Student Thinking Through Collaborative Learning
Karen Yeok-Hwa Ngeow
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication
approaches that relate to group work in the language classroom are known by different
labels: cooperative learning (Johnson
& Johnson, 1992), student team learning (Slavin,
1996), group investigation (Sharan
& Sharan, 1992), and collaborative learning (Barnes et al., 1986).
While each of these approaches may differ in certain aspects of learning and instructional
design, such as group structure and teacher role, there are certain attributes
that are considered common to all group learning approaches (Stahl,
Critical Attributes of Group Learning
are some principles that are common to any group learning approach:
A group-learning task is designed based on shared learning goals and outcomes;
learning takes place in groups of between 3-5 students;
Cooperative behavior involves trust-building activities, joint planning, and an
understanding of team support conduct;
interdependence is developed through setting mutual goals; and
Individual accountability, role fulfillment, and task commitment are expected
also some practices in group learning that may vary among group-learning approaches.
Grouping procedures (e.g., forming homogenous or heterogeneous groups in terms
of skills/levels/interests, role assignment, short or long term group assignment);
of group work skills (e.g., explicit teaching, small group team-building exercises,
or promotion of reflection on group dynamics);
Setting up of interdependence structures (e.g., goal achievement and incentives,
resources, division of tasks);
Evaluation procedures (e.g., individual, peer, or group grading, peer evaluation
Definition of the teacher's role, which is complex and may differ in various phases
of the group learning activity. For example, the teacher can be supervisory, evaluative,
or supportive in maintaining cooperative norms at different stages of student
list above provides guidelines for planning collaborative learning instruction.
What is often overlooked, however, is a consideration of the rationale for students
working together in groups in the first place. Duffy and Cunningham (1996)
lament that supporters of collaborative learning have previously concentrated
only on instructional design issues that deal with structural and management factors
such as strategies that ensure fair participatory opportunities. They encourage
using group learning to promote dialogical interchange and reflexivity among learners
(p.186). This involves having learners share alternative viewpoints, support each
other's inquiry processes, and develop critical thinking skills that include the
ability to reflect and improve on their own learning.
Instructional Phases of Collaborative Learning
In the Collaborative Learning
Model described by Reid et al. (1989), there are five phases for designing instruction
for collaborative learning: engagement, exploration, transformation, presentation,
In the engagement phase, the teacher sets the stage by providing
the class with a collaborative activity. It is important that this task be designed
in such a way that it not only provides the basis for ensuing necessary group
activities, but also brings home a sense of ownership to its learners. An example
of an authentic collaborative activity for a reading classroom is one where students
examine the type of persuasive language found in authentic sales literature such
as brochures, advertisements, and labels. They can then analyze the kinds of strategies
advertisers use to influence potential buyers.
In the exploration phase, students
work on the initial exploration of ideas and information. Teachers have to decide
how much input should be given for the learning task, and how much should be left
to the resourcefulness of the students. To encourage group interdependence at
this stage, teachers can ask students in teams to demonstrate their learning using
different response modes. K-W-H-L-S is one of many strategies that can be used
with students of all ages and levels to help insure that every student pursues
goals that are individually beneficial and yet congruent with the group's common
goal in the learning activity. The basic components of the K-W-H-L-S strategy
What I know (e.g., information on what I already know about advertisements)
What I want to learn (e.g., information on advertising strategies)
How I will learn it and work with others to attain mutual goals (e.g., bring in
information, share ideas and compare perspectives)
What I learned (e.g., evaluating what I have found out and how I can use this
How I shared, or will share what I have learned from others (e.g., writing up
a joint report or opinion piece for publication in a magazine)
third phase has to do with the transformation of knowledge. This is where students
in their learning groups engage in activities to "reshape" the information by
organizing, clarifying, elaborating, or synthesizing learning concepts. It is
crucial for this stage of learning that tasks require discussion and contribution
from all group members. It is too easy to let a situation turn into one where
the most vocal or linguistically proficient member of the group takes over the
tasks of clarifying and elaborating on learning concepts, and not have other group
members benefit from the collaborative activity. The learning activity designed
should therefore be complex enough that there can be many opportunities for knowledge
transformation at different levels or in various sub-tasks, thereby involving
as many group members as possible. For instance, students take turns categorizing
information, looking for examples to support their opinions, and discussing the
implications of an advertising strategy on their own and their families' purchasing
In the presentation phase, student groups have the opportunity to
present their findings to an interested and critical audience. It is possible
to structure the main activity in a way that would entail having different student
groups contribute their findings to make up a bigger learning outcome (e.g., different
sections of a proposal). A significant consideration at this stage is to ensure
that the audience for the presentation is authentic and can provide responsive
feedback to the information generated by the groups' efforts. This can be done
with critical peer groups or with expert groups that have a genuine interest in
the findings of the presentation. In the above example, the reading group that
reviews sales literature and analyzes advertising strategies can now write an
article for a consumer awareness magazine on what they have collaboratively learned
about the influence of advertising on public buying.
The last phase of the
group learning activity is reflection. Here, students analyze what they
have learned, identify strengths and weaknesses in the learning processes they
went through, and offer constructive ideas on how their learning can be improved.
Student reflection should be done both individually and collaboratively, and they
need to analyze individual as well as group learning processes. For that
purpose, teachers may construct individual and group guidelines. Some questions
for reflection are:
Dewey (1938) said that one of the philosophies
of education is not to learn merely to acquire information but rather to bring
that learning to bear upon our everyday actions and behaviors. Consistent with
this goal, we would argue that collaborative learning in the classroom should
prepare learners for the kind of team work and critical interchange that they
will need to be effective participants in their communities and workplaces in
- To prepare for this activity, I ·
I think I contributed to the group's work quality by ·
- Something that
would help us work better next time is ·
- One thing that was not useful
to our group work was ·
- Some ways in which the thinking of the group
could have been better are ·
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M. (1986). Language, the learner and the school (2nd edition).
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Duffy, T. M. & Cunningham, D. J. (1996).
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Johnson, D. W.,
& Johnson, R. (1992). Implementing
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Reid, J., Forrestal, P., & Cook, J. (1989). Small group
learning in the classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Sharan, Y. &
Sharan S. (1992). Expanding
cooperative learning through group investigation. New York: Teachers
College Press. [ED 367 509].
Slavin, R. E. (1996). Cooperative
learning in middle and secondary schools. Clearinghouse, 69 (4), 200-204.
[EJ 530 442].
Stahl, R. J. (1994). The
essential elements of cooperative learning in the classroom. Bloomington,
IN: Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education. [ED 370 881].
publication was prepared (Digest #130, EDO-CS-98-3, September 1998) with funding
from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number RR93002011, and published
by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication.
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.