Collaborative Learning in Academic Activities

Introduction

Robert Slavin is recognized in the system of education in the United States of America for his major contribution. In his work, he stressed the importance of collaborative learning as an approach to education that has reduced high levels of competition in the country and as a result, affected education standards in the country. Individual learning could have taken the country to a bad state because average and low achievers would receive no assistance (Slavin 1996, p. 30).

Collaborative learning is an approach applied in educational institutions to help students join hands in academic work to arrive at a common goal. The participants work together to assist each other in matters pertaining to education. Studies conducted have shown that the approach is beneficial, particularly to disabled students. The method enhances academic achievement as well as improved interaction between students. The approach is based on the assumption that students have diverse thinking, and therefore children learn valuable things from each other. It has been discovered that students perform better when they work in groups because they do not forget easily what they learn from their fellow students.

The approach uses methods like group investigation, Jigsaw II and, student team achievement divisions to achieve its goals. The method has been found to be a successful method of achieving academic goals in the United States and the rest of the world. Maximum utilization of the approach brings positive changes, even though this may not always be the case.

Robert Slavin is among recognized individuals in the United States who have contributed toward academic excellence. He went through his studies in Reed College, where he attained his degree of Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 1972. Later in 1975, he graduated from John Hopkins University after he pursued his PhD in Socials Reforms. He is currently the director in the Centre for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) at John Hopkins University located in Maryland in the United States of America. Slavin founded a non-profit making organization in the United States of America and England known as Success for All Foundation that develops and runs programs in poverty-stricken schools in the region. He is in charge of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) in England in the University of York, which is an international learning institution whose aim is to come up with quality educational practices and policies for the benefit of the youth (Slavin & Maden 2001, p.13).

Most of his works are written down in books and articles with such books being cooperative learning: theory, research and practice, preventing early school failure and every child, every school: success for all. His works have inspired students and teachers as well as guided them on how to make academic issues a success in schools. This includes general performance in schools as well as individual excellence. Education is an important tool toward the economic development of a country and therefore, an issue of major concern. Slavin and Maden (2001, p.116) note that education is the key to better standards of living. Educational institutions should ensure that policies used in the administration of schools lead to improvement of the quality of education provided in schools that in turn, will contribute to good performance. Methods used by teachers determine the performance of students. The works of Slavin act as a guide to teachers on how to conduct their teaching. Collaborative learning occurs when the faculty and students work together to gain knowledge and consequently improving their reasoning and skills to improve their living standards (Matthews1996, p. 35).

Collaborative learning is the concept of grouping and pairing of students with the aim of achieving a certain goal. It is a method used to instruct learners to work together toward a common goal. It involves the exchanging of ideas and sharing opinion in order to promote critical thinking of group members. Additionally, the involvement of members in collaborative learning achieves a higher level of understanding and retention of information for a long period than students who learn alone in class.

Establishment of Divisions for Student Achievement in Teams

This approach requires that students in a particular class be divided into groups of four or five members. During grouping, the teacher should ensure that the group is a mixture of low, average and high achievers. Members should come from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to avoid any form of discrimination. The group should have representatives from both sexes. The teacher should then introduce academic materials that the group should handle.

Slavin (1996, p. 201) states that discussions, tutorials and quizzing each other are some of the methods applied by students to help each other in understanding the concepts. Individuals in the group should answers questions based on the materials they have been studying in the group to make sure they understand. Materials are studied until all members have a full understanding. The teacher determines the fate of the students’ improvement after getting marks of the students. In this case, improvement is based on past scores of the student rather than the total mark attained in the previous work. The teacher presents weekly newsletters showing the groups with the highest scores and students who have shown greater improvements in their work. Groups that score the highest marks are recognized as a way of motivating them to continue working hard. This is done by rewarding the best performing groups. This also encourages other groups to work harder to be recognized. Slavin recognized three kinds of rewards that are rewards given to an individual for his or her good performance in the group, the reward is given to a group for their good performance or a reward given to a group because of the good performance of one of its members.

Jigsaw II

Jigsaw II is another learning approach developed by Aronson in 1978 and was Slavin modified. According to Slavin, students in a class should be divided into groups of six after which members are given a common topic to read on. The members of the group are each given a new topic to research on and become an expert. The same applies to other groups so that six members from each group share a common topic. Experts from each group are supposed to meet and discuss the topic to the full understanding of each. Finally, members go back to their original groups and share the knowledge they have gathered on that particular topic to the group members. Each of the six members in the group teaches the rest on the topic assigned to them. Team scores are formed after individual students take the exercises with students who have excelled in different activities being made public to the rest of the students’ community through publishing their names in a weekly newsletter (Slavin 1996, p. 204).

Group Investigation

This approach eliminates competition among students. In this approach, students are supposed to work together during the collection of materials related to a particular topic. Groups are formed in which students interpret and analyze the data that each had collected. In case of disagreements, the opposing members are given a hearing on why it should be the way they think. The approach is based on the assumption that one’s success is a success for the whole group (Slavin 1999, p. 240).

Benefits of Collaborative Learning

The aim of collaborative learning is to help students develop skills that enable them to work in groups and as a consequence developing social and emotional skills as well. This has an effect of increasing the confidence of learners in sharing their knowledge. Complex ideas are presented on the table and broken down in easily understandable ideas. Collaborative learning develops higher-level thinking skills in dealing with the complex and tactical problem. Students are forced to think further and broadly and they even do some research on basic topics hence improving their learning and research skills. Because students are actively involved in contributing their ideas on the topics, they get a chance of expressing their opinion, which may be incorporated or left out in the group’s final decision. This therefore develops students’ confidence and as result increases self esteem and ways in which students improve their ways of making decisions.

