by Jay Davidson
A reader from Menlo Park, California has written with the following observation and question:
My son is in second grade. I have noticed that seating arrangements in his kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms look different from the way they looked when I was in these grades in the seventies. There is more emphasis on working together. I remember teachers saying, "Do your own work." Why the increased interest in what the teachers call "cooperative learning"?
You are correct that there is much more cooperative work in schools than during the years you were in these grades. The changes have been implemented since the late eighties. I remember taking a class in cooperative learning during the summer of 1988.
Drs. Roger and David Johnson, of the University of Minnesota, have pored over more than six hundred studies concerning the benefits of cooperation and its effect on learning. Their conclusion is that building community in school through cooperation is a vital method to counter the violence, drug abuse, gang membership, dropout rate, suicide, and alienation that many young people experience. Cooperation is a significant way to include those students who have been alienated and isolated, both in and out of schools.
In kindergarten and first grade, the most common ways that children work cooperatively is in pairs. Starting in second grade, children may work in groups of three or four.
The following tasks lend themselves to working with partners or groups:
- proofreading of writing assignments
Children read each otherís work, let each other know if it makes sense,and look for spelling and punctuation errors.
- discussing reading material
Children share what they got out of reading assignments.
- going over math facts
- comparing the way they solved math problems
This is especially important, as children understand from peers that there is more than one way to find the answers.
Research has shown that teaching another person is an effective way of learning something oneself. Therefore, this happens all the time in cooperative learning settings.
Parents should also understand that while we encourage children to learn in partnerships or groups, all assessments (tests) are done individually. This remains the place where we tell children to "keep your eyes on your own paper."
Following are some of the benefits of students working in cooperation with each other:
- Their social competence increases. This is the way for them to learn to trust others, gauge different perspectives, and become aware of the interdependence that exists among members of a group.
- Their academic achievement rises. No longer isolated at their own desks, and expected to come up with their own answers, they learn from each other in addition to learning from the teacher. (We adults must recognize that we are not the only ones with the right answers!)
- Their social support system widens. As academics and social interaction are intertwined, social circles expand. This, in turn, has a positive impact on stress management and life extension. People recover more quickly from illnesses when they know that they have people who care about them.
- They are more motivated. Understanding that others are depending on them for their own contributions, they are more willing to contribute than when they had only themselves to depend upon.
- They improve their own thinking skills. Others solve problems and approach situations differently. If they are left to their own devices, they may solve problems with the same approach time after time. However, when they are exposed to the thought processes of others, they have new ways of gathering data, forming strategies, and analyzing situations.
- Their psychological health improves. Being able to improve and maintain relationships is a skill that is carried on into later life.
- Their self-esteem is raised. They are now working in an environment with better peer relations. Because this also leads to better academic achievement (grades), they feel better about themselves.
- They are better world citizens. In working with students of different backgrounds, racial groups, and who may speak different languages at home, they learn to look beyond these superficial identifiers and move toward the common good that can be gained from working together. There is a decrease in racism and sexism as they learn to work with different others.
The 100th Day of School
by Jay Davidson
Celebrations for the 100th Day of School have become very widespread around the United States. Depending on when your child's school year began, this should be coming up within the next few weeks. I don't know how or where they got started, but it is meritorious for several reasons:
Teachers and parents can have instant access to lots of fun activities by entering "100th Day of School" into one of the Internet search engines.
- Children like big numbers, yet they don't often have a grasp of their meaning. In my class we put a penny in a jar every day of school, starting with the first day. Whenever we get ten pennies, we exchange them for a dime. On the 100th day of school, we trade the ten dimes for a dollar. In doing this, kids begin to have a sense of the meaning of the number 100. We are making a previously abstract idea both concrete and understandable.
- Many teachers assign students to bring in and display 100 items. This is a project in which family members can work together by deciding what will go to school, count them out, and find ways to display them.
- Kids begin to understand the concept of volume. After all, 100 grains of rice take up a different amount of space than 100 marbles, beads, cookies, or baseball cards.
- It's fun for kids to see the variations among the work of all their classmates.
- Once we get the items contributed by each class member, we practice counting by 100. In a class of twenty students, we reach 2,000, and now everyone has a better sense of what 2,000 means.
- Many of these activities lay the foundation for the understanding of multiplication, as children display 100 items in five rows of twenty each, ten rows of ten each, or any other such variation.
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