How do your studens react to cooperative learning techniques?

I have observed an interesting phenomenon regarding how students react to collaborative learning techniques. Initially they are pretty enthusiastic about working with partners and being able to discuss their concerns about content in class and ask their peers questions which they might not wish to ask publicly. The social aspect of learning is new to many students and generates a special interest, especially in an algebra class where students have previously experienced the lecture as the primary delivery method.

As the semester continues the collaborative activities focus their attention on the their responsibilities for learning the content of the course. It becomes very clear that they are expected to play a very active role in the class process and thus in the learning process. This is when resistance begins to build. Most students are used to a passive role in class where they receive required information from a teacher. The collaborative structure requires more energy in class and more preparation out of class. Students cannot hide during a collaborative exercise if come to class unprepared. I find that at this point I need to increase my efforts at selling collaborative learning to the students. I attempt to convince them bt sharing articles which explain and extol the benefits of collaboration, by having them analyse their performance within their groups and suggest improvements, and sometimes by using group assessments as part of the grading to serve as a carrot.

I find that I need to become much more of a cheerleader for this approach during the middle of the semester. I continue to work throughout the semester on advocating and highlighting the benefits of working together. It seems to work as the students become more comfortable with the processes, they relax again and begin to really enjoy doing algebra.

I would love to hear about your experiences with collaborative learning. In particular:

How do your students react to collaborative learning activities over time during a semester?

What do you do to orient your students to the collaborative learning environment?

Do you find that you need to "sell" the idea of using collaborative learning to your students? If so, how do you do it?

I am attaching an interesting post I received a little while ago from Meghan McFerran regarding establishing a collaborative classroom. I hope it will be helpful in addressing questions of a more practical nature regarding collaborative learning or perhaps in raising additional questions for us to discuss.

Please send your responses to the list. I will compile them and send them out as a file (instead of sending the entire compilation as a message) in a future posting. I have entered the old millenium finally and am becoming somewhat more computer literate and savy about sending large amounts of information over the internet.



Cooperative Learning Guidelines
"Meghan K. McFerran" <mcferram@ROSNET.STROSE.EDU>

> I stumbled upon a list of guidelines for cooperative learning that I  thought might interest those of you who are interested in implementing it within your classroom. This list was composed by >David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson, in "Learning Together and Alone".

> 1. Arrange the classroom to promote cooperative goals. Students >will need to work in clusters, and seating arrangements should >reflect this need. Provide sufficient space and study areas for >students to share.

> 2. Present the objectives as group objectives. The group and not >the individual is the focus. Gear reward structure to achieving .group objectives.

> 3. Communicate intentions and expectations. Students need to >understand what is being attempted. They should know what to >expect from the teacher and from each student in the group and >what the teacher expects them to accomplish.

> 4. Encourage a division of labor where appropriate. Students >should understand their roles and responsibilites. This will take >time and practice.

> 5. Encourage students to share ideas materials and resources. >Students should look to each other and not the teacher. The teacher >may act as a catalyst in making suggestions, but not be the major >source of ideas.

> 6. Supply a variety of materials. Since the sharing of materials is

> essential to the group, sufficient quantities and variety are needed.

> 7. Encourage students to communicate their ideas clearly. Verbal >messages should be clear and concise. Verbal and nonverbal >messages should be congruent with each other.

> 8. Encourage supportive behavior and point out rejecting or hostile

> behavior. Behaviors such as silence, ridicule, personal criticism,

> oneupmanship, and superficial acceptance of an idea should be >discussed and stopped since they hinder cooperation and productive >group behavior.

> 9. Provide appropriate cues and signals. Point out when the noise >level is too high. Direct the group's attention to individual problems >and encourage students to use the group.

> 10. Monitor the group. Check the progress of individuals in a group >and of the group as a whole. Explain and discuss problems, assist, >and give praise as appropriate.

> 11. Evaluate the individual and group. In evaluation focus on the >group and its progress. Evaluate the individual in the context of the >group's effort and achievement. Provide prompt feedback.

> 12. Reward the group for successful completion of its task. After

> evaluation, recognition and rewards should be given on a group >basis so that individuals come to realize that they benefit from each >other's work and will help each other succeed.

> I hope this will be a helpful guide to those of you who are >interested in learning more about cooperative learning!
Date: Fri, 9 Jan 1998 From: "Brian Taylor" <>
To: aednet <>

I do not find generational issues to be as important in collaboration as a couple of other things:

1. Empowerment....

2. Enablement....

3. Flexible evaluative measures....

4. Tolerance (on the part of all) for a degree of uncertainty and chaos.

Empowerment, of course, means that the participant is freed from the fear
of failure and imbued with a sense of the importance of his/her
contribution. This means clearly explaining a different milieu from the
traditional noncollaborative one with which most are familiar.

Enablement means taking time to give students the tools to do real research.
For most, this means a substantial investment in helping them to learn
skills which were not taught or learned at lower levels of education.

