The Opportunities of Cooperative Learning

Hasmik Ghazaryan

Cooperative teaching is not anything new in the world. For example, still in the 1970s American sociologist and psychologist Eliot Aronson invented the "Jigsaw" cooperative learning method to mitigate the influence of race groupings in the classrooms.   

According to this method, different learners learn only part of the whole teaching material and then they teach their parts to others in the group. The method, in itself, is interesting, but it also gives an idea that it needs developing.   
And what would the result be if the groups of students studied different works of the same author and then each group presented what they had studied?      
Roughly speaking, there is no racial discrimination in the Republic of Armenia. But any person has an inner demand to be sure that he or she is the best, knows more than others, is the smartest of all.  Psychologists and social science specialists analyze and discuss the reasons of that state of mind from their viewpoints. But as for me, for the person who has taken the responsibility of educating teenagers, it is more important to assure them that each person has a unique individuality and, therefore, each person is incomparable. So, while working with this method, learning from each other, trusting each other turns out to be self-evident.

Learners of different age groups with different capabilities and preferences are also united with the help of project-based teaching. Project-based teaching is not only a trustworthy method of learning, but it also integrates different school subjects, different spheres of life and in this way learners learn things which they have not planned to learn. In this way, learners widen their world outlook. While working on a project cooperative method of learning helps us a lot as each student has his/her own contribution in the common cause according to his/her preferences, and at the same time, learns from others and finds out what is interesting in other spheres.  

We offered a project like that with the group of students studying French. The upcoming General Assembly of Frankophone in Yerevan was a good opportunity to study the French culture and particularly the literature. The students translated some quotes by the French authors into Armenian. The other students, having not chosen French to be their third foreign language, read those translations, edited them with the help of Armenian and French teachers and expressed their own ideas concerning the quotes and published them on the social networking websites. In this way they reacted this year's Frankophone slogan. The project was expanded when other students, studying other foreign languages, translated the same quotes from Armenian into their target languages.      

 Another project was realized with the students studying Spanish. They translated some short stories by Spanish writers. The translations were published in our school electronic magazine  "Թարգմանիր" which became a literary teaching material. We even had a meeting with Anush Sedrakyan, a lierary critic. 

The traditional ways of assessing students' knowledge and skills isn't sufficient enough, moreover, they rather hinder progress. The state standards of learning limit the students' learning opportunities. There are students who do not want to do anything else beyond these standards. They think that the school is only the place where they can learn what is fixed in the standards. They don't think that the school is a place where they can cooperate, teach other students, experiment  and tell others about their learning experience. All these qualities are said to be realized in after leaving school. That's why the school is cut off from real life.        

To reject this waste of time a new system of assessment of students' work, according to the amount of their participation and acievements in the project work,  has been put into effect at "Mkhitar Sebastatsi" Educational Complex. This system of assessment allows us to follow the learner's achievements and compare his/her knowledge and skills before taking up the project and after finishing it. Anyhow, I consider the exact assessment of the learners knowledge and skills by 10 points, taking into account the state standards, to be impossible and pointless.         

Cooperative project-based teaching-learning process gives the learners lots of opportunities for their self-expression. When students are engaged in a large cooperative project, they are stimulated to learn as each of them finds something interesting according to his/her special interests. For example, a few years ago our Art School took up the project "Picasso" which involved many students having different preferences. The Literature teacher Sofia Ayvazyan and her students studied the poems written by Picasso. The History teacher Haykaz Margaryan with his students studied the historical period of Picasso's lifetime. The Geometry teacher Manik Poghosyan with her students studied the Golden Section of Picasso. Project-based method of teaching is effective, and I wonder why it isn't widely used today. At the beginning of the 19th century the Bell-Lankaster method of teaching was used in the UK, and in the 1920s John Dewey's project-based teaching was first introduced in the USA. However, these  educational innovations didn't have widespread use, first of all, because they decreased the role of the teacher in the classroom. We should admit that in those years the teacher was the main source of information and knowledge. Nowadays, with the development of informative technologies, the teacher and text-books have ceased to be the only source of information and knowledge, and the teacher-lesson-class traditional approach is not effective. Nowadays the teacher's main mission is not his/her ability to transmit information to the students. What is vital now, is teaching to learn by using informative technologies, and radical changes at schools will really take place when such changes take place in the teacher's psycology.  






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