The teacher’s role in cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms

Term Paper, 2018

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7




2.1 Cooperative learning - what makes it work
2.2 The limits of cooperative learning

3.1 The teacher as a designer of cooperative learning situations
3.2 The teacher as a behavior model
3.3 The teacher as a learning consultant
3.4 The teacher as moderator



1. Introduction

The convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which entered into force in 2008, determines an inclusive educational system (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities , 2008). Children, on the basis of their disability, cannot be excluded from primary or secondary school. In fact, children with disabilities should get the opportunity to take part in inclusive, high-grade, and free education along with other non-handicapped children. The convention’s aim is a joint education for children without disabilities and children with (learning) disabilities. This inclusive teaching is expected to take the children’s individual learning conditions into account and, furthermore, create an environment that allows children with disabilities to acquire practical abilities and social competences. The more heterogeneous a class is, the more tailored the teaching must be towards serving the needs of every child. This view seems to be the increasing common opinion of education policy.

An efficient and evidence-based teaching method for inclusive classrooms is cooperative learning. “Cooperative learning is a teaching strategy that emphasizes learning that is facilitated by students rather than the teacher” (Hinson, 2015) and represents a shift from traditional lecture-style classrooms to more brain-friendly environments that benefits all learners. Buchs et. al. (2017) state that, although cooperative learning is consistently acknowledged for its efficacy in enhancing social, motivational and cognitive outcomes, its implementation remains a challenge. The question whether or not schools have the necessary resources and teachers have the necessary professional competences in order to implement inclusive education is often ignored. The implementation of the convention brings new challenges to the classroom. Inclusive classrooms require inclusive teaching, which means a change of paradigm from a teacher-centered education to a student- centered education has to be enforced. The traditional role distribution between teachers and students does not do justice to an inclusive classroom. The conventional imparting of knowledge and competences is replaced by a more auto-didactical approach. Consequently, the education requirements for students and teachers change. There is innumerable research on cooperative learning but only limited research sheds light on the new role a teacher has to take on when it comes to implementing cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms. The main question becomes what does a teacher need to consider when they implement cooperative learning in classrooms? How can the teacher support cooperative learning in an inclusive classroom? Is it even possible for a teacher to fulfill all requirements that come with cooperative learning in an inclusive classroom?

This essay aims to analyze the changed dimensions of the role of the teacher required for cooperative learning in an inclusive classroom. For the purpose of this analysis, it is important to understand the framework of this essay. The first section provides an overview of cooperative learning as an educational approach and outlines the theoretical structure of cooperative learning by evaluating its five core elements. Furthermore, the first section introduces the teachers’ tasks that arise with the implementation of the five core elements of cooperative learning. The second section evaluates cooperative learning from a teacher’s perspective and is divided into four sections, which individually analyze the new functions of the teacher role in cooperative learning and assess the obstacles that accompany them. Section three serves to give a comprehensive overview of the complex challenges, which teachers have to overcome in order to successfully implement cooperative learning in an inclusive classroom. The final section then seeks to find out to which extent it is possible for the teacher to meet the demands of a cooperative learning approach. Moreover, the last section provides an outlook on future inclusive pedagogy and summarizes the identified shortcomings of the teacher role concerning cooperative learning.

2. Cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms - potentials and challenges

Olsen and Kagan (1992) determined cooperative learning as a group learning activity organized in such a way that learning is dependent on the socially structured exchange of information between learners in groups. E9ach learner is held accountable for his or her own learning, and is motivated to increase the learning of others. Cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms has the potential to engage learners to elaborate on their thinking during group or partner work.

Specifically, explaining the material to others may promote learning by encouraging the explainers to rehearse information, recognize and clarify material, recognize their own misconceptions, to fill in gaps in their own understanding, to strengthen connections between new information and previously learned information, to internalize and acquire new strategies and knowledge, and to develop new perspectives and understanding (Webb, 2009).

During the conversation with their peers, the learners may generate problem­solving strategies and connect their prior knowledge to the new information. “Providing learners with opportunities to build knowledge together is a fundamental principle of effective pedagogy” (Buchs, Filippou, Pulfrey, & Volpe, 2017). The teacher’s task during cooperative learning involves the stimulation of constructive interactions between learners. In order to achieve this, it is essential for the teacher to organize student interactions in the context of academic tasks and simultaneously, prepare the learners for collaborative work with others. Thus, the implementation of cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms is highly dependent on the teacher’s encouragement of students to contribute and share their ideas. However, the main condition for a successful implementation is the creation of an environment in which students feel safe in their learning.