Flexible evaluative measures arises from the "controlled chaos" which
collaboration so often produces. I cannot ask for the kind of
narrowly-defined regurgitation of dished-out facts which I could ask for,
for example, if I said "Here are the six phases of scientific development"
in class, and then asked on a test "What are the six phases of scientific
development?" If we are learning about scientific development in society,
one student will bring in one construct having four phases and another will
bring in another construct having ten. Since there are relatively few
absolutes - especially at the edges of knowledge - I must be able to look
for something beyond the rote memorization of "fact". I must also be able
to recognize and evaluate meaning from free-form communications from

Naturally, none of this is as neat and cozy as "Today my lecture will tell
you how human beings learn, and tomorrow my test will be about how human
beings learn. Be there or be square". Hence, the need for tolerance of
chaos, and the need perhaps to face the fact that for some instructors and
for some students such chaos is frightening, bewildering and
counterproductive. Collaborative milieus may not be for everyone.
Date: Fri, 9 Jan 1998 From: "H. Guy Bensusan" <Guy.Bensusan@NAU.EDU>
To: aednet <>

This past year, Northern Arizona University acquired a virtual conferencing
system called CAUCUS, and under the direction of former DEOS-L moderator
and current Research Associate to the NAU Provost, Mauri Collins, it was
made available to professors teaching on NAUNet.

The system allows the posting of writings by members of a course, allows all
members to read each other's writings, and to comment on them. Coupled
with the fact that I use a series of twelve steps (questions) in order to
help learners self-pace/teach themselves through my Regional Arts and Culture
courses, it became very clear that the system fostered collaboration to a far
greater degree that the previous system of exchanging essays.
It also allows me as professor to read and comment, or read and then ask
questions, either on that specific writing or in another place calculated
for all to read, think about and then write on.
Meanwhile, in class (over multisite interactive TV statewide), we had the
opportunity to discuss the ideas which are being written on, thought about,
and further developed.

Thus a retro-synchronicity is emerging in which the synchronous and
immediate verbal response is preceded and followed by the asynchronous
written and reflected response. Last semester, I noticed that we were
getting farther faster than ever before --- I asked the learners about it,
and they suggested that the constancy of thinking about the topics and
talking about them, writing about them, and arguing over interpretations in
class, gave them deeper and more solid bases for understanding, while the
collaboration both helped to encourage the learning and willingness to help
each other as a result of the increased contact.

We will continue the approach again this semester with two different
regional studies --- and it pleases me greatly that some twenty learners
from last semester have signed up again, saying that they found the
experience so valuable to their study methods that they wished to continue.
They will also serve to help the "newbies" by being "alums" or
"big-brothers/sisters" who can be peer guides.

As for "reluctances" --- both the older and the younger learners said they
went through traumas; worried about something new, about cyber-anxiety,
about a different system. Ten percent dropped; many got snagged along
the way by procrastination (one essay is due each week), but most evaluated the course
in a very positive way, suggesting that CAUCUS was the biggest aid to the
cooperation/collaboration, while the Escalator questions provided an
alternative structure that made sense and was achievable even if a lot of

Guy Bensusan, Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies
Senior Faculty Associate for Interactive Instructional Television
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5676
Voice: 520.523.9146 --- Fax: 520.523.9988
Date: Fri, 9 Jan 1998 From: SVernon294 <>
To: aednet <>

I have been following the discussion about collaborative learning and have some comments. I have taught students at the community college, undergraduate and graduate level. My experience has resulted in the belief that adult learners are more easily engaged in collaborative and learner centered educational experiences. More "traditional students" require more
facilitation and education regarding the practice of and benefits of student directed and collaborative learning. I'm sure that they are closer to the teacher directed methods and are more frightened that the adult student about their ability to participate effectively. Once they do become engaged, they are equally participative and enthusiastic about the process.
Sat, 10 Jan 1998 Marc Sheffner <>

WIth regard to the "interesting phenomenon", I suspect it is not limited to CL, and therefore its occurrence may not be due to the CL techniques used. Last year I tried a number of methods for getting students more involved in their own learning, and I discovered exactly the same response as Ted Panitz describes. In learning anything is htere not a period of initial interest because everything is new and fresh, followed by a waning of enthusiasm as the freshness wears off and the necessity of regular
application becomes apparent?
Date: Fri, 9 Jan 1998 From: "H. K. Morris Baskett" <>

Ted asks about collaborative learning, and student's reaction to our
attempts to encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning
and to work together. It seems to me that two variables which affect "resistance"
are age and experience. I have mostly taught adult students and graduate students,
but when I have taught undergraduates, thereseems to be a much greater reluctance
to participate whole-heartedly in collaborative learning. Most graduates(usually in "mid-life") I have
taught , as well as "non-credit" adult students, embrace collaboration,
and are disappointed if there is not a large amount of collaboration in
their learning endeavors.
Wed, 7 Jan 1998 "Ron Rosebrook" <>

>How do your students react to collaborative learning activities over time during a semester?

Our GED preparation program is only 5 to 6 weeks in duration, so they really
do not have time to get "tired" of anything. We not only use collaborative
learning activities, but we also teach collaboratively. So the "we" I use
is not a royal "we."

>What do you do to orient your students to the collaborative learning environment?

