Kagan Cooperative Learning Chapter 1

Different Learners


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


Early work by Jean Piaget, the famous Swiss psychologist, concluded that students could not take the role of another or experience genuine empathy until well beyond kindergarten. Later work proved students develop earlier; students are quite capable of empathy and of understanding the thoughts and feelings of others well before kindergarten. Many kindergarten teachers use cooperative learning every day with great success. One of our most important missions with our earliest learners is to foster positive socialization. Cooperative learning is an excellent vehicle for that learning because it emphasizes basic social skills (taking turns, expressing appreciation, requesting rather than grabbing) as well as skills necessary for academic success (listening, following directions, staying on task). Many structures are used successfully with early learners. Much of this book can be applied to the kindergarten classroom. We recommend also books that provide management hints and lessons to ensure success with Kagan Cooperative Learning structures at the kindergarten level.9,10,11


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


If you ask the teachers of gifted students in what areas their students are doing well, there is no question: academics. If you ask them in what areas some gifted students are struggling, there is also a definitive answer: social skills. Many gifted students are excelling academically yet struggling socially.

So when we ask if cooperative learning is appropriate for gifted students, our answer is that for many gifted students cooperative learning is the most appropriate approach possible. Why? Gifted students will do well academically no matter which approach to instruction we take. The question is, will they also do well socially? Cooperative learning improves the range of social skills, including listening, taking the perspective of others, leadership, problem solving, conflict resolution, and helping. Acquisition of these social and leadership skills will determine if gifted students will be well-rounded and whether they will assume leadership roles in their work and in their community.

Cooperative learning is also very powerful in developing higher-level thinking skills. One of the most powerful tools we have for developing higher-level thinking is the heterogeneous team. As students with different points of view interact, they challenge each other’s assumptions and bring different data to the argument. This pushes each student to a higher-level synthesis than if they worked alone. Those who advocate higher-level thinking converge on the call for cooperative learning.12

There is another question that is often asked: Should gifted students be in separate programs, or should they be integrated into regular classrooms? There is a great deal that can be said on both sides of this argument. The question of whether cooperative learning is good for gifted students, though, is a separate question than the question of whether we should have special, separate programs for the gifted. Cooperative learning is important for gifted students whether or not they are in separate programs. Most major recognized special programs for gifted students recognize the need for and include cooperative learning.13


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


Gains for special education students in cooperative learning have been well documented.14,15 Students not only improve academically, often quite dramatically, they also improve in self-esteem. Another outcome is that the attitudes of other students toward students with special needs improve as well. Special needs students are better liked when they are included as part of a team than when they are just another individual in the class. It is dramatically different for a student to be integrated into a classroom than to be integrated into a team—especially if the teammates have been coached in what to say and do to help the student feel welcomed and to meet special needs.