Creating a Student-centered Classroom Through Cooperative Learning

One of the most powerful pedagogical strategies to transform learning, create student-centered classrooms, promote communication and develop social skills, is the use of cooperative learning strategies. I’ve seen the effectiveness of well-implemented and consistent use of CL in classrooms across several continents. It works with any age group, and in every subject.
 
In this video, the teacher demonstrates what she calls “second set  partners”. This is basically a variation of Think-Pair-Share, that involves the sharing of ideas between partners, and then turning to another partner to paraphrase what their first partner has shared.
 
It is clear in the video that the students know this strategy well – one of the tell-tale signs that one picks up quickly when conducting lesson observations is to watch the learners’ response to the teacher’s instructions and the confidence with which they follow the steps of the activity.  The teacher uses a set of gestures to show the switch to the second partner.  She also constantly reminds them of the importance of listening to their first partner, and also to used their partners’ names during the sharing process.  In this way she clearly focuses on building trust and a positive learning environment for her students. 
When introducing any cooperative learning strategy you have to ensure that students understand exactly WHAT they have to do.  Therefore it is good to:
1. Teach them the NAME of the strategy (in this case, “Second Partners)
2. Model the steps
3. Give a visual reminder
4. Tell them who will start
5. Remind them of the social skills that they have to use when working with their peers.
It takes practice, and therefore it is also good if different teachers who teach the same grade/class agree on using the same strategies.  In this way it becomes part of the classroom routines and reduces the effort for individual teachers to first teach the structure.  It is also important to know that not all cooperative structures achieves the same outcomes, so you have to consider what skills you want students to practice.  That said, a structure like the one modeled in this lesson allows for students to practice their communication skills, to collaborate, to respect one another and to also review their own learning.