We focus on what we want the students to produce, rather than on roles. For
example our students design and build model houses and bridges out of
various materials, do various kinds of presentations on various subjects in
science and social studies, and they do two to three dramas. We try tobe
very clear about what we want them to produce and when we want it to be
done. We keep samples to show later groups what we expect. We sometimes
assign groups, at other times we allow the students to form their own teams.
The students usually have such a short time in which to produce something
that they don't have much time for "messing" around.

>Do you find that you need to "sell" the idea of using collaborative learning to your students? If so, how do you do it?

No matter what one teaches, everything goes much better if the students are
"sold" on what they are doing. One of my former colleagues and I, myself,
have been professional sales people. We have had quite a lot of sales
training and we decided that we needed to apply it in the class room. So we
developed some techniques for doing that based on the principles of good
salesmanship. The very best sales technique is to get people to sell
themselves on the idea, product, or service. The way to do that is to ask
the prospect leading questions. So that is what we do. We present an
assignment and then ask the students, "Why do you think we want you to do
this? What will you gain by doing the assignment?" Then we lead a
brainstorming session and write their responses on the board. Then we do it
again after the students have completed the assignment. It takes a little
longer than telling students why you want them to do something, but it is
far more effective. The students sell not only themselves but each other on
the value of the activity.
Tue, 6 Jan 1998 "Christopher E. Hartmann" <cehartma@STUDENTS.WISC.EDU>

I offer the following anectdote about the social aspects of learning:

A few years ago in a Pre-Calculus course which I was teaching the class completed a number of group projects which required extensive collaboration. During one of the projects, six weeks in duration with 40% of the class time allocated to group work, one of the groups collectively decided that rather than working twice per week for 45 minutes in class they would agree to get together on the weekend and spend a couple of hours working together on the project. They decided to propose to me a trade of free time in class for their commitment to work together on the weekend. One of the students in the group, a very persuasive young person, presented the following argument to support their proposal: (1) forty-five minutes is not a particularly useful block of time for our group since we are all vocal, (2) the school day has so much pressure that two free periods during the day will be more productive during the long run, (3) if you want us to take responsibility for doing our best work it is important that you trust us to allocate our time in ways which we feel best allows us to do so. [Obviously I am paraphrasing from memory]

My teacher's dilemma in this situation resulted from several factors. First, the structure of the school schedule. No short term solution to this problem. Second, the competitive academic environment experienced by college-intending students. Again, I am stuck. Third, the existing classroom environment where I had intentionally promoted student independence and personal initiative. On this point, I should be rewarding the students for their group decision-making and plan of action. My decision was to allow this group to use their time as they felt they could be most productive, as long as they did not interfere with any of the other groups.

There were a couple of interesting results: (1) this group produced excellent work on time which demonstrated their intellectual capacity, interest, and capability; and (2) none of the other groups in the class expressed any interest in copying this plan, and in fact, one other group was amused, but I stress not angry or bitter, by how this group "wasted time"; (3) the extent to which the students in the group appeared to have learned the mathematical ideas behind the work was impressive, and indeed, they obviously had taken the initiative to make sure that each member of the group learned the material.

Frequently, I think back to this experience in the classroom, and to what it means for schools as organizations and for group collaboration as a method of learning in the classroom. In response to Ted's initial offering, I am interested in what other teachers and/or scholars interested in cooperative group work think about this situation.

Christopher E. Hartmann
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thu, 8 Jan 1998 Tim Touzel <touzel@COASTAL.EDU>

I first of all applaud your students and you for trying this. I have
let students try various ways of completing assignments. My first
concern is how I can construct the task so that I'm relatively sure
it is truly each person's work. Of course, we can never be sure when
work is done outside of class, so I always rely on testing for a part
of the grade in the class.

My question to this dialogue is, should we as teachers let students
be on their honor to complete assignments? Or, should we not even be
concerned about this? Should we just ask, is the assignment correct?
Does it matter how students get their answers as long as they get it?

These are questions I've asked myself more than once.
Dr. Tim Touzel Professor of Education KH 202 Coastal Carolina University
Conway SC 29526 803-349-2608, FAX:803-349-3940,
Thu, 8 Jan 1998 "Lawrence M. Kenney" <kenneyl@UWWVAX.UWW.EDU>

I enjoyed your question about "correct assignments" so much that I am
prompted to reply. If no constraints are put on how the students complete
the assignment (individually or collaboratively), then assessment/testing
should ask these questions: 1) How did you arrive at the correct answer
for the assignment? and 2) What did you learn? or 3) How will you apply
what you learned tomorrow? In this way, one can avoid the problem of
"correctness without understanding." Thus, collaboration has its rewards
and individual accountability is maintained.
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 1998 From: "A. Nadine Burke" <>

I read Ted's post with great interest. I have been using collaborative
learning for about a year and half now in my traditional writing and
literature classes. I began using it in my on-line courses to encourage
retention a bit earlier.

