Cooperative Learning Classroom

criteria current need reason definition objective


This project was undertaken to examine the changing needs of public middle schools in order to develop more appropriate furniture for the cooperative learning classroom. Schools are moving towards cooperative groups as the model for learning. The current classroom furniture and environment does not accommodate this trend.

Andrew M. Dahley

definition of cooperative learning

In cooperative learning students work with their peers to accomplish a shared or common goal. The goal is reached through interdependence among all group members rather than working alone. Each member is responsible for the outcome of the shared goal. "Cooperative learning does not take place in a vacuum." Not all groups are cooperative groups. Putting groups together in a room does not mean cooperative learning is taking place. (Johnson & Johnson, p. 26). In order to have effective cooperative learning the following 5 essential elements are needed.

positive interdependence
Each group member depends on each other to accomplish a shared goal or task. Without the help of one member the group is not able to reach the desired goal.

face-to-face interaction
Promoting success of group members by praising, encouraging, supporting, or assisting each other.

individual accountability
Each group member is held accountable for his or her work. Individual accountability helps to avoid members from "hitchhiking" on other group members' accomplishments.

social skills
Cooperative learning groups set the stage for students to learn social skills. These skills help to build stronger cooperation among group members. Leadership, decision-making, trust-building, and communication are different skills that are developed in cooperative learning.

group processing
Group processing is an assessment of how groups are functioning to achieve their goals or tasks. By reviewing group behavior the students and the teacher get a chance to discuss special needs or problems within the group. Groups get a chance to express their feelings about beneficial and unhelpful aspects of the group learning process in order to correct unwanted behavior and celebrate successful outcomes in the group work.

reasons for cooperative learning

greater student achievement
Cooperative learning produces greater student achievement than traditional learning methodologies (Slavin 1984). Slavin found that 63% of the cooperative learning groups analyzed had an increase in achievement. Students who work individually must compete against their peers to gain praise or other forms of rewards and reinforcements. In this type of competition many individuals attempt to accomplish a goal with only a few winners. The success of these individuals can mean failures for others. There are more winners in a cooperative team because all members reap from the success of an achievement. Low achieving students tend to work harder when grouped with higher achieving students. There is competition among groups in cooperative learning. Some forms of group competition promote cohesiveness among group members and group spirit.

social benefits
Cooperative learning has social benefits as well as academic. One of the essential elements of cooperative learning is the development of social skills. Children learn to take risks and are praise for their contribution. They are able to see points of view other than their own. Such benefits contribute to the overall satisfaction of learning and schooling. Students work with classmates who have different learning skills, cultural background, attitudes, and personalities. Heterogeneous groups promote student learning. These differences forces them to deal with conflicts and interact with others. Social interaction improves communication skills that become a necessity to functioning in society.

changing business structure
Many businesses and industries work in teams or are moving towards this concept. Schools need to ready children for the job market. Companies such as Ford Motors, Motorola, AT& T and many others are finding it more beneficial and profitable to combine the knowledge and manpower of a team in a interdisciplinary group. Companies find that teams are able to accomplish more when they are trained to work together.

economic benefits
Less materials are needed in cooperative learning. One of the social skill taught in cooperative learning is sharing. Teachers usually purchase a class set of materials for the groups to share. Reduction of materials does not hinder the educational process but teaches children the value of time, division of lab, or and sharing. Schools are moving towards implementing higher technology and computers have become a norm. Students are able to gain more skills through computer peer tutoring in a cooperative setting. Students who work on computers have a natural tendency to help their peers even without suggestion by the teacher. By using cooperative learning less equipment is necessary therefore money is saved without sacrificing the quality of education.

needs and other issues

role of the teacher
The role of the teacher is very important in cooperative learning. To have an effective cooperative learning group teachers must know their students well. Grouping of students can be a difficult process and must be decided with care. Teachers must consider the different learning skills, cultural background, personalities, and even gender when arranging cooperative groups. Much time is devoted to prepare the lesson for cooperative learning. However, teachers fade in the background and become a coach, facilitat, or and sometimes a spectator after the lesson is implemented. Teachers who set up a good cooperative lesson teach children to teach themselves and each other. Students learn from their peers and become less dependent on the teacher for help.

organization of the classroom
One of the goal of cooperative learning is to teach students initiative and self-reliance. Teachers want to see students seek out their peers for assistance rather than them. Materials should then be made available so students do not need to search for them or ask the teacher for help. Students also work more effectively in well organized classrooms rather than one that is clutter. Students are expected to be organized. However, if the physical environment is not the same, the example for the students is not consistent.

group size
With traditional teaching methodologies students sit in pre-arranged rows. Class size may be as large as 30 students or more. Cooperative learning works best when group size is smaller. The ideal cooperative learning classroom has about 15 to 20 students. Students are usually grouped in clusters of 3 to 5. The larger the group size the more difficult it is to organize tasks, manage different skills, and reach a consensus. Because the ideal class size is hard to obtain there will be groups with more members than others.

