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Cooperative learning refers to a set of instructional strategies which include cooperative student-student interaction over subject matter as an integral part of the process.
Cooperative learning can be as simple as two students pairing up to discuss a piece of learning, but can also be complex and include team development activities; cooperative classroom atmosphere through class building activities; special training in social roles and social skills; and specialized tasks for teams.

Kagan (1989) describes the five key elements which define characteristics of cooperative learning.

  1. Team formation – teams of 2-4, with students of different abilities, mixed ethnicity, gender
  2. Positive interdependence – the gain of one student is associated with gains for other students; team has same goal; positive interdependence can take several different forms
  3. Individual accountability – contributes to academic gains; contribution of each individual is made known to the team; can take several forms: reward accountability (i.e. team grade based on individual test scores), task accountability (i.e. each student accountable to group for her portion of the project)
  4. Social skills – are developed and practice based on the structures used; students can learn how to listen to each other, resolve conflicts, set and revise agendas, keep on task, and encourage each other; time devoted to review group process which can be done individually and as a team, i.e. Did we help each other? Did we ask for help if we needed it? Did we all participate?
  5. Structuring and structure – a critical component; task structures are created when no one individual can complete the learning task alone (e.g. think-pair-share, jigsaw, round robin paraphrasing, group products); reward structures are created by making grades dependent on each other (e.g. team scores are a sum of the improvement scores of individuals)

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