Some random thoughts about using it in traditional classes:
I find some students resistant to the process at the beginning. The
"better" students come to me privately, worrying they won't "get" the
information they need to earn their A. They also are concerned that they
will do all the work in the group even though the grade for group work is
mainly for participation. At this point, I have to sell them on the idea.
I do find, however, students who are usually in the mid-range seem to excel
in the course. Of course my evidence is anecdotal, but these students say
at the end of the course that they never earned such a high grade in lit or
writing before--a student's measure of success, not mine.

I find some students do stop coming to a collaborative class. Some think
that they can just show up the days that something is due, not
understanding that what they turn in is missing vital elements created or
discussed during collaboration. Others just disappear. I am not sure if
it is because the class causes more active involvement. I assume that is so.
I had student call me once to say that she wouldn't be in class because she
was really sick. She said she'd drop off her work because she was going to
a lecture class. In that class, she could just sit there whereas mine made
her tired. I considered that a compliment!

Thoughts about using it on-line:
I never hear a lot of resistance from on-line students. I think they are
more motivated students to begin with which might explain part of it. I
occasionally get a phone call or e-mail message from one or two worried
about how it may affect their grade.

I rarely, especially in the lit class on-line, find students
dropping--maybe one or two from a section. The social aspect of
collaborative learning keeps people involved. I also found out that some
of them are meeting in chat rooms to discuss the lit or writing aside from
the required e-mail discussion. While I used to use a chat element in my
on-line classes extensively, I've put less emphasis there now because I
found my students wanted to and only could meet after 10 PM at night. Late
night chats and early mornings for my traditional teaching (and my role of
getting my children to school) took a terrible toll on my health. Hearing
that students are gravitating to chat with just a little prompting is
gratifying since I can't be involved as much.

I see a gender difference in collaborative learning. I never let a group
comprise of all males if I can at all help it. Those groups seems to die
on-line (not as much in a traditional classroom). I try to balance
male/female. If I do end up with an all female group--they flood my inbox
with all sorts of messages. Mostly, they are on topic.

Does anyone find that in on-line communication females tend to put more
"chatty" type info in their responses than males? At first, I thought my
females on-line wrote more--they do, but not about the subject. It's the
social cues that keep a mixed gender group together. Females ask where
someone has been if they haven't heard from them in a while. They tend to
use phrases like, "Do you know what I mean?" or "Am I making sense?" It's
funny because the males respond to these questions as much as the females.
Also, males in a group with females put more social cues in their work.
The social cue may be an introductory paragraph, but it's there. In an all
female group, so much chatter ensues. It drives me nuts--I guess because I
have so much mail I want students to get to the point.
Okay--I know I am guilty of a few social cues in my post. Hey, I'm female.

But look beyond them and see if anything I've said sounds familiar.
7 Jan 1998 "Tom Little" <>

I really enjoyed your post.I showed it to my colleague who teaches with me
and he started laughing.It is what we have been finding out and doing.Our
call on it is that the students do not know how to learn! I think one should
be patient.The students will tell other students whatÕs going on and the
students will be prepared for the style that you are using to teach. It will
get better each semester. The example that I use for an explanation to other
professors is: when the student enrolls in a class that the faculty memeber
is known to be very tough, they are prepared to work harder. When a faculty
members class is fairly easy they are not prepared to work hard and when that
faculty memeber tries to increase the rigor of a class. It takes the students
a while(semesters) to adjust.We have been attempting to use collaborative and
distance learning tools in my sports medicine class for the last two years. We
are still not there yet, but getting closer.I found out that part of the
problem was not the students but with me the faculty person on not knowing
the techniques well enough.
Date: Mon, 5 Jan 1998 ) From: "Mike Clarke" <>
To: aednet <>

There are a few difficulties and interesting developments that I have had with
collaberative learning this year. My class sizes in Systems analysis
and Programming increased from 20 to 30 this year. When starting
collaberative and group activities more problems came up than last
year and it was more expressed more vocally. The problem stemmed
from people who were doing most of the work being frustrated by
"coasters". Work ground to a halt on many occasions because of this.
It seemed that, even though there was individual and peer
evaluation, the coasters were not motivated to work in that
environment. Perhaps personality and learning styles were in effect

On the other hand, non-structured collaberative learning took place
when coaches in the classroom ( subject matter "expert" students) were
recruited by other students to help with problems. When "Support
Review Forms" were used to monitor and evaluate coaching by peers the
motivation and feedback was there.

Some working groups formed among similarly motivated students to
help each other. These groups tended to be the highest performers.
This seemed to naturally evolve, whereas the structured activities

This has been a very "informative" year so far....
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 1998 From: Hilary LaMonte <>
To: aednet <>

I am currently a student in an online Ph.D. program in which we work
entirely collaboratively in all of the first two years of required
coursework. We do this as a cohort, the same group of students working
together for all of the first two years. The focus is "Learning and Change
in Human Systems" and the goal is to develop a learning community as we
learn about and practice research techniques and philosophical underpinnings
for understanding learning communities.

What Mike describes above is very familiar to our group. Almost from the
get-go, we have had some people in the group who are online often and do
alot of the facilitating and other group work needed to keep us focused. We
have also had a group of folks who are online less, focusing instead on
reading and applying our work to their daily jobs and communities. We hav
been naming this a "participation issue" and it is one that does not seem to
go away or shift much in terms of group membership. We are now 1 1/2 years
into our work and this issue has been with us since about the third month.