2.1 Cooperative learning - what makes it work

According to Johnson & Johnson (2013), there are four types of cooperative learning: Formal cooperative learning1, informal cooperative learning2, constructive controversy3 and cooperative base groups. A Cooperative base group is equal to the concept of an inclusive classroom:

Cooperative base groups are long-term, heterogeneous cooperative learning groups with stable membership in which students provide one another with support, encouragement, and assistance to make academic progress (attend class, complete all assignments, learn). They also help one another develop cognitively and socially in healthy ways, as well as hold one another accountable for striving to learn. Base groups meet daily (or whenever the class meets). They are permanent (lasting from one to several years) and provide the long-term caring peer relationships necessary to influence members consistently to work hard in school. They formally meet to discuss the academic progress of each member, provide help and assistance to each other, and verify that each member is completing assignments and progressing satisfactory through the academic program (Johnson & Johnson, 2014).

The core of cooperative learning is made of a simple, effective structure. This structure determines all forms of cooperative learning, which range from the simplest to the most complex forms. The core consists of three elements, which can be combined in various ways. The first element is individual work. No matter what form of cooperative learning is chosen, individual work is always foregrounded. This is where the learner links his previous knowledge to the newly acquired information in order to build new knowledge- constructions. The second element is the cooperation with a partner or with a small group that takes place after individual work. “From a cognitive elaboration perspective, interacting with others may encourage students to engage in cognitive restructuring, through which they restructure their own knowledge and understanding” (Webb, 2009). The third element is the presentation of results. At this point, the results of the cooperation are presented, checked and discussed in class. Through this three- step- process of “thinking - exchanging - presenting”, the students’ attention is continuously held at a high level. Those three elements are the core of any type of cooperative learning. It is important to state that cooperative learning cannot be viewed as a single teaching method or as a collection of methods. Cooperative learning does not exclude other forms of teaching. In fact, research has shown that combining other forms of teaching with cooperative learning leads to long lasting learning outcomes. Beyond these three theoretical factors, there are five essential elements, which have to be ensured concerning the implementation of cooperative learning. The five essential elements are as followed:

Individual responsibility

Individual accountability “exists when the performance of each individual student is assessed and the results given back to the group and the individual” (Johnson & Johnson, Cooperation and competition: Theory and research, 1989). Each group member independently works on the assigned task and afterwards, receives feedback from the group. While planning an exercise, the teacher needs to assure that every student has a chance to contribute to the assignment. Without the contribution of every student, the end result is not complete.

Positive dependence

“Positive interdependence is the perception that one is linked with others in a way that one cannot succeed unless they do (and vice versa) and that groupmates’ work benefits you and your work benefits them” (Johnson & Johnson, 1992). Interdependence guarantees that all students take part in the group work and contribute. It is the teacher’s responsibility to distribute the tasks in a way that every individual contribution is indispensible for the end result. Additionally, the teacher has to avoid overwhelming individual students. The lesson planning has to be adjusted according to the different learning levels of the students in an inclusive classroom.

Promotive Interaction

“Students promote each other’s success by helping, assisting, supporting, encouraging, and praising each other’s efforts to learn” (Johnson & Johnson, 2014). The exchange of various ideas with others strengthens tolerant behavior towards contrasting opinions, trains finding problem solving strategies and eases the change of perspective. Cooperative learning is a double challenge for students. They are expected to work on an assignment and at the same time, they need to make sure that the group works efficiently. The teacher cannot presuppose that all students have the necessary competences for managing this double responsibility. It is the teachers’ task to convey and practice these essential competences with the learners.

Communication between partners

One of the purposes of cooperative learning is the close social interaction with mutual encouragement, assistance and socio-cognitive conflict. Socio-cognitive conflict is an essential element of cooperative learning forms and describes the situation when two students have contrasting approaches in order to solve a problem. This clash of contrasting problem solving strategies is called socio-cognitive conflict. This cognitive conflict “leads to progress when a student takes into account his perspective while considering another’s incompatible viewpoint” (Webb, 2009). In order for the students to benefit from this socio- cognitive conflict, especially in an inclusive learning group, the teacher has to pay attention to the group constellation. It needs to be assured that every student can equally contribute to the group. It is the instructor’s task to teach “leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management skills [...] just as purposefully and precisely as academic skills” (Johnson & Johnson, 2014) in order to facilitate the success of a group effort.

Process evaluation

At the end of a working process, students evaluate and reflect on the textual