Think small groups working together when it comes to learning. That is one conclusion I take from the wonderful new collection on co-operation in education published by the Society for Co-operative Studies.
The introduction of small group learning in a number of US schools dates back to the end of segregation. The model of co-operative learning helped children to develop a respect for each other as equals, in a culture that did not always reinforce that.
A whole field of co-operative learning, with practitioners worldwide, has developed around the practice of team work – how to encourage positive interdependence in settings in which people can support each other to learn.
A fun example, described by Bette Chambers, Professor at the University of York, is co-operative musical chairs. The standard game is about removing a chair each time the music runs, so that when it stops, one child after the scrabble is excluded. The coop model removes one chair each time, but asks all the children to try to pile onto the chairs that remain. A different kind of fun.
In England, though, Wendy Joliffe, researcher at the University of Hull, reports that the shift to widespread testing after the 1988 Education Reform Act has reduced small group learning, in favour of whole class teaching and individual work.
There is a threat that competition outweighs co-operation in schools, workplaces and in educational policy, whereas what we want is a balance. The emergence of co-operative schools in England, Spain and elsewhere and the resonance of co-operative learning across the world is at least a hopeful sign and a positive vision for education.