In August, we made the conscious decision as a group to adopt an emergent
systems group, forming small groups around mutual interest areas in each of
the three academic courses. In these groups, our work blossomed as people
with similar online/offline styles naturally gravitated together.

We are now at the point where we need to begin preparing for our group
comprehensive demonstration of competency. It accounts for 1/2 of our
pre-dissertation evaluation and we all either pass or fail together. It
will be interesting to see what happens to our collaboration and emergent
systems as this community requirement draws near.

Hilary La Monte Manager, NSF Project National School Boards Association
1680 Duke Street Alexandria, VA 22314 Tel: (703) 838-6153
Mon, 5 Jan 1998 Tasha Greer <tjlloyd@ACS.UCALGARY.CA>

I've had the pleasure of using collaborative learning with pre-service education students. On more of the practical side, I've found that restricting the group sizes to 3 students can be benefitial. Larger than 3 and the groups have

logistical difficulties meeting outside of class; smaller than 3 and there isn't enough "heads" to get the benefits of group work.

I find the students vary in their enthusiasm for group work. Some seem to take to it immediately, while others are reluctant participants. In general, their enthusiasm varies according to how well the group dynamics work. In the groups where everyone contributes equally, it seems to work out much better than in the groups where one member doesnt' contribute, attend group meetings or fulfull their obligations. I usually hear about it when one member isn't contributing and then attempt to find out the source of the problem. Some groups seem better able to negotiate the give and take of collaborative work and can work out the inevitable frictions. The indiviuals who are better negotiators and have the best interpersonal skills seem to appreciate group work the most.

Has anyone done a workshop on group processes with their students prior to starting group work? I've contemplated doing something like this, but haven't as of yet. I think it might orient them at the beginning of the class about how
productive groups function.

Tasha Greer, MSc. Student email:
Faculty of Educational Psychology phone: (403) 220-4269   University of Calgary
Mon, 5 Jan 1998 Ddeliberto <>

I have enjoyed reading your posts, and found the one on learning styles to be
particularly relevant to my work. In that post you stated that your next
newsletter would focus on strategies for helping Kinestetic learners develop
their Visual learming styles. I never received that newsletter and was
wondering when I might receive it.

I am an assessment specialist and have experienced much of what you described
in that post. Classroom instruction foucses very much on Visual and Auditory
styles as do most of our testing methods and assessment models. Of particular
interest was your research of the type of jobs in which a child/adult with a
particular preference style might achieve the greatest success.

Perhpas you are already familiar with these instruments but I would suggest
the following instruments might assist teachers in determining learning styles
for their students.

LSI (Learning Style Inventory) is a uselful instrument for determing learning
styles of students. There are two versions, one for students in grades 3-4
and one for students in grades 5-12. These are relatively cheap and can
assist teachers as well as those responsible for student prgramming.
PEPS (Productivity Environmental Preference Survey) is for adults. It
measures preferred learning styles and environments for adults which will
enable them to be most productive.

When LSI and PEPS are used in educational settings, students and teachers can
be matched according to their learning styles and productivity preferences.
Hopefully, the above info will be helpful to you and other readers.
I am now working with an adult client who has strong preferences for
Kinestetic learning. In addition, he has low motivation and works best in the
late afternoon - early evening. He is a computer programmer and has
experienced considerable difficulty in mathematical problem-solving and
reasoning, especially if he is not permitted to write down each step. This is
despite his high math scores on every mathematics test administered. There
are no signs of any neuropsychological damage and we are convinced that had he
been instructed in the ways that Ted suggests, he would not be experiencing so
much difficulty. We are working to help him overcome these difficulties and
thought that Ted or other members of this list might be able to assist us.
Thanks in advance,

Deanna M. De'Liberto D SQUARED ASSESSMENTS, INC. 9 Bedle Road, Suite 250
Hazlet, NJ 07730-1209 phone: (732) 888-9339 email:
Mon, 5 Jan 1998 Mary Anne Soboleski <>

Aloha Ted, I will be teaching an undergraduate course in two weeks and
plan to use collaborative learning strategies. I have use CL in Grades
3-6 and graduate courses as well as workshops for adult ed teachers. I
have never tried it withundergraduates and am looking forward to it. I am
also planning to use portfolios as the main means of grading BUT I have
to give letter grades and a final exam)
Mon, 5 Jan 1998 "Courtney, Sean" <>

Ted, thanks for mailing. Coincidentally, I will begin teaching a course on adult learning theory this semester and plan to use collaborative learning approach in having students help me design the course, select topics, determine methods and assessment, etc. Will keep you posted as to how it transpires. And again thanks for this very useful information.

