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How to plan a unit of work in cooperative learning?

The act of using Cooperative Learning (by ensuring that the non-negotiable elements of individual accountability, positive interdependence, group process, Promotive face-to-face interaction and group goal are central to learning) goes a long way to ensuring that the students are leaning in the affective domain. However, learning outcomes in schools relate to bodies of knowledge or concepts and we need to think how those will be addressed. If we take examination Physical Education and look at a subject like physiology and a topic like the heart then we start to focus on a learning outcome. “By the end of this unit, week, lesson the students will understand the workings of the heart in line with the exam boards specifications.” But how do we achieve it?

So let’s think about group processing. This was identified in our forthcoming book as the key process in cooperative learning in physical education so what will that look like?

So what? What now? Then what?

The whole idea of group process as the key to understanding through Cooperative Learning is a new one. It makes planning a unit of work a little more difficult inasmuch as we don’t get the chance to spell everything out in full and have to be adaptable and base each lesson on the prior learning of the students. I guess that this is why planning the outcomes first is the most important thing. You will have noticed that I have yet mentioned the content of the lesson. Why? Because I believe that we have things back to front. We let the cart push the horse in physical education and make our initial decisions based on content. Activity is the key and then learning is positioned around it rather than learning being the focus.

Therefore, as a teacher, I need to think of ways to keep them accountable to their peers. This means that their actions and efforts need to be assessed some how (the exam). I could use formative assessment, summative assessment, registers, tick lists, tasks that only one person can perform but however I do it I need to ensure that no one gets a free ride. Kids don’t like it when they have to carry someone else and while they are happy to support their hard working peers they don’t want others getting credit for their actions. As they work together they will constantly be working in Promotive face-to-face situations that require a willingness to contribute to the classes learning and help one another.

Many people claim that leadership is a direct outcome of physical education and yet there is no evidence to suggest that this is actually the case. If it is an outcome then it is not deliberately planned for but is a lucky consequence of working in teams. Cooperative Learning positions collaborative work and leadership as key learning outcomes and also allows pupils to be active participants in their own learning. Confucius said “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” I firmly believe that by positioning students as doers and as experts then they do really begin to understand. 

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