How Can I Avoid & Overcome the Barriers?

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What Will I See in This Lesson?

In the previous lesson, we learned about examples of the advantages and disadvantages to cooperative learning. In this lesson, we are going to dive into the bumps in the roads that can come with cooperative learning. To help us to learn how to successfully integrate cooperative learning, we are going to discuss situations where these bumps might arise, what we can do to avoid them, and what we should do if they are already occurring in our classrooms during our lessons. In essence, this lesson is going to help us to build our toolboxes to help to have successful integration into cooperative learning.

Please have the google doc open to grow your understanding.

Link to Google Doc

Review of the Bumps in The Road

To start, we are going to go back and review examples of bumps in the road that could arise with cooperative learning. In essence, the bumps in the road that teachers commonly see with cooperative learning include:

  • The group is not working together well
  • Students aren't sharing the workload
  • Lack of classroom management/the room is out of control
  • The teahcer cannot cover all the material
  • There is not enough time to get everything done

These bumps can occur for a variety of reason, some of which we stated in the previous lesson. Please take a moment to review the google doc from the previous lesson. In the next section, we will move on and review situations/settings where these problems may arise. Continuing on, we are going to begin to build our toolbox and discover ways to prevent them, things to change, and things to do to help avoid/encounter the bumps in the road.

Thinking of Situations/Settings

We have talked about reasons why cooperative learning may not be successful, but in this section we are going to think of situations and settings where the barriers to cooperative learning are likely to occur. We will use the ones that we discussed in the previous lesson to discuss the cases and situations. Think of these next few situations as an analysis. We are going to analyze what is going on in the classroom that is leading to issues. Let's get started.

What's the problem? Why is happening? What's the situation?
Group is not working well together This is likely to occur when students are unfamiliar with cooperative learning and how to work together cooperatively. Additionally, if students are unfamiliar with their jobs, or if jobs were not assigned to them, it is likely that there will be issues with their groups. When students don't know what is expected of them, or if they don't understand what their roles are within their jobs, students are likely to struggle and unaware about how to work together. If students are not explicitly thought how to work together cooperatively, they might not naturally have this knowledge.
Students are not pulling their weight This is likely to occur, once again, if students are unaware of what their task is or how cooperative learning works. Students may have the understanding that group work is the same as cooperative learning. If student's understanding of cooperative learning is that they are just working with a group, that they don't have to do anything, than it is likely that you may have a hard time getting all students actively involved in their learning. Students have to be made aware of what cooperative learning is if they want to be successful.
Classroom is out of control This is likely to occur when students aren't made aware of what the end goal or the point is of the lesson. Students may become out of control due to lack of knowledge as to what they are supposed to be doing, lack of materials to support the learning, or lack of direction. This may be especially evident if those jobs are not assigned to students, as they may lack a leader of the group who is keeping them on task. When students don't know what they should be doing, it is likely the class will get loud and a bit wild.
The material won't all be covered This is likely to occur if the students don't receive training prior to instruction on how to work together cooperatively, or, if the teacher fails to fully plan out all components of the lesson. Cooperative Learning activities may take a bit longer to complete than traditional learning styles, and it might not be completed the way that you planned to have it done, but that doesn't mean that the material is not being covered. If the activity is structured in such a way that there is not opportunity for students to learn all the material, this issue will probably arise.
There isn't enough time As stated above, cooperative learning takes time. An activity might stretch over a few days, rather than just one or two days. Teachers may feel that there isn't enough time in their schedule to account for the extra days, but if their lessons are concise in that they contain all the necessary knowledge and more, and they have their students practice with cooperative learning, they may find this to be less of an issue. However, if the material is lacking and the students are rushed, they probably will not learn the material effectively, and the teacher will probably have to re-teach them.

Now that we have a good understanding of situations where these problems arise, we are going to discuss further how to avoid them and what we can do if they come up. Please take a moment to access the google doc and answer the questions for this unit.

How Can I Avoid These Bumps?

For many of the bumps and pitfalls that we have discussed, the best way to avoid them is being prepared. If you are prepared with your lessons and materials, than the lesson will go more smoothly. However, if you decide to just throw the students into the lesson, and you are unprepared for what students should be doing, the class may quickly move from some organized chaos to just plain old chaos. Students may begin arguing and fighting, or getting off topic. By being prepared and knowing what materials your students need to be successful, you can avoid many of the pitfalls.