Sean Courtney, Ed.D Associate Professor Dept. of Vocational and Adult Education
University of Nebraska 526B Nebrasaka Hall Lincoln, NE. 68588-0515
Tel: 402-472-5727
 "Ruth Collins" <>


I have always tried to incorporate cl into the classroom,
but this semseter I incorporated ten projects into a
precalculus class... a challenge for me, if not everyone
else.... the reviews at the end of the course were
interesting... I am still trying to get a handle on the
input. The best students thought the cl amusing I guess...
they knew most of the math before they got to me and I was
just a grade to them. Most of the other students said
positive things like "I talked in this class and have never
volunteered an answer in a math class before.."etc. Almost
all said theythought they had learned a lot more than in
previous math classes but given achoice between taking
their next class cl or lecture, a lot (more than half)
picked lecture.... If the atmosphere was so great and they
learned more, why go back to lecture, less
work, less focus on them.....can you give me guidance here?

Mathematics Department , Room 329 Delaware Technical and Community College
Wilmington, De 19801 (302) 571-5335
 PAStoll <>

Good discussion of collaboration techniques in class! I have not used
collaboration much because students resist up front. They recall
"collaboration" in high school where one or two people did all the work and
the others were invisible. Also I am not good at collaboration myself (like to
work alone) so I'm not too helpful. I do agree these skills are important and
necessary and will work on these this semester in my research paper class.

Pat Stoll
 Wolfcarl <>
ALTLEARN@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU (Alternative Approaches to Learning Discussion)

Thought I'd add my two cents also...
Most schools think that they can assign students to any teacher, and, conversely, they also think that any teacher can teach any student. First, remove any fear from the environment. Second, have Professional development days to include all teachers and administrators in regard to Teaching & Learning Styles. It's much easier to accomplish innovative techniques, when you stop working alone. To have a truely a collaborative classroom, you must have a collaobrative school.

Beekman-Fraser Consulting, Inc. Carl Beekman, Ph.D. Vice President
2239 "B" Simpson Ridge Circle Kissimmee, FL 34744
Phone: (407) 518-9552
Patrick Boylan <>

I teach English (language, culture) at the Universities of Rome and
Perugia. Bob Aiken, a visiting professor here, forwarded your questions
sent 5 Jan 1998. Since I try to foster cooperative learning, I thought I'd
share my views.

You ask to share experiences with cooperative learning and ask three
specific questions.  The first is:

>I would love to hear about your experiences with collaborative
>learning. In particular: How do your students react to collaborative
>learning activities over time during a semester?

Very well. Right to the end -- so there's no need to "sell" them on
participating. They're Italian and so sociable, of course. But the real
answer is they have chosen languages because they want to travel, interact
with people, understand factual and literary works in English first hand
and, most of all, "feel" what it means to live another culture. So I help
them form research/study/practice groups that let them attain these goals
or at least acquire the skills they see as relevant in order to attain
these goals. I don't have to motivate them. They study because they find
that they actually learn what they had come to the University to learn in
the first place.

>What do you do to orient your students to the collaborative learning

The first two weeks are spent weaning students from the idea that I've got
all the answers. In fact, they are amazed to find out that not only do I
not have all the answers, I don't even have all the questions. THEY do,
since they're the ones who enrolled in the class to learn something they
must have thought answered needs or curiosities THEY had (not me).
The following two weeks are used to simulate group work in class -- a group
of 5 goes through some activity in front of the others: learning a role
from a recorded play, trying to transcribe a sound track from a film seen
in class, formulating explanations for the "grammatical anomalies"
encountered in the English of the singers whose CD's they have brought to
class and then comparing their folk-linguistic explanations with what
standard English grammars say... As I was saying, THEY are the ones who
came to learn something so, although I have a vast potential program of
learning objectives and materials, what I actually do depends on what the
students feel they need to know. (Some things are required for curriculum
continuity reasons, but they can be slipped into the overall program which
we decide on together).

As the students work in groups I intervene, mostly trying to get the group
leader to do her job. Leaders are understandably hesitant (at first) to
correct peers, especially with 60 other peers listening in. (That's right:
65 students in all -- now you see why collaborative learning and group work
is necessary; one teacher cannot possibly interact with that many learners.)

The group leader's job is to act as a monitor: making sure the task gets
done, encouraging participation from everyone, making sure each
participant's contributions are clear and appropriate. The student monitor
follows the "technical guidelines" learned the first two weeks and dealing
with methodology: how to guess the mumbled words you hear in a song (and
thus what "phoneme assimilation" is), how to maintain eye contact in
playacting (and thus what "pragmatic intent" means in practice), how to use
"descriptive" instead of "normative" phraseology (and thus scientific
terminology) in commenting marginal speech forms, etc., besides the obvious
rules for good group dynamics.

After doing a homework project as collaborative learning (mostly at the
students' homes -- that's why groups are formed with students who live
close to each other), students come to class to show what they've learned.
There's a lesson on Wednesday, then collaborative learning at someone's
home or in an empty classroom on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday, then
lesson on Friday, then collaborative learning lasting until the following
Wednesday. After a couple of weeks at this pace we go back to teacher-led
teaching with individual homework assignments: that's where students learn
more "technical guidelines", etc. Then it's back to two or three weeks of
lessons plus collaborative work in groups. Sometimes groups meet and begin
the projects in class, 13 groups of 5 students each scattered around the
main lecture hall: it gets noisy but it permits group leaders to call me
over to solve problems they can't handle on their own.

