Teach a man to fish? Cooperative learning technique of the month - Mr T Beattie

There is an old familiar proverb that is attributed to the Navajo tribe which says 'Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime'. I think we can draw quite a large parallel with this quote and coop learning techniques in the classroom. Specifically when it comes to adopting a structural approach to coop learning, rather than an activity based approach.

With regards to the difference between a structural and an activity based approach to coop learning, Spencer Kagan (world renowned professor of psychology, of education and creator of the timed 'think-pair-share') puts it more eloquently than I ever could. Kagan says 'teachers can design many excellent co-operative activities such as making a team mural or a quilt. Such activities almost always have a specific content bound objective and, thus, cannot be used to deliver a range of academic content. In contrast structures may be used repeatedly with almost any subject matter, at a wide range of grade levels, and at various points in a lesson plan.'

So the way I see it, the cooperative activity is giving the man a fish and the cooperative structure is teaching a man to fish.

To highlight this further, Kagan continues 'if a teacher new to co-operative learning learns five activities, he or she might well report back after a week, 'those worked well, but what should I do next week'. If, instead, the teacher learns 5 structures, he or she could meaningfully include co-operative learning in lessons all year to further the academic progress of students in any subject matter.

So, the conclusion is pretty straightforward. The most effective use of our time when trying to embed cooperative learning is to go for a structure based rather than an activity based approach. I am going to spend the foreseeable future sharing one structure a month and we can have a go at using it in our classrooms. Hopefully it will be useful in trying to embed the discipline. Maybe you already use or have mastered the technique. If so, share with me and others how you use it successfully! As the great man Kagan says 'Whereas it can be quite overwhelming for teachers to master 'cooperative learning', it is a relatively easy task to master one structure at a time.'

REMEMBER THIS ONE THING - There are such a variety of structures in cooperative learning because they have different domains of usefulness. Quite simply this means that depending on the learning you want to accomplish in the class, whether that be problem solving, checking for knowledge or memorizing facts, some structures are better than others for that learning.

Coop learning structure one - Numbered heads together

Numbered heads together is used to review or check for knowledge. I have started with this one because hopefully it will be useful for everyone. Teach something, anything you like, the way you normally would. Then simply drop this in to check for knowledge. You could use it as an introduction and test for recall from a previous lesson. Not only is it cooperative, it is also a great method of formative assessment. two for the price of one...

The basic idea is that the teacher asks a question. Students consult to make sure everyone knows the answer - then one pupil from the group is chosen at random to feedback the answer.

So in easy steps...

  1. Form a group, ideally between 2 and 6, make sure they give each other numbers from 1 to how ever many is in the group.
  2. Pose a question - ideally set the question or problem with a time limit or use a timer on the board. This works well with open and closed questions.
  3. Heads together - the pupils start to discuss the answer, everyone must know the answer that the group has come up with. Tell the pupils that you will pick a number at random from each group to feedback the response from the group. Everyone is accountable for the success of the group, no one can hide.
  4. Call a number - Everyone with the number called from each group must give their group's answer.
  5. Repeat with another question.

For point 3 you could give each member of the group a role, timer (to remind the group how much time is remaining), checker (responsible for making sure everyone has the right answer) etc.

Earlier I misspelt the word technique, I added an a. It became teachnique. I thought to myself, what a wonderful term for a teaching technique. I am going to try and make this cheddar stick with a hashtag, from now on these teaching techniques will be known as #teachniques.
#teachnique...pure cheese

I hope this has been useful, please let me know if it has by email to ddtbeattie520@glow.sch.uk. If you are already using techniques like this in similar ways also get in touch.


Created with images by Tumisu - "team building work" • Robin Leltz - "Fisherman" • TeroVesalainen - "checklist check list" • lipefontes0 - "cheese breakfast food cheese cheese cheese cheese"

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