Another important component involves preparing your students. As we stated earlier in the course, students may need a pre-lesson to get them ready to work cooperatively. Especially if they have never done so before, they may need time to learn the rules, learn what cooperative learning looks like, and learn how to engage with their peers so that everyone is involved, everyone is helping, and everyone is learning. It is the job of the teacher to engage students in their learning, teach them what cooperative is and what it looks like, and provide them with everything they need for the lesson. Additionally, students should be made aware of the end goal of the lesson, so that they realize how important everyone's contribution is to group success.

To avoid groups not working well together, it might be helpful to make the groups beforehand. This way you can decide if you want to group students by ability level or not, and you will have an awareness of groups that will work will together. By teaching students how to work together and how to engage with one another effectively, and you have selected groups that will work will together, you are taking the first step to avoid groups not working well together. Another helpful hint is to prepare students to work in cooperative groups. Provide your students with the knowledge of what to do and what cooperative learning looks like.

To avoid students who are not pulling their weight in their groups, once again, teach them beforehand what cooperative learning is, and what is expected of them. Ensure that the end goal is clear and students know what their role is in their groups. If students are able to see what they are supposed to be doing and what their job is to help their group get to the finished product, they will realize that they have to contribute as well. Also, while it is important for students to realize that their contributions are crucial for group success, develop a grading system that holds students responsible for their work. This way, students won't be able to get a good grade just because their group members picked up the slack for them.

To avoid the classroom being out of control, ensure that the learning goal for the lesson is clear and that the students have what they need to be successful. Giving students clear goals and a clear understanding of what is expected of them- as well as a time limit- will help them to focus on their work. Providing jobs to students will also help to keep the students on track and focused, as well as guide them into the direction towards getting their work completed. If students are giving what they need to be successful, and the teacher is circulating and re-directing any groups who are off task, the classroom will remain in control.

As for avoiding the time limits and not being able to cover all the material, plan out the lesson beforehand and be aware of the time that it is going to take. Make sure that you are utilizing the time efficiently, by allowing students enough time to get done what they need to do and they aren't spending time off topic. If you plan out your lesson beforehand and take the time to prepare all the necessary materials, you can see how long it will take and what exactly will get covered.

Source: Instructional Innovation Network

Now that we have gone over some steps to take to avoid the downfalls to cooperative learning, we are going to go over what we can do if we notice them happening in our classroom.

What Should I do if I Hit a Bump?

If while you are teaching your lesson you realize that things are going wrong and the lesson isn't turning out the way you wanted it to, it may be necessary to stop and reflect on what is going wrong and why it is happening. If groups aren't working well together or students aren't pulling their weight, step in a redirect them. Let the students know that you are watching them and this is still teaching/learning time. Even though students are so actively engaged in their learning, you need to make them aware that you are there not only to support and guide them if they get lost, but to refocus their attention. By redirecting students or intervening when groups of struggling, you can help to set students on the right track.

If groups are struggling to work together, students aren't doing their part, or, the classroom is out of control, take time to reteach them cooperative learning strategies. Perhaps do a cooperative game with them that allows them to engage with their group members and work together. Get the students comfortable with their groups and reteach them what their task is and what they are doing.

As with any lesson that isn't working out, you may have to end the learning for the day and come back to it later. It may be that the material is too hard for the students, or there isn't enough there for them to learn off of. It might be an issue of students not knowing what they should be doing. It is not necessary to let a lesson go on if it isn't working. This might be wasting more time. Rather, take time to reflect on what was going wrong, look at the materials again, and receive feedback from your students, which will help you to find places of struggle.

Now that we have analyzed the barriers of cooperative learning, please refer to the google doc and answer the questions for this lesson.

Before Moving On...

In this lesson, we analyzed the barriers to cooperative learning and thought about why they were occurring. We took the time to build our toolbox and fill it with information about how to avoid common pitfalls and what to do if they arise. This unit served as a way for us to incorporate cooperative learning effectively into our classroom, and figure out ways to help the lesson run smoothly. In the next unit, we are going to put our knowledge to the test and analyze situations where cooperative learning either didn't work and what we would have done differently, and rework a lesson that did not use cooperative learning. Before moving on to the next unit, please complete the Unit 3 Assessment.

Unit 3 Assessment

Return to Lesson 1 or, Click to go Unit 4: Practice Utilizing Cooperative Learning

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Instructional Innovation Network. (2008, May 19). Fifteen common mistakes in using cooperative learning- and what to do about them. Retrieved from:

Additional Information

Read More about Pitfalls to Cooperative Learning

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