In your last question you ask:
>Do you find that you need to "sell" the idea of using collaborative
>learning to your students? If so, how do you do it?

This, I surmise from the introduction to your questions, is the real
burning issue. "If collaborative learning is so great," you seem to say,
"why don't kids take to it? Why do I have to 'sell' it? Why do they
prefer being so passive? Is it the fault of TV?"

I would guess that the basic problem is not your teaching style --
collaborative or whatever -- but the very curriculum you set out to teach.
To be honest, I don't think you can use ANY technique (except whips and
bribes) to get students to like studying a subject that just doesn't
interest them, however important and interesting it may be (for the
teacher, for educational authorities...).

That is to say, you can get positive response only if you manage to "sell"
the curriculum, i.e. the subject. It's not enough to sell the method
(collaborative learning). And to "sell" the subject doesn't mean trying to
be entertaining in presenting it or playing little games or whatever. You
can't be a better entertainer than a TV set so if you bet on entertaining,
you've lost the contest before you begin. To guarantee motivation, you
have to offer instruction (in algebra or whatever) that REALLY SATISFIES A
GENUINE NEED TO KNOW. Collaborative learning techniques will not suffice:
can you imagine using collaborative techniques to get kids to eat spinach,
if they don't like it and if it isn't really what they need?

This opens the hotly debated question of motivation, I know. But it's a
question that I think needs to be faced head-on by discussing the real
value of what we propose as knowledge. We can't resolve motivation by
asking what technology can give us.

So let's talk about spinach for a moment. Now, let's suppose for the sake
of argument that spinach is really good for students but happens to taste
bad. Well, the first question to ask is: "Why doesn't the school cafeteria
offer food with the same value but that tastes good?" In other words, I
think that our job is to alter what we teach so that we can come up with
the same overall educational value while actually teaching something else.
If we were in the middle ages, we might be hired as alchemy (not chemistry)
teachers; and as good alchemists, we might be convinced that there is no
other way to be curious about how substances can be transformed, no other
kind of questions to ask about nature. Would we be right? Most people
today would probably say "no".

Actually, there IS a sense in which we would be right: to the extent that
alchemy represents part of our medieval culture and to the extent that we
want students to know what one is supposed to know in the middle ages in
order not to be "out of place" (and to get a good job), then we could
consider teaching alchemy a good and important thing. But only for that
reason. Surely we would not be right in claiming that "it's good for the
kids" to know alchemy or that "there isn't any other way" to address
nature's mysteries.

To come back to today, in a nutshell, we should have the humility to admit
that we may be foisting a lot of information on students simply to
acculturate them to our present day society and what it considers knowledge
to be, in order to help them pursue studies and get jobs -- but not
necessarily because that information really counts. When I say these
things to colleagues, they usually answer: "Oh, but of course it's not the
mere information that students must learn, it's the development of their
mental faculties that one gets in acquiring certain information, like math
formulas." And I usually answer: "Oh, well, in that case, teachers should
be free to change the subject if they want, let the math formulas go, just
so they deal with reasoning quantitatively." "Oh, no," the colleagues say,
"there's the PROGRAM to respect, and besides, students will need all those
math formulas if they go on to do other subjects." In other words, Catch 22.

So in conclusion, if you have to teach algebra and a hundred formulas, do
so, but just don't take it so seriously. It's what we consider knowledge
today, given the things we hold to be important -- it has no intrinsic

Why cultivate an attitude like that? Well, for one thing, it becomes much
easier to concentrate on the permanent educational value of inquiring into
a domain and not the codified results of domain inquiry that we call a
"subject". In other words, it becomes much easier to look at the "subject"
with fresh eyes, like those of our students (who have no vested interest in
keeping alive this or that discipline, simply because that's what society
claims is important). If we lived in the middle ages and had this
perspective, we wouldn't have to invent chemistry, which would be an
impossible task; we could simply stick to teaching alchemy, but doing so in
a way that would interest even those students who consider alchemy a waste
of time. For example, we could teach alchemy as the transformation of
oneself together with the transformation of nature (which was in fact the
real agenda of alchemists).

But what if there is no way to see our "subject" in a different way, to
correspond to the kinds of questions our students would be interested in
answering? What if a given subject is just hard work that must be done and
that's all there is to it? Well, let's go back to spinach; it's easier to
deal with. What if ONLY spinach, although it tastes bad, will give the
vitamins or whatever students need at lunch? What if there's nothing else
the cafeteria can serve in its place? My reply is: in that case, I think
we should ask WHY spinach seems to taste bad. "It just does" is not an

Sure, some things are so horrible no one could ever find them pleasant.
But that isn't the case of spinach: many people DO like it, just as many
people do like algebra. In fact, as you travel, you see that in various
cultures, there are things American taste buds would find horrible but that
local kids simply love. Food tastes, then, are largely cultural products.

