Social Education 55(5) pps. 326-328
©1991 National Council for the Social Studies

Cooperative Learning:A Practical Application Strategy

Stephen A. Platte
Kirkwood High School
Kirkwood, Missouri
For any classroom teacher attempting to implement cooperative learning based on research, a sizeable amount of professional literature is available on the subject. Unfortunately, trying to absorb the literature and then selecting appropriate models for classroom use can be time-consuming. An efficient way for teachers to select models for implementation is to use the ERIC reference to find professional articles that summarize the research on three or four field-tested models, and then apply those models to several lessons throughout a school term. This process will allow a teacher to implement a few models each school term and build a repertoire over a period of years.
To illustrate such a process, I have selected articles by Robert Slavin (1988), Karen Wood (1987), and Elaine Bohlmeyer and Joy Burke (1987) that discuss three cooperative learning models. The first is a model developed by Aronson entitled "Jigsaw" because it creates a jigsaw puzzle out of the lesson objectives and requires a group of three to five persons to piece it together (Wood 1987). The second, entitled "Group Investigation," provides the entire class with the "puzzle" by dividing lesson goals between groups (Bohlmeyer and Burke 1987). The third, "Cybernetics," is designed primarily to stimulate discussion of the problems or issues generated by the students and teacher about the lesson (Wood 1987). To provide clear model comparisons, Civics for Americans (Patrick and Remy 1986), specifically chapter 27, "Global Issues," will be the focus of all three model applications.

In Jigsaw, the teacher presents the class with a topic and divides the class into groups to study it. Each group divides aspects of the topic among its members. Typically, the subject matter is exclusively informational, but ideally would be based on social studies concepts that might generate some open-ended spontaneous discussion as a result. The resource could be a handout or a chapter in the textbook from which students can glean pieces of information about the topic that they would then share in their groups to obtain a broad picture of a particular concept. In figure 1, chapter 27 is divided up into four parts using the section subdivisions designed by Patrick and Remy (1986, 501-514).

If the class is to pursue the original social goals of Aronson's Jigsaw, each group needs to have a socio-ethnic balance if possible (Wood 1987). How the teacher forms the groups may also depend on the topic and lesson objectives. A heterogeneous skill mix is vital to Jigsaw because the objectives and time allocations for each group are similar so that one group cannot move at a significantly different pace than any other. The concepts of developed and developing countries in section 2 of chapter 27, for example, require higher-level thinking skills than the specific applications of world interdependence listed in the Columbus study, so that some students in each group must be able to handle both challenges.

According to Robert Slavin (1988), research over the past ten years indicates that the model has had only marginal effectiveness in raising academic achievement. The model relies heavily on each student in each group to do the assigned homework and present that piece of the information puzzle effectively to her or his group. Providing a structured study guide and in-class time for students to prepare their individual puzzle piece is one way to address this problem. By giving students class preparation time the teacher will also be able to guide students in note-taking skills for obtaining information necessary to meet lesson objectives.

Evaluation can take a variety of forms, but will generally reflect student acquisition of information on the topic of study. Each student shares his or her puzzle piece with the rest of the group members, answers whatever questions arise, and passes on unanswered follow-up questions to the class for discussion. After the class has thoroughly discussed the topic, the teacher may administer a quiz or use the Jigsaw process itself for evaluation. Whatever method teachers may use, experience indicates that the teacher must emphasize each student's accountability.

Group Investigation
The key difference between Jigsaw and Group Investigation is the way in which the topic of study is subdivided and the groups are formed. In Group Investigation the entire class divides the "puzzle," with each group studying one specific "piece" (Bohlmeyer and Burke 1987). As illustrated in figure 2, instead of each group member studying one section from chapter 27, each group of students would do so, thus an entire group would work on the section "Our Shrinking World" and decide on the most thorough and accurate answers to the lesson objectives. This method of study means that Group Investigation has several advantages over Jigsaw. Groups can be formed in a greater variety of ways because heterogeneous skill grouping is not as vital and students have a great deal of freedom in forming their own groups (Bohlmeyer and Burke 1987). But for the study of chapter 27, it might be advantageous to form the class into groupings based on what Karen Wood (1987) refers to as "ability grouping." When the "puzzle pieces" within a topic of study require conceptual, reading, or writing abilities at a variety of levels, ability grouping allows student groups to move at their own pace and reduces student conflict that arises when one group participant is "going too fast or too slow" for the other members of the group. The more abstract reading in section 3, on the structure and functions of the United Nations, could be assigned to a group that has a strong conceptual skill ability, whereas the specific economic and cultural connections that Columbus, Ohio, has with the rest of the world could be studied by a group that can deal successfully with new information on a concrete level. Both groups would thus be stimulated at their own level and be able to make competent, significant contributions to the rest of the class. Finally, students might be evaluated in a "Teams-Games-Tournament" format in which "students of similar ability engage in face-to-face academic competition" (Bohlmeyer and Burke 1987).

