Cooperative Learning has been recommended and mandated as the most useful teaching and learning method by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training in Tanzania. Perhaps, operating in consistence with the challenges of learner-centred education, the ministry came out with the Teacher Education Programme (TEP) as a professional support to college tutors. Most instructors of teachers colleges in Tanzania have taken the TEP which emphasizes the learner- centred ideology; a paradigm shift away from the traditional teacher-centred education. Capitalizing on quantitative and qualitatative data, this paper makes a critical reflection on the learning experiences through cooperative teaching methods in Tanzania primary schools. The paper is divided into five parts. The first part examines cooperative learning as a learner- centred activity. The second part explores both the roles of teachers and students in a cooperative teaching and learning setting. The third part highlights the measured learning effects through cooperative teaching methods. The fourth part is the author‟s reflections on his learning experiences through Cooperative Learning and Teaching Methods. The fifth part is a conclusion of the paper.
Cooperative Learning: a learner-centred activity
It was Vygotsky who first approached the idea of cooperative learning as an important tool in developing a child‟s cognitive process. According to Santrock (2004), Vygotsky‟s idea of knowledge is that “it is not generated from within the individual but rather is constructed through interaction with other people and objects in the culture.” The idea of cooperative learning stems from the works of Lev Vygotsky, but what is exactly Cooperative learning? Cooperative learning is the learning process done in a setting where children help each other in understanding and internalizing subjects in a way that learning can help in an easier way, and in a child‟s own terms (Webb, Troper, & Fall 1995). (Peer discourse provides speakers with an opportunity to integrate their ideas while speaking, and listeners may receive new information that helps them construct new ideas.” (Chin, O‟Donnell & Jinks 2000) Also, according to Blumenfeld et al. (1996), Cooperative learning works when “successful groups promote (a) student exchanges that enhance reasoning and higher-order thinking; (b) cognitive processing such as rehearsing, organizing, and integrating information; (c) perspective-taking and accommodation to others‟ ideas; and (d) acceptance and encouragement among those involved with the work.”
It is important to notice that it is not any interaction that will provide a positive cooperative learning experience. On the contrary, cooperative activities must be well organized, and supervised by a teacher who is aware of how to work with the cooperative perspective. Indeed, “learning from peers in cooperative or collaborative groups is complex and difficult to achieve.” (Blemenfeld et al. 1996). The more organized the setting are, the better is the outcome from such experience. Children are supposed to discuss the issues presented in an organized way, verbalizing as such as possible. Another point important in discussing and verbalizing, as a way to positively implement cooperative learning is the fact that “giving explanations is extremely beneficial to students … The quality of explanations given by an individual during group interaction is predictive of outcomes from that interaction.” (Chinn, O‟Donnell & Jinks, 2000). However, these explanations should occur in the right moment, serving as a crucial tool in understanding. The child who gives explanation should do so in a way it is pertinent to the subject, and also in a lingo that can be understood by peers. (Webb, Troper & Fall, 1995).
Roles of a teacher and Students in Cooperative Learning and Teaching
Giving ideas or new results to the task enables a child to think in an organized manner, and allows other students to understand matters in their own way, reflect on what was said, and put that in the subject‟s perspective in order to finish the activity in a positive way. “One important and robust finding is that giving explanations is extremely beneficial to students. (Also,) the quality of explanations given by an individual during group interaction is predictive of outcomes from that interaction.” (Chinn, O‟Donnell & Jinks, 2000).
In order for discussion between students to happen, it is important to have a mediator who is for the implementation of cooperative activities. Here where the teacher‟s role becomes crucial in successfully implementing cooperative activities in the classroom. First of all, it is necessary for teacher to not only be interested in the cooperative approach, but also to be well aware on how to put it in practice. Welch (1998) views cooperative approach as a collaborative activity and contends that:
Teacher education programs must consider developing courses and field experiences that introduce principles of collaboration … Teacher education programs must provide a foundation for collaboration, including exploration of various theoretical constructs and definitions of collaboration. This exploration should encompass a variety of disciplinary perspective, including systems/organizational theory and sociological concepts.
It is important that teachers come prepared to class when using cooperative approach or activities. One of the problems teachers might encounter is the fact that, since cooperative activities demand extra attention, they might fall behind with the curriculum, and this is a concern of most teachers. Another problem can be in what concerns in putting extra effort in succeeding with the cooperative method, once it needs constant attention. (Nath, Ross & Smith, 1996).
Once the teachers are in the classroom environment, and want to use cooperative activities, it is necessary that the teacher works as a mediator and a facilitator in creating the best environment for the method. First of all, the teacher must separate the class in groups, and within this group, he or she must allocate students who will not overcome one another while in the activity. Therefore, groups should be assigned with students of both genders, different ethnicities, and also based on their cognitive skills. (Sapon-Shevin & Schniedewind, 2001). According to Nath and Ross (2001), “students with higher reading assessment scores were coupled with students having lower reading assessment scores.” Indeed, “learning from peers in cooperative or collaborative groups is complex and difficult to achieve.” (Blumenfeld etal. 1996) and it is up to the teacher to make sure that students will be able to get as much information as possible from others students within their groups.
Another important task for a teacher is to inform students on what concerns a cooperative activity. (Research has shown that teaching students how to elaborate or reason, for example by teaching „ground rules‟ for cooperation, can have a positive effect on peer interaction in cooperative activities.” (Staarman & Krol, 2005). In preparing students to perform in cooperative activities, teachers are working on the betterment of the activity. With more defined paths to follow, the definition on the roles of students becomes easier as well.
By enabling students to experience cooperatively structured learning in a cooperative classroom, teacher provides them the experimental knowledge that democracy, care for others, shared power, respect for diversity, collective success, and positive interdependence are viable, valuable, and meaningful ways to live together. Sapon-Shevin & Schniedewind, 2001).
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- University of Dodoma – College of Education