Co-operative learning: A Standard for High Achievement

By R Bruce Williams
Hawker Brownlow Education, 2002

Reviewed by Sue Buchanan

Teachers searching for a mix of strategies to promote high-order literacy in the classroom will find this book very doable: it instructs you stage by stage how to start and move on in working with groups rather than letting you dive in at the deep end, hoping to swim.

It takes time to implement cooperative learning groups in classes. Author Bruce Williams suggests that, first, staff should have intensive training in developing the groups as well as the materials and assignment style for the groups.

As a traditional teacher, I found compelling Williams’ explanations — delivered in simple FAQ-style on pages 21–22 — about the advantages of using cooperative learning groups instead of traditional teaching methods.

I was pleased with the results of trying mixed intelligence grouping to utilise “the strengths and gifts” from within each group to “experience the value of diversity”.

Another valuable tool is the “business card” model in which Williams suggests moving from “pair and share” to group discussion. This way, employing his suggested methods, the participants are in possession of the background knowledge needed to dialogue productively in the larger group discussion session. What a great idea for a book study.

Specific roles are set for the students within the group. This strategy permits each member to try different roles and to learn to operate as a team member with an expectation of success in each role.

In this compact book, just 68 pages long, Williams gives good advice on how to start in pairs then move to fours; how to phrase questions in higher order thinking terms by demonstrating two styles of posed questions, and how to obtain better results from your interlocutory style — something we teachers often neglect in our haste to have the students perform the task.

Williams uses user-friendly ideas that fit the real world and are achievable with time, practice and training of both staff and students. Among the many and varied ideas are very practical notes to use in class settings: for example, the suggestion about TTYPA (Turn To Your Partner And …) “recite five things they remember from …” (the book, video, or discussion). His ideas and tips are all very doable.

Williams goes on to speak about:

  • elevating students from timid to “confident to assume leadership roles”
  • how to generate consensus
  • team-building
  • communication
  • improving social skills.

    The book gives teachers the backing we need to become proficient in the methods he suggests, and will enhance the education of your students.

  • Williams says, “The opportunity to interact responsibly with peers makes sense to students.” I would add that it also makes sense for their future opportunities in life.

    Sue Buchanan teaches at Nambucca Heads PS.