Activity 1

The Value of Group Work

In their well-known books on cooperative learning, Johnson and Johnson emphasise that there is considerable research evidence to suggest that cooperative group work is effective in improving attainment compared with pupils working alone, (Johnson and Johnson 1994, 1999).

"Cooperation is working together to accomplish shared goals and cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximise their own and one another's learning" (Johnson and Johnson 1990: 69).

REFLECT: How often do pupils work in groups in your own classroom? When they do work in groups, how well do they cooperate? Do they "maximise their own and one another's learning?"

Johnson and Johnson (1990) also say that cooperative learning is not:

  • having students sit side by side at the same table, talking with each other as they do individual assignments;
  • having students do a task individually, with instructions that the ones who finish first are to help the slower students;
  • assigning a task to a group, where one student does all the work and the others put their name to it. (Johnson and Johnson 1990: 77).

The philosophy of group work can easily be misunderstood. When organised well, however, cooperative approaches to learning, by requiring pupils to explain their ideas to others or to argue a point of view, can help them to fully develop their understanding of many topics.

Group work can also help pupils to learn to communicate well and work effectively in teams. Both qualities are highly valued by employers.

(Allow 20 minutes)