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Cooperative Learning Kagan

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In 1985, Dr. Spencer Kagan proposed something known as “cooperative learning,” a new strategy that would employ the use of group learning in the classroom environment. He argued that there were two principles to be understood. First, the world is naturally competitive, and in order to survive, one must be fully-supplied with the information and knowledge necessary for one’s field. With that said, his second principle was that the classroom environment should be a mixture between competitive and individualistic, with each student being able to use their unique strengths and abilities to allow themselves to excel, but to also provide instruction to their fellow classmates. Cooperative learning activities, he argued, would prepare students for the competitive and social nature of the real world.

To Kagan, cooperative learning increased academic success, builds positive relationships between students, increases one’s self-esteem and social skills, teaches students empathy, and allows them to develop a sense of responsibility. However, there are drawbacks that he identified as well. Students who have not developed social skills might find the cooperative environment challenging or unfriendly; they will need additional support in developing these basic skills that are essential to the process. A second disadvantage, but one that is easily avoided, is the use of group grades. Too often, one individual can do far less work than the other members, causing the overall grade to suffer. However, when instructors maintain an awareness of each individual’s participation and contribution, the grades can be more accurately reflective. Finally, a drawback of cooperative learning is logistics. When a single teacher has to manage multiple groups, it is difficult to determine when one has gone off track until a great deal of time has been wasted. However, classrooms with teacher’s aides or support staff can help to reduce this negative component.

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