Group Investigation provides other advantages over Jigsaw because its success does not depend on the conscientious preparation of every student. Assigning an entire group to investigate the United Nations improves the chances of the investigation being completed successfully. Unlike Jigsaw, which relies on each individual to be competent in his or her presentation to the group, Group Investigation requires that the group formulate a presentation, but that only a few competent spokespersons may have to make presentations to the rest of the class. The class and the teacher can readily address gaps in the information being presented because everyone is hearing the presentation of material. To increase the degree of individual accountability, teachers might employ dyads effectively to share group information in an interview format, thereby forcing each group member to be well-versed in the results of his or her group investigation. Dyadic learning features a "recaller" who orally summarizes the material, and a "listener-facilitator" who attempts to clarify the material being presented (Wood 1987).

Like Jigsaw, evaluation in Group Investigation generally emphasizes individual accountability and group goals, but because of increased emphasis on the importance of a group's expressive activities in Group Investigation, some weight may be given to group accountability. For each of the sections in chapter 27, the teacher might ask the groups to use an expressive activity to illustrate at least two of the concepts they have investigated. The global issues of pollution, weapons proliferation, and poverty would be excellent subjects for the creation of political cartoons. Group Investigation could be continued with a group portfolio of political cartoons on global issues from a variety of sources and the development of a cartoon analysis model by the class.

The Cybernetics model is suited to problem-solving objectives. Teachers provide groups with a question containing either implicit or explicit concepts to discuss. The Cybernetics model (Masztal 1986) takes four or five problems and asks each group to confront each problem on a rotating basis: "The teacher, using thought provoking questions, guides students through an active process of synthesis, analysis, and problem solving" (Wood 1987).

The teacher may write each problem or dilemma on a large piece of paper and post it in a separate area of the classroom. The problem might be in the form of a conceptual comparison or the question might call on the group to formulate and share opinions on an issue. In section 2 of chapter 27, Patrick and Remy (1986, 506) discuss the issue of world hunger and pose the question: "Should we [in times of bad harvests] keep giving food to our allies and selling it to other nations or should we cut back on our food aid to keep prices down at home? What about poor nations that cannot pay for food but need it desperately?" As illustrated in figure 3, each group moves from question to question, gathers around the paper, discusses the problem, and has a group recorder note the group's responses (Wood 1987).

Teachers can use Cybernetics to develop student-centered concepts in what Elliot Eisner (1985) calls a "spider web" modality that emphasizes a variety of possible expressive outcomes. The basic assumption is that although the teacher may "guide" students, the process of synthesis by definition creates a plurality of outcomes. According to Masztal's plan, to achieve this synthesis students will progress through four processing phases. In the "preplanning phase" the actual questions or problems are generated. During the "response generating phase" students try to stimulate group discussion and record the essence of that discussion. In the "data synthesizing phase," each group returns to its starting place and summarizes the list of group responses. In the "final presentation phase" the group presents to the class their summary for whole class discussion (Wood 1987).

Cybernetics groupings should be heterogeneous in a variety of ways so that a diversity of talents and perspectives are available in every group. Because a Cybernetics activity will result in expressive activities and outcomes, one student's specific academic skill handicap may be in many cases an irrelevant factor in the group dynamics that result.

Bohlmeyer, Elaine, and Joy Burke. "Selecting Cooperative Learning Techniques: A Consultative Guide." School Psychology Review 16, no. 1 (1987): 36-49.Eisner, Elliot. The Educational Imagination. New York: Macmillan Co., 1985.Patrick, J. J., and Richard C. Remy. Civics for Americans. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1986.Slavin, Robert. "Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement." Educational Leadership 46, no. 10 (1988): 31-33.Wood, Karen. "Fostering Cooperative Learning in Middle and Secondary Level Classrooms." Journal of Reading 31, no. 2 (1987): 10-19.