2 Simple Steps For More Effective Cooperative Effort

Group work is a phrase that, when uttered, often makes administrators cringe.  They picture students lazily hovered around a collective space completely disengaged, copying from each other, chatting, while the instructor barricades themself behind the comfortable confines of their desk.

This is a shame because cooperative effort is fantastic way to educate students and has overwhelming positive implications outside the classroom (social, emotional, etc. ).

Good meta for starters here.

However, cooperative learning is only effective if implemented correctly.

In an age of ever-growing communicative isolation- think technology- students need to be taught HOW to interact within a group.

Where is one to start?

MIT addressed a similar question about cooperative efforts and the resulting collective intelligence.   They wanted to identify the characteristics of successful groups and uncover the collective components present in groups with synergy.

Synergy is a whole system that is "greater" than the sum of its parts.

MIT wanted to tease out the characteristics that made groups of people working together better than individuals working independently.

They found three common characteristics for high performing groups:
-each group had a high level of social sensitivity (empathy)
-each group had an equal distribution of contribution (group members let others speak)
-each group had a high number of females

This article addresses the first two characteristics, empathy and conversational turn-taking, and how to teach them to your students.

The goal is to synergize your students' collective efforts.

Collective intelligence in groups increased when the members exhibited high levels of social sensitivity.

Social sensitivity means that you are perceptive of your group members feelings' and you use that information to navigate the social landscape.  The concept of empathy is a more recognizable term and is closely related to social sensitivity.

People who are empathetic are good listeners.  People that are empathetic are good group members because they are good listeners.

Teach your students to actively listen: nod their heads, including small verbal cues ("uh huh") etc.

Also, teach your students to verbally indicate that they have been listening to their group members. Try this:

Have the students repeat statements by adding "so" in front of each one.

For example:
Student 1: "I think that this a cold front because precipitation is occurring at the front."
Student 2: "So because precipitation is concurring at the front, you believe it to be a cold front, I agree."

"So" is an underutilized listening tool.  Though you are simply repeating what the other said, adding "so" indicates that you heard and digested their point of view.  It is very powerful.

More on the skill of listening from this TED talk.

Collective intelligence in groups increased when there was equality in the distribution of conversation.

In other words, they took turns speaking.

It is difficult to teach letting others express their thoughts and ideas.  But you can remind your students that with four members in each group, there should be at least four ideas presented for each issue on the table.

As your students work to solve the problems in their cooperative settings, it is crucial for you to circulate and encourage participation from each member of the group.

For example:

"Brian, we haven't heard from you yet, what do you think?"


"Jeremy, thank you for expressing your ideas, lets let someone else explain what what think."

It is dangerous for an educator to assume that their students know how to work collectively. Rather than discard cooperative effort and consider it to much hassle, add a lesson to your curriculum that teaches your students how to solve problems collectively.

Start basic and teach your students how to listen to one another.  Once in working together, facilitate total participation by becoming an active member of each group.

Thanks for reading.

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