Kagan Cooperative Learning Chapter 1

Grading, Rewards


How do we grade group work?


We don’t. I have argued repeatedly that cooperative learning is for learning, not for grading.3,4,5 Although others in the field of cooperative learning have argued that it is legitimate to give individual grades based on group projects, we disagree. For example, David and Roger Johnson.6 advocate the use of group grades based on group projects. They give as a template a course in which 400 of the 1,000 points possible in a course are based on group projects. This to us seems blatantly unfair because two students with exactly the same ability and motivation, one assigned to work with weak teammates and the other who happens to have strong teammates, may receive different course grades. There are many other reasons we feel grades should be based only on individual work. This is not to say that students should not receive feedback on the work they do in groups. Feedback from the teacher, teammates, classmates, and self-evaluation is very productive. But course grades should be a reflection of what a student does, not partially a reflection of what other students do or don’t do. See Chapter 16: Assessment & Grading.

We don't grade work! I have argued repeatedly that cooperative learning is for learning, not grading.


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?

Not all rewards and not all ways of giving rewards erode intrinsic motivation. Imagine for a moment you love scrapbooking. Just as you are proudly completing a page, a friend walks by and says, “That’s beautiful.” Are you now less motivated to scrapbook? Of course not! You know you scrapbook for the pleasure of it, and the praise did not make scrapbooking less pleasurable—it actually made it more pleasurable and you felt even more competent at scrapbooking. You will eagerly continue to scrapbook not for praise, but because you find scrapbooking intrinsically motivating. On the other hand, if someone hired you, telling you they would pay you $20 for each scrapbook page you completed, and you began making pages under those conditions, after a while you might say to yourself, “I am doing these pages for the money.” Your intrinsic motivation would be eroded—you knew you did scrapbook pages for a fee, not for pleasure. If the fee were then taken away, you would be less motivated to scrapbook.

What is the difference in the two scenarios? In the first scenario you received an unexpected intangible reward (praise); in the second scenario you received an expected tangible reward ($20). Research clearly supports different outcomes for those different types of rewards: Whereas expected tangible rewards (tokens, prizes) often erode intrinsic motivation, unexpected, intangible rewards (praise) usually enhance intrinsic motivation. In designing the Kagan Structures, we have been careful not to offer tangible rewards for doing tasks; we include praise and celebrations, which enhance rather than erode motivation.7

We have intentionally designed many of the cooperative learning structures to include praise and celebrations because of the numerous positive benefits they hold for our students and our class. Not only do students feel more competent when they receive positive feedback, we harness powerful social forces when students praise each other and celebrate successes. Think about the last time you were complimented. How did you feel about yourself? How did you feel about the person who gave you the compliment? We boost students’ self-esteem and liking for others by including praise and celebrations in our team learning structures. We create a more positive learning environment; students feel more secure, are more likely to participate, and more willing to take risks. We develop in students the habit of mind of looking for good in others. We transform classroom norms. Instead of being ridiculed as a know-it-all or worse, students are appreciated for their knowledge and skills.

Brain LinkRecent brain research corroborates the argument for inclusion of frequent praise and celebrations in the classroom. James McGaugh,8 perhaps the world’s leading expert in memory research, elaborates the principle of retrograde memory enhancement. What he and his co-workers have established is that emotion is a signal to the brain, “This is worth remembering!” Thus when we teach in ways that generate emotion in our students, our lessons are better remembered. If they praise each other after solving a problem, the solution is better cemented into memory. We deal with the issue of rewards and motivation in depth. See Chapter 16: Motivation Without Rewards & Competition.