A key component of cooperative learning involves promotive interaction. David Johnson and Robert Johnson of the University of Minnesota describe when promotive interaction happens:
Promotive interaction occurs when members share resources and help, support, encourage, and praise each other’s efforts to learn.
For cooperative learning to work, promotive interaction must be developed. Cooperative learning depends on students sharing information, helping each other with difficult tasks and content, as well as supporting each other as they work toward common goals. It’s imperative that skills in these interactions are developed and supported.
The reason many teachers don’t use cooperative learning strategies is that their students often don’t understand how to interact with one another positively. Like reading or math, students rarely have training in how to interact socially, especially when trying to complete a task collaboratively. Instead of helping students achieve more and take their learning to the next level, teachers are left putting out fires that have very little to do with the content trying to be conveyed.
Who has time for that? Who has time to develop promotive interactions with students?
With the myriad of state and district standards to meet, teachers must choose what to cut from their lesson plans. Unfortunately, things like team building and social skill development are the first to be cut. One can understand why there’s little room for character education as these are not part of state standards or will be addressed on standardized tests. So, it is hard for teachers to see value in teaching promotive interaction.
Consider the time spent in the average class period putting out those aforementioned fires. There are arguments among group members to sort out. Students continually turn to teachers for guidance instead of group members. The students are essentially working on their own as they feel little or no support from teammates. This sounds rather inefficient itself.
Consider all this wasted time and how it breaks the momentum of learning as interruption upon interruption disrupt the learning cycle. What would happen if we spent that time teaching to the interactive skills needed for students to successfully complete collaborative projects? Instead of all the time lost to corrective and reactionary measures for each student conflict, why not teach the skills students need to deal with these issues on their own?
Promotive interaction skills have to be taught and developed as much as any skills or content in order for students to be successful. This means that they should be prioritized in such a way that we are committing time to their development. It’s better to use the time helping students develop some positive behaviors instead of losing that same time (or more) to negative behaviors.
Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center.