Collaborative learning develops communication skills of student thereby exposing them to interaction and mingling together when exchanging ideas. Students may also get an advantage of learning new languages. Studies show that students that engage in collaborative learning have a high level of retention compared to those who study alone secretly as they can remember what they have learned in groups for a long time long. Student- teacher interaction is promoted in collaborative learning because the student can as well be the teacher and the teacher be the student and thereby promoting friendship and casting away the fear of the authoritative teacher.

Collaborative learning reduces classroom boredom, laziness and anxiety since all students are actively involved as compared to when the teacher is teaching whereby some students may be quiet and out of class mentally. Therefore, the system creates an active environment for learning. Students believing in themselves promote their ability to produce and expect excellent work. Diversity understanding is encouraged and students can work with all types of people they meet in the outside world. In the course of learning through groups, students are able to listen to the ideas presented by their peers and are therefore able to analyze them critically as well as responding to any issues raised. Students can add their opinion on issues based on their cultural differences and this in return helps the students to understand other cultures better. Because of individual differences, different students will have different opinions on responses regarding to the question asked and this will create a wide rage of perspectives and hence more comprehensive ideas. Students develop responsibility of each other because they learn to relate as they work together in groups. This helps the students who have a problem in socializing and they benefit by interacting with others. Through debate and discussion, students think critically and clarify their ideas respectively.

Challenges of Collaborative Learning

Research shows that learning in groups might be based on both gender and racism such as cases where boys do better in sciences and mathematics subjects excluding girls who might as well be potential good performers. This dominance of boys discourages female students in group participation lowering the environment of effective learning. Conflicts prevent learning in collaborative learning due to personal interest and over-domination of student who think their ideas are the best and should be given priority or be adopted. As a result, teachers should make sure that their students do not differ in resolving their problems as this will create hatred among themselves. Much of information that a group comes up with gives an individual difficulties in compiling the work if a group project is to be graded at a group level. Problems that arise when members fail to agree may cause a greater problem to the group. Where collaborative learning is a must, assembling group members at a specific time, especially distance learners is a major disadvantage of the entire group. Some individual do not feel comfortable in participating in a group because of shyness and fear of critics and this will bar the individual from benefitting from collaborative learning.

Another challenge of grouping students together is that some are fast learners and will out-do slow learners who need more time to understand and as result they may feel frustrated. On the contrary, those students that work fast will feel pulled down by slow learners. Some students think that because they are working in a group, they may keep off from participating while others may not equally contribute to the project. Additionally, students who believe in themselves as being leaders will be unhappy if their position is taken up by another member in the group. Other student may not listen nor comply with the new leader and this will make the work difficult. Collaborative learning helps in deep learning, which leads to higher grades and quality results. Sharing of ideas and reflection allow students to share and challenge other ideas and points of view. Through group work, low achieving students have been helped by high and average achievers to perform better. They make sure that such people understand so that the group performance is not affected by their poor performance. Bearing in mind that the success of an individual depends on the performance of the group, group members ensure that all of them understand fully. Slavin has helped in the improvement of the general performance of the students nationwide. The capacity of thinking differs from one student to another (Constas & Sternberg 2006, p.312)

According to Borman, Stringfield and Slavin (2001, p. 40), working in groups helps students to learn from each other. If people were to continue being competitive in the U.S., few people would be excelling in studies. This is because students will not like to share what they know with other students for fear that they will be their academic rivals. Student’s attitudes toward the disabled have changed because of teamwork. Those who thought that the disabled are lesser than normal students have been proved wrong. Disabled students have proved to be academic giants not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world.

Conclusion

Even though collaborative learning is recognized as a good academic approach, its success is not guaranteed automatically. Studies have shown that the composition of a group and the processes of interaction within the group determines whether the group will be successful or not. To succeed, teachers should offer social skills and procedures of cooperative learning to the group (students).They should monitor closely the activities of the group to ensure that students complete their tasks and render assistance whenever it is needed. For students with disabilities, the teacher should consider the age of the student and the severity of the condition. Interaction between normal and disabled children may be difficult during the initial stages and it may likely affect their education (Borman, Stringfield & Slavin 2001, p. 56).

Cooperative approach is a promising way of achieving moral, social and academic objectives in the society. The approach aims at promoting education among students through methods like engaging in discussion that helps them to learn from each other. The approach promotes interaction between people from different races and ethnic backgrounds. The method is applied in many institutions of education in the world especially in institutions of high education (colleges and universities). In such institutions, trainers assign work to particular groups. Individual performance in a group is determined by the general performance of the group (Borman Stringfield & Slavin 2001 p. 114). Learning and teaching strategies should promote active reasoning, writing, talking and thinking rather than passive quiet secretive involvement. Interaction of learners and their instructors promotes an effective environment for learning and perfecting learned skills. Collaborative learning is a way of socializing, communicating and sharing of ideas to come up with a concrete solution to achieve a certain goal.

List of References

Borman, G, Stringfield, S & Slavin, R 2001, Title one, compensatory education at the crossroads, Taylor & Francis, Washington.

Constas, A & Sternberg, J 2006, Translating theory and research into educational practice, developments in content domains, large scale reform, and intellectual capacity, Routledge, New York.

Slavin, R & Madden, A 2001, Success for all: research and reform in elementary education, Routledge, New York.

Slavin, R 1992, Research methods in education, Allyn and Bacon, London.

Slavin, R 1996, Education for all, Taylor & Francis, Washington.