group spacing
Within each group students should be properly spaced to maintain eye-to-eye contact, share materials without bumping elbows, and communicate without disturbing other groups. Students working in cooperative groups do not always sit in one place. They usually move around the room to gather information. Barriers should be minimized to facilitate movement. Different groups should be spaced far enough to avoid conflict, provide enough room for the teacher to aid students and to monitor group action and behavior. The group configurations must allow the groups to take instruction from the teacher. This means They must be able to hear and see the teachers instructions from their workstations. Students do not always work in cooperative groups. Teachers may want students, to work individually on some projects. The class set up should be flexible enough for students to work separately when necessary.

personal needs
Within each group students still need to have a sense of personal space. Each group member does a task to meet the group's common goal. Personal space gives each student within the group room and freedom to perform the task that the group allocated. Each student should also be provided with a storage space for their materials and books. These materials should be accessible but out of the way when not in use.

Uncomfortable furniture distracts students from focusing on their work. Today, students sit in hard desks that do not always fit them. Students in the middle school are still growing and vary in size. Much of the day students sit in chairs and are expected to stay quiet. Students move from class to class approximately every hour. This leaves fitting each student with a individually sized space as a very unlikely option.

physically disabled students
Cooperative learning aids in the mainstreaming of physically disabled students. Students take pride in making a contribution to group goals and share in accomplishments. Because physically disabled students are part of the mainstream classroom accommodations should be made to facilitate their learning.

The learning environment should not be dangerous for the students. Students should be able to maneuver around the classroom without harmful effects. The arrangement of the classroom furniture should be done to avoid the destructive impulses of children.

cost and quality
The budgets of schools are limited. They cannot afford to spend large sums of money on expensive furniture. Classroom furniture is under hard use and must hold up to everyday wear and tear. This furniture should also be easy to clean, durable, and inexpensive.

current classroom furniture

Each student in the classroom has a work surface and a chair. The chair is usually connected to the work surface to make a single unit. This configuration makes group work difficult. In some classrooms the chair and work surface are separate. When the chair and work surface is not connected, the work surface can be an individual student desk or a table shared by more than one student. Some desks have adjustable heights. Because students are not the same size at all grade levels the desks and chairs are made in a few different sizes. Under the chair or work surface may be a storage space for students to hold materials. Very few of the chairs in the classrooms are padded to keep the chairs inexpensive, durable, and washable. Plastic, steel, and laminate are the major components of classroom furniture for students.

design criteria

- allow both group work and individual work
- let all students see and hear instruction from the teacher from their workspace
- facilitate interaction and freedom of movement by not having unnecessary barriers between students both over and under the work surface
- must conform to groups of 3 to 5 with possible larger groups
- must be able to fit a class of at least 21 students in an average size classroom
- leave groups far enough apart to avoid an excessive amount of interference from other groups and allow freedom of movement around the room
- any adjustments of the configuration must be simply changed by the students and teachers in a short amount of time with little noise
- should allow students with special needs to work readily in the groups as well

- the furniture must be easy to clean
- It must have a construction that will hold up to rigorous use in the middle school classroom for several years
- it must also be simple and inexpensive to repair
- the furniture should not have to be replaced as often as current classroom furniture but all itself to be refurbished on site

- students will need to store some books and other materials during a class
- the storage should be easily accessible when materials are needed but out of the way when not in use
- this storage is only temporary storage space during the class period
- the students could be aided in remembering their materials when they leave the class

- discomfort that distracts students from their work should be minimized
- the furniture must fit the wide range of body sizes in middle school classroom with little adjustment
- while students need to be close enough to other group members they also need some personal space to work

- the furniture must be stable enough not to allow the students to easily tip over or break the furniture
- no sharp edges will be exposed
- materials used must not be toxic to the students
- the furniture must not lend itself to allowing students to harm themselves or each other


Adams, D., Carlson, H. & Hamm, M. (1990). Cooperative Learning & Educational Media: collaborating with Technology and Each Other. Educational Technology Publications.

Johnson, D.W. & Johnson, R. T. (1994). Learning Together and Alone.

Allyn and Bacon. Smith, G. A. (1992). Education and the Environment: Learning to Live with Limits. State University of
New York.

Stockard, J. & Mayberry, M. (1992). Effective Educational Environments. Sage Publication.

Tompkins, J. R. & Tompkins-McGill, P. L. (1993). Surviving schools in the 1990's: Strategic Management
of Schools Environments.
University Press of America.

Adler, Martha - Field Service Specialist. University of Michigan School of Education.

Bricka, Mary Jane. Teacher. Ann Arbor Public Schools

Bui, Ha - Teacher. Fairfax County Public Schools.

Frank, Jane. Teacher. Ann Arbor Public Schools

Lievense, Butch - Sales Associate. Dew - El Corporation: Equipment System Specialists.

Marich, Milan - Professor of Education. University of Michigan School of Education

Moseley, Robert - Ann Arbor Public Schools. Executive Director Auxiliary Services

Sloussan Middle School Students. Ann Arbor Public schools

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