Reciprocal teaching and cooperative learning are two of the best ways to have conversations about content. In the original definition of reciprocal teaching, the process is as follows: students make predictions about a part of text to be read. Once the text is read, the group’s discussion leader has the group discuss questions that have been raised. A group member then summarizes the content read thus far, and others clarify difficult concepts and make predictions about the following portion of the text. Then the process continues (Palinscsar & Brown, 1984).
My definition, however, is much simpler. Stopping during class time and having students reteach what they are learning to a student sitting nearby is time well spent! After all, we learn at least 70% of what we say as we talk about content (Ekwall & Shanker, 1988).
Very little is done in the world of work by oneself. Most jobs are done while working with a team or at the very least, a partner. What better way to help students develop those interpersonal skills that they will need in the workplace than by having them complete some tasks in class cooperatively? Remember this motto: Some of us are better than others of us, but none of us is better than all of us (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1994).
What The Research Says
Inhibiting students from talking decreases the likelihood that any new material will be processed and embedded into long-term memory (Hattie, 2009).
Cooperative learning is one major strategy for creating a culturally responsive classroom for students of poverty and color (Tileston, 2011).
Without the metacognitive process of group debriefing following a cooperative activity, there is only minimal improvement in the group’s ability to use a specific collaborative or social skill (Gregory & Parry, 2006).
Make It Happen
- When students are working with peers in small groups or talking to a partner, it is often difficult to get their attention. Create a signal and use it whenever you need students to pay attention to you. The signal can be a chime, raised hand, rain stick, chant, bell, clap, or anything soothing that would not be abrasive to the brains of your students. Change the signal periodically since student brains appreciate novelty.
- Have students work together in cooperative groups, or families, of four to six students. They may be seated in groups already or taught to pick up their desks and arrange them into groups for a cooperative-learning activity and to put them back once the activity is over. It is recommended that the groups be of mixed ability levels or capitalize on the various multiple intelligences or talents of students.
- Give each cooperative group of students the same task. Have them discuss the thought processes involved in completing the task and reach consensus as to the correct answer. Once the answer is agreed upon, have each person in the group sign the paper that the answer is written on, verifying that they agree with the answer and, if called on randomly, could explain how the solution was derived to the entire class. The individual accountability helps to ensure that one person does not do all the work while other students watch and applaud their efforts.
For more examples of instructional activities that engage students using reciprocal teaching and cooperative learning consult the 3rd edition of my best-selling book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.