Isolation vs. Integration: The Pros and Cons of Cooperative Learning

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Teamwork is a remarkable thing in that it is both voluntary (i.e. joining the local softball team), and involuntary to the point of being second nature (i.e. holding the door open for a friend or stranger). The introduction of group work in a classroom setting, however, often feels like an imposition rather than an opportunity. To me, it is as if saying the word “teamwork” out loud strips it of its organic magic. A lot of the time, working in groups with my classmates has proven to be a disaster as predicted, but I will admit to those exceptional instances wherein coming together as a team has resulted in a lot more positive outcomes than just the successful completion of an assignment. I believe that, to make cooperative learning a success, it takes a lot of careful planning, follow-through, and open-mindedness on the part of both the teacher and the students.

In their article “Making Cooperative Learning Work,” Johnson and Johnson suggest that one of the cons of cooperative learning is that it is rarely effectively facilitated. The article points out that, “seating people together and calling them a cooperative group does not make them one” (Johnson and Johnson 68). When students are simply told to find a group and work in it, individual accountability goes out the window. Some, when left to their own devices, are perfectly capable of achieving the task at hand. Unfortunately, that leaves room for those with a lack of motivation to either fly under the radar, or exploit the hard work of their classmates by riding their coattails to a decent grade (Johnson and Johnson 68).

The cons of cooperative learning, however, cannot be pinned exclusively on the negligence of an inept instructor. I believe that the brunt of the hard work it takes to make cooperation a success is in the hands of the students and their willingness to collaborate with multiple intelligences. The five “basic elements of cooperation” detailed by Johnson and Johnson, seem like entirely logical and indicative necessities of a healthy cooperative environment. However, I understand that they may not come easily for everyone. Three of these elements address what needs to be present on an individual level: social skills, positive interdependence, and individual accountability. The final two are the essential group applications of face-to-face promotive interaction, and group processing (Johnson and Johnson 70-71). If students are incapable of or unwilling to practice these concepts, working in groups will only hinder the performance of those who do want to participate.

That being said, when these five basic elements are effectively promoted and earnestly applied, I’ve found that the benefits of cooperative learning far outweigh the cons. Working as a team can boost both the quantity and quality of productivity. Being able to verbalize my ideas to a group and to internalize the ideas of others, boosts my level of conceptual thinking substantially higher. The gratification of working effectively with others – the sense of camaraderie it brings about – cannot be compared to working alone.

Camaraderie is perhaps the greatest and most important reward of cooperative learning. Even if I have been placed in a student grouping with someone whom I have greater knowledge and ability, if we are able to exercise the basic elements of cooperation, the thrill of achievement is enough to create at least a temporary bond. For me, bonding with others over mutual success has translated into higher self-confidence, empathy, and acceptance. While cooperative learning may have to be facilitated, as opposed to other forms of teamwork that occur voluntarily or organically, there can still be a whole lot of magic if we’re willing to let it happen.

Work Cited

Johnson, David W., and Roger T. Johnson. "Making Cooperative Learning Work." Theory Into Practice, vol. 38 no. 2, 1999, pp. 67-73. JSTOR. Web. 15 Oct. 2013