seems observing comes with practice, perhaps newer teachers can start with formal observing techniques, whereas experienced instructors can informally observe quite easily. We didn’t discuss the taxing nature of observation, but identified it as an important aspect of teaching.

I need to read more about assessment. It was the other half of my jigsaw puzzle during our class session, so it didn’t stick as well as the processing section I covered. I also need to reread much of the material before May 2. There’s been so much covered in such a condensed period of time, I’m a little overwhelmed by the material. But I shall persevere. I’ve enjoyed this class, it was taught well, and the curriculum is presented clearly.


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Long-range Plan for Cooperative Learning

This long-range plan entails a different approach to cooperative learning implementation because I am not a teacher. Cooperative Learning was taken as an elective for my Master of Education in Youth Development Leadership. When people discover I am pursuing an M.Ed., I am often asked what I’m going to teach. I’m not. It just so happens my M.Ed. program is in the School of Social Work. However, I’m not going after a social worker license, either. It is a unique program that understands the role education has on a young person’s development, but explores the social, emotional, cultural, and intellectual development that the youth experiences as well.

Before I talk about future plans, I want to review my past. I believe you won’t know where you are going until you know where you have been. My best memories of early education were during an outdoor, summer education program at Trollwood Performing Arts School. For two months each summer, we learned and played the performing arts in an outdoor environment. Theatre is a cooperative experience by nature; you learn to perform together, encourage each other, and celebrate together. If done correctly, the orchestra members feel as important as the actors, which the audience perceives as the center of the performance. When produced properly, the make-up crew creates a seamless integration with hair and costumes, lighting compliments the designs of the set and costume crew, and the people in black (the backstage crew) execute a flawless performance without being seen by the audience.

In the context of youth development, then, cooperative learning entails applying the individual’s learning ability to the development of social skills and team building.

My approach to Youth Development Leadership differs than many others in the YDL program. While many are youth workers, or will work in some aspect directly with youth, my involvement is as back-office, administrative support personnel. By understanding the YDL theories in use by the frontline workers, I can work with them more intimately, and find better solutions to the struggles and problems they encounter on a daily basis.

I am also bringing a great deal of technical skill and knowledge to the playing field. I know best practices, rules and regulations, and tricks of the trade from years of involvement in the tech industry. One person cannot know it all, but by working together, you can know most of it. And, as I’ve learned in my Cooperative Learning studies, you can teach others what you know, while learning what others know. When done effectively, all parties gain the full wealth of knowledge in the given subject.

In one of my YDL classes, we wrote a paper defining our own theory of youth development. Part of my theory was the explanation that we are always learning, even as we are teaching others to learn. In my Experiential Learning class, I coined this phrase: In this time of learning, I have learned to learn from the learner, and learn what the learner is learning. Ultimately, you need to ensure that the learner is learning the subject in the way you intend to teach it. Effective education ensures that the subject is learned, and the learner comprehends the teacher’s intent.

And so, my long-term plan for Cooperative Learning is to ensure the policies, procedures, and practices of the organizations and institutions I work with encourage cooperation at all levels, be it as teacher/learner, youth worker/support staff, or youth/administration. Not only is youth education at stake, but so is professional development and team success. While I am not a teacher or direct youth worker, it is important for me to understand and promote these practices in the environment provided to youth.

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