Frequent Questions

(Excerpt from the Kagan Cooperative Learning™ Book)
Dr. Spencer Kagan and Miguel Kagan


It has been over twenty-five years since I wrote the first version of this chapter. At that time, overwhelming empirical evidence favoring cooperative learning had been collected and most educators had stopped asking if cooperative learning worked—they were asking how to make cooperative learning work. Nevertheless, many were still skeptical or resistant. The questions educators were posing were of three types: practical, philosophical, and veiled resistance. Practical: How often should cooperative learning be used? Philosophical: Would the shift to cooperative learning prepare students for a competitive world? Veiled Resistance: Won’t cooperative learning create management problems?

Each year our company provides cooperative learning workshops to tens of thousands of teachers in many countries. When we poll our trainers to find which questions are most frequently asked today, remarkably, in various forms many of the same questions are asked today as were asked twenty-five years ago. So there remains the need to respond. In addition to the old questions, however, new questions are being asked. Differentiated Instruction and Multiple Intelligences have emerged, and educators want to know how cooperative learning aligns with those approaches. There is intense pressure to boost test scores, so today some of the most frequently asked questions focus on testing, evaluation, assessment, and grading.

Thus we begin this new edition of Cooperative Learning with answers to questions new and old. The questions remain a mix of practical and philosophical concerns, as well as questions springing from resistance to making the radical shift into cooperative learning. Admittedly, the shift to cooperative learning is a radical shift, so the intelligent educator should be asking many questions.

 

From Traditional to Cooperative Learning
From... To...
“A good class is a quiet class.” “Learning involves healthy noise.”
“Keep your eyes on your paper.” “Help your partner solve it.”
“Sit quietly.” “Get up and look what others did.”
“Talking is cheating.” “Verbalize to learn.”

This chapter is not designed to be read straight through. Rather it was written and organized to help you easily find responses to the questions that interest or concern you. Most responses include references to other chapters that address the issue in greater detail. We hope you find our answers helpful in your ongoing reflection process.

The Questions at a Glance




Boost Achievement
1

There is pressure to boost achievement. How does cooperative learning align with direct instruction and the need to boost test scores?

2

There is a lot of pressure to cover the curriculum. How can I cover the curriculum if I allow time for student discussions, teambuilding, classbuilding, and even silly sport energizers?

3

In our school, we can only use innovations with a scientific research base. Does cooperative learning have a scientific research base?





Lesson Planning
4

Doesn’t preparation of cooperative learning lessons take too long? If I have to plan complex cooperative lessons, I will have to spend my days teaching and my nights planning.

5

Where does cooperative learning fit into my
lesson plan?

6

How often should I use cooperative learning?





Management
7

My classroom furniture cannot be rearranged. How can I possibly do cooperative learning?

8

With students all interacting at once, won’t noise escalate? Will my class get out of control?

9

Do students sit in teams all class period?

10

What do I do with students who are frequently absent or frequently pulled out?





Grading, Rewards
11

How do we grade group work?

12

Some people advocate elimination of rewards because they erode intrinsic motivation, yet your cooperative learning structures include praising and celebrations. How can this be reconciled?





Difficult Students

13

Some students refuse to work with others
or can’t work with others. What should I
do with them?

14

Some of my students are window watchers. They don’t like school. They don’t even work alone. How can I get them to work in teams?





Different Learners
15

Kindergarten students are egocentric. Can cooperative learning work with kindergarten students?

16

I teach gifted students (or have some gifted students in my class). Is cooperative learning appropriate for gifted students?

17

I have special education students in my regular classroom. What do I do with them during cooperative learning?





Multiple Intelligences,
Differentiated Instruction
18

Doesn’t frequent use of cooperative learning counter the need for differentiated instruction? If I have some students in my class several grade levels above others, how does it make sense to have them on the same team and doing the same work?

19

Doesn’t frequent use of cooperative learning counter multiple intelligences theory? Some students are
interpersonal/social; others are not. Shouldn’t we teach students using their strengths? Shouldn’t we teach different students differently?





Possible Adverse Effects
20

If I call on a student, I hear that student’s answer. I can check for understanding and offer correction if necessary. If students are all talking in pairs or teams at once, how can I check for understanding and offer corrective feedback? Won’t wrong answers be shared?

21

Are high achievers slowed down because they are stuck working with low achievers? Aren’t we just using high achievers to help the low achievers?

22

Don’t group projects really mean extra work for some and a free ride for others?

23

Students don’t know the curriculum nearly as well as the teacher. Isn’t cooperative learning the blind leading the blind?

24

If a group has to make a decision or one presentation, doesn’t that mean students have to become conformist or give up their individuality?

25

Aren’t cooperative learning structures too rigid? Are they behaviorist manipulations? What about the need for students to construct knowledge?

26

Isn’t it wrong to teach using cooperative learning when we must prepare students for a competitive world?

27

What will happen to students who become dependent on cooperative learning when they enter higher education where cooperative learning is not used? Isn’t cooperative learning too childish for my high school students? Shouldn’t I prepare them for the rigors of the predominantly lecture-based university system?





Why Cooperative Learning?
Why Kagan?
28

I use direct instruction and it works very well. Why should I shift to cooperative learning?

29

Aren’t there different ways to do cooperative learning? What’s so special about Kagan Cooperative Learning?





How Do I Get Started,
Convince Others?
30

Since I have been using Kagan Structures, my whole attitude toward teaching has changed. Students are achieving more and liking school more. I used to look forward to retirement, but now I look forward to teaching. Every teacher should know about and use these methods. How can I convince others to use cooperative learning?

31

I have seen the evidence, and I’m committed to trying cooperative learning structures. How do I get started?