Inclusiveness is built into the foundations of the new Make it in Scotland, with every student being able to contribute meaningfully to its lessons and activities. Cooperative learning is a key element in this inclusiveness.


Many Scottish teachers have been trained in the methods of cooperative learning, and more are gaining familiarity with them all the time. There is a good match with the aims, purposes and principles of the Curriculum for Excellence.


Several cooperative learning schools of thought and centres of excellence exist. Two of the best-known are associated with the names Spencer Kagan and Johnson and Johnson.


The latter is the more academic, less commercialised and most familiar to Scottish teachers. But there is much overlap and no real advantage in identifying particular classroom techniques with one authority or another.


One of the more fundamental differences between Kagan and Johnson and Johnson, which can influence how teachers consider, implement and assess particular activities, lies in the essential features, as the authors see it, of cooperative learning.


For Kagan an activity should be regarded as cooperative learning if and only if it possesses four key features, (for which PIES is a handy mnemonic). These are:


  • Positive interdependence
  • Individual accountability
  • Equal participation
  • Simultaneous interaction


Johnson and Johnson, on the other hand, identify five key features of cooperative learning:


  • Positive interdependence
  • Face-to-face promotive interaction
  • Individual accountability
  • Interpersonal and small group skills
  • Group processing.


Central to the methods of both sets of authors is the principle that any learning activity that lacks one or more key features is not cooperative learning. It is group work. The significance of this is that research has shown that cooperative learning is more effective than direct instruction; but unstructured group work is less effective than both.


So for classroom practitioners a fundamental principle of all forms of cooperative learning is this:






Carefully structured and tested activities - as well as sympathy with the basic principles and purposes of cooperative learning - are essential to making the methods work in the classroom. At the time of writing, Kagan for instance has developed over 160 of these cooperative learning structures.


Some of these structures demand practice and previous experience by pupils and teachers to make them work well in the classroom. Jigsaw for example would be well suited to some parts of Make it in Scotland. But it is not advisable for those new to cooperative learning to jump right in to the complex choreography of this particular structure.


On the other hand think-pair-share, which is used in the first lesson of Make it in Scotland, is both intuitively obvious and appealing to students and teachers.


The cooperative learning techniques recommended for the present lesson - roundtable, gallery walk, and group investigation with pre-assigned roles - are also straightforward techniques that are relatively easy for students and teachers to put into practice.


Further reading

  • ‘Educators fool themselves if they think well-meaning directives to "work together," "cooperate," and "be a team," will be enough to create cooperative efforts among group members.’


  • ‘There are three basic ways students can interact with each other as they learn. They can compete to see who is "best"; they can work individualistically on their own toward a goal without paying attention to other students; or they can work cooperatively with a vested interest in each other's learning as well as their own.’


  • A comprehensive review of research on the effectiveness of cooperative learning in raising achievement in schools. ‘The consistency of the results and the diversity of the cooperative learning methods provide strong validation for its effectiveness.’



Cooperative learning is group work.

But group work is not necessarily cooperative learning.



Cooperative learning (notes for teachers)