The same for studies. In other words, if spinach or algebra are really
necessary but seem disgusting, something is amiss in the social system (and
in school curriculums as a reflection of that system), not in the kids.
You don't have to encourage German kids to study musical instruments. You
don't have to encourage French children to read books. You don't have to
encourage children in Bali to memorize enormously long lists of obscure
gods and what they do in nature. But you might have a hard time getting a
French kid to do her piano lessons and a hard time getting a child in Bali
to read a book and a hard time getting a German child to memorize lists of
ancient Greek gods and all they did. How is that? These kids are not dumb
or without interests: they DO learn certain things. It's just that what
they take to learning is what people around them (their family and friends
and neighbors) seem to value, but not the other stuff, however great it may

So the real problem in Bali is not why kids don't want to learn to read,
but why their elders claim that reading is important but don't spend much
time reading books and making kids SEE how important it is. In France one
would have to ask why French families don't play music together (as so many
German families do) but do honor those who read a lot. In Germany we would
have to ask why, in their conversations, German parents never refer to the
doings of the ancient Greek gods (as many of them used to do up to the
beginning of the 1900's) and yet claim it's important to know ancient
folklore and want their children to learn what THEY haven't bothered to
learn (or have promptly forgotten).

Psychologists talk about the mental stress caused by parents who send
contradictory signals -- for example when parents disapprove of but then
joke about sex, or proclaim optimism while showing signs of depression,
etc. We may have a double-bind problem with education as well, simply
because we don't like to admit the way we really are, what we really like,
and what we really are trying to do to our kids.
So the unpleasant conclusion is that there must be something in American
culture (and not only in American culture) that makes learning algebra seem
not so desirable -- and that makes the taste of spinach not so desirable
either (isn't spinach something many people joke about?)... And maybe this
phenomenon is general. Maybe we should ask ourselves seriously what
messages we DO send our children. When some women claim they "naturally"
can't handle technological devices and leave that task to men "who are so
good at it", what conditioning do they confer on their daughters who may be
listening in? And yet these women may very well want their daughters to
learn to use computers. Might it be that society CLAIMS it wants everyone
to know algebra, eat spinach, and use computers but in reality sends
signals to certain social/gender classes to discourage liking certain things?
Which brings us to collaborative learning. If all these considerations
hold true, I think we have to conclude that, before beginning a
collaborative learning project, a teacher has to embark on a course of
cultural re-education: "Hey kids, what are we doing here and why? What is
really important for us?" -- asked sincerely although obviously not in that
way. Sincerely means accepting the possibility of ending up not doing
algebra because it is not really relevant to a particular group of kids
with their particular needs, and doing something else that IS relevant.
Hopefully something to do with math, of course, since it is math class.
Something that is centered on a young person's curiosity about the domain
of quantity, but not necessarily that codified stuff in text books, except
as needed. Of course, curiosity about the domain of quantity will probably
lead to reinventing math, i.e. coming up with the same codification. But
the discovery will be in different ways -- ways relevant to those
particular students.

But what if students have no curiosity about anything whatsoever and, in
the cafeteria, refuse ANY kind of vegetable? What if they are all just
blind, stupid, lazy, self-centered junk food addicts? Well, if THAT is the
case, then we've got a REAL social problem in the country at large. A
society that indirectly encourages easy gratification in eating (or in
learning) and loves entertainment but not knowledge, can only use whips or
bribes to get kids to eat or study what happens to be considered at the
time as important. If THIS is the case (I hope it isn't), if the whole
society outside of school is working at cross-purposes, then maybe it would
be better for you to get out of school and into politics. How can one
combat in an hour of algebra what parents, neighbors and friends (let alone
TV) contradict by the values they preach in their daily conduct?
Hopefully, I was saying, you won't have to go so far. It will probably be
enough to stop the "efficiency" bandwagon ("we must finish the PROGRAM at
all costs", etc.). You could go back a few steps and do elementary math
but in a different way, whetting the natural curiosity kids have about the
domain of quantity -- although for a while you may end up calculating
basketball arcs from videos of games, or (who knows?) doing sex education,
seriously at last. Once a foothold is made in LEARNING something,
ANYTHING, instead of just blabbering and bitching, you can work your way up
to The Program. Collaborative learning permits differentiation of pacing,
to handle classes with mixed interests and abilities. Then I'll bet that
you won't have to "sell" collaborative teaching to them. In fact, you may
have a problem stopping the kids when the "collaborative hour" is up.
Sure, this kind of teaching takes more time so you won't "finish the
PROGRAM". Whips and bribes get immediate results and make sure the program
is covered. But what remains when they are used? The answer is easy to
see: the kind of results educators complain about today. Wouldn't it be
better to aim for helping students acquire the capacity to be self-learners
in math (using, among other resources, collaborative learning)?
That's my answer to your question. Any feedback will be appreciated.

(As you can guess, a failure in math at school -- although that didn't stop
me in life.)

Patrick Boylan
Department of Linguistics
University of Rome III
via del Castro Pretorio 20
00185 Rome, Italy
tel.: (+39) (6) 491973* / 4463004 ext. 226
Fax: (+39) (6) 4957333 / 4940417
Department Secretary: (+39) (6) 4959354