Structuring Group Interaction to Promote Thinking and Learning During Small Group Learning in High School Settings

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Reports about success and flaws of cooperative learning in classrooms lead to the conclusion that external structuring of teams and learning tasks is not sufficient, because students often need additional structural support on a level of internal organization of group processes and on the internal level of individual learning orientations. As regards external structuring, the article describes the wide-spread technique of task-specialization in models of cooperative learning as well as its problems, and shows alternative approaches. Support for internal, interactive processes may be achieved by prescribing social roles or even learning, by training relevant competencies before small groups start learning together, by reflecting and evaluating group activities during and after learning, and finally, by modifying how the learners perceive their own and their team-mates’ competencies. The optimal approach is to combine these structural supports for small group learning and to complement it with phases of teacher-centered as well as individual learning. Two combinatory models are described, which also have been shown to reduce the uncertainties of small group learning for more certainty-oriented learners, who otherwise liked cooperation less and achieved less than their uncertainty oriented class-mates. Final recommendations include a warning against the exclusive role of individually centered assessment procedures apparently in cooperative environments of teaching and learning.