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Cooperative learning is the most researched educational innovations in the past century and has been the subject of over 1,000 studies (Kagan, 1995). Cooperative learning which was developed in the USA focuses on structed small group learning, positive interdependence and individual accountability which enable more access to learning. Collaborative learning (Canada) comes from a language and constructivist learning base - less emphasis on roles, more on the task and the group decides the role.

The following synopsis from the Harvard Education Letter (June 2000) establishes cooperative learning, coupled with other teaching approaches, as a desired pedagogy to influence not only academic but also social and spiritual development.

Cooperative learning redefines teaching and the role of the educator. With students working together in small groups, the teacher often functions as a facilitator, adapting his or her mode of teaching to suit the learning outcomes. Students are encouraged to discover information together and to help one another learn. The research on cooperative learning has led to agreement about two components that must be present for cooperative learning to lead to significant gains in achievement. The first key component is promoting interdependence within groups - fostering the perception among group members that they must work together to accomplish the goal.the second key component is holding students individually accountable for demonstrating their understanding of the material. While students should be expected to teach one another and learn material as a group, proving their own understanding must be done individually.

Australian research and practice in cooperative learning in the past decade in particular has led to the following summary of teamwork principles by Boyd and Dalton (1993). This articulation of the principles of cooperative learning within the Australian context is particularly valuable when used in conjunction with the research and practical strategies of researchers such as Johnson and Johnson, Kagan and other authors who are cited in the bibliography.

It is recommended that teachers use the following outline of Teamwork Principles as a guide to the effective implementation of cooperative learning in the classroom.


These Principles are integral to authentic collaboration and underpin effective professional development.


"We sink or swim together"

Involve People

  • Ask for ideas, opinions and suggestions
  • Involve people in choices and decisions that affect them
  • Help people to see the 'big picture'
  • Negotiate tasks and procedures
  • Develop team goals together


"Lets talk about it together"


  • Actively listen
  • Develop and use a shared language
  • Find creative ways of sharing information
  • Explain why things are important
  • Keep people informed - encourage people to keep themselves informed


"We each do our fair share of work"

Shared Responsibility

  • Use people's strengths to encourage task/role flexibility
  • Empower by delegating responsibility
  • Ensure that each individual is clear about their task/role and their contribution to the team


"We are not born cooperative"

Develop Teamwork Skills

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving, mediation and conflict resolution
  • Effective thinking and decision-making
  • Positive, pro-active style of working


"We need to monitor and process our experiences"

Give Recognition

  • Encourage initiative, act on people's ideas
  • Acknowledge contributions and achievements
  • Accent the positives
  • Give constructive feedback
  • Encourage individual and team reflection/evaluation


"We need to be able to both give and receive"

Build Reciprocity

  • Actively seek to learn from others
  • Take the perspective of other people
  • Can both give and receive support
  • Develop genuine partnerships with others

Taken from "All in a School's Work" - video & booklet package. Boyd & Dalton, 1993. T.E.C.S.S.A. (North) Initiative. Eleanor Curtain Pub Melbourne