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Volume 16, Number 3
May/June 2000

Putting Cooperative Learning to the Test

While studies link cooperative learning with higher achievement, defining the term and implementing the concept is a challenge


In Terry Anderson's 3rd-grade classroom, nobody has an assigned seat. During the school day, the 23 students move from the carpet to a computer station or scatter to work at three small tables around the room. The arrangement works well, reports Anderson, a teacher at Robinson Elementary School in Kirkwood, MO. "Anywhere the kids want to settle in during their reading and writing time is fine," she says. "And this way there are more places for kids to work in groups. They're usually all over the floor."

In schools across the country, teachers are putting down their chalk and moving away from the front of the class. They are rearranging students into groups and encouraging a steady hum of voices sharing ideas. Pods of desks are replacing neat rows as the landscape of the American classroom shifts to accommodate more teamwork. Much of this activity is based on the principles of cooperative learning, in which the traditional competitive, teacher-driven approach is transformed by students' working together.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.