The research is clear: many students learn better in groups. Students who learn in small groups generally demonstrate greater academic achievement, express more favorable attitudes toward learning, and persist through challenging courses or programs to a greater extent than their more traditionally taught counterparts.
Why is this such a surprise? According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, nearly 70 percent of us are considered Extraverted, which means we are energized by interaction with others. Yet, learning is typically structured as a quiet, individual activity. That paradigm serves some students, but so many others need a social component to learn best.
Cooperative learning, in which students work with peers in small learning groups to master academic material, consistently produces increased student achievement. According to researcher Robert Slavin, study groups are most effective when students are evaluated both on group goals and individual accountability. Group goals serve to motivate students to help each other learn by assigning a role in one another’s success. Individual accountability, on the other hand, places responsibility for personal success squarely on each student’s shoulders. Basically, when students encourage and help one another to achieve, they all achieve.
Motivation isn’t the only magic at work in group study. As Seneca said, “While we teach, we learn.” Students who teach, or even just prepare to teach, others learn better as well.
What kinds of students work best together? One would think that students with similar backgrounds and levels of understanding should study together, but again, the research surprises us. Much of the research into cooperative learning supports heterogeneous grouping, placing students with diverse backgrounds and varying ability together. Heterogeneous grouping creates more opportunities for students to teach each other, which reinforces learning for everyone.
Do you agree that group learning can make a difference on the road to academic mastery? If so, how are you going to implement it?
Artz, A. F., & Newman, C. M. (1990). Cooperative learning. Mathematics Teacher, 83, 448-449.
Slavin, R. (1984). “Component Building: A Strategy for Research-Based Instructional Improvement.” Elementary School Journal 84: 255-269.
Slavin, R. (1996). Education for all. Exton, PA: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers
Springer, L., Stanne, M. E. & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of Small-Group Learning on Undergraduates in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, Vol. 69, No. 1, 21-51.
Stevens, R. J., & Slavin, R. E. (1995). The cooperative elementary school: Effects on students’ achievement, attitudes, and social relations. American Educational Research Journal, 32, 321-351.