The amount of student
learning and personal development that occurs in a classroom is
directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement
in the educational program (Cooper and Prescott, 1989). Descriptive
research indicates that teachers typically dominate classroom conversation,
consuming nearly 70 percent of classroom time. A large portion of
this teacher talk consists of lectures and directives. Such an educational
environment results in learners assuming passive roles and relying
mainly on auditory skills, a limited dimension of the intellect.
ETE modules diminish teacher talk. By teaming students with one
another, students have frequent opportunities to talk as they construct
knowledge themselves in the course of solving a problem. Thus, students
may use more of their intellect in ETE than they use during traditional
the nature of the task associated with a particular ETE module,
cooperative teams may have two, three, or four students. Pairing
is ideal because it maximizes student participation. Pairs start
to work easily and tend to maintain involvement. Pairs tend to make
less noise than larger teams. Occasionally a pair of students working
together will have a task they are unable to complete by themselves,
in which case they can ask another pair for help.
However, there are times
when more input is needed than a pair is likely to be able to generate.
When a task calls for much creativity or many different perspectives,
use teams of three or four. Teams larger than four may lead to passive
Teams Function Smoothly
Harmin (1994) feels that letting teams self-select has many advantages.
Teams form quickly and students learn how to respond when others
reach out to them. Many teachers prefer this method of forming teams
even though it can present some problems. On the other hand, you
may prefer to assign students to teams, but even this approach may
not prevent problems from developing. Below are some common problems,
followed by suggestions from Harmin (1994) and others.
When Teams Self-Select
Students keep choosing the same people for their groups,
and cliques are beginning to form. Harmin (1994) advises you to
urge the students to get to know and work with more than just a
few students. You can strongly suggest that students risk asking
someone they haven't worked with before to be their partner or ask
if they would prefer to have you do it. Occasionally, if all else
fails, you can direct some students to not sit with each other again
for the next two weeks.
Nobody wants to sit with
one of the students in the class, and you have had to intervene
several times to get the outsider into a team. Harmin (1994) suggests
speaking privately to a few of the students with whom you have a
good relationship. You should ask them if they've noticed that all
students aren't readily accepted by others when teams are formed.
Suggest that they go out of their way to look for students who are
being left out. In this way they would be modeling for the rest
of the class the supportive team spirit that is so vital to teamwork.
It is not necessary to mention the left-out student by name (Harmin,
Slower students always
sit together and cannot do some of the academic work. Harmin (1994)
advises that you suggest that these students pick different partners
in the future and remind them to ask other teams for help whenever
they reach an impass.
That Can Develop in Any Team
A few students persist in gossiping and doing little
work in their teams. Harmin (1994, p. 98) says, "Don't 'complain
or scold;' those tactics will likely be counterproductive."
He suggests you resist intervening the first time you notice the
behavior. If the behavior continues, simply walk over to the students
and calmly point out that they are responsible for their learning
and that they need to get down to work. If this does not work, again
skip any warning such as "I'll change your teams if you do
not settle down to work," and simply announce that because
you want everyone to learn in class, you want them to choose other
students to work with during the next two weeks.
One person takes over
while others sit back and say little. Maintaining individual
accountability will help prevent this from occurring. An individual
report, demonstration, or final product will hold each team member
accountable for his or her participation. In addition, you may want
to randomly call on individuals to give an update or summarize the
main points of a reading or discussion.
Group expectations become
self-fulfilling. That is, if the group expects a low-status student
to perform below the level of the group, he or she will. The best
way to ensure that all students participate competently is to design
individual tasks that require each student to use his or her particular
strengths. You must state explicitly that no one is good at all
tasks but that each member can be good at at least one. When students
are prepared with mixed expectations for competence, low expectations
of one group member tend to disappear (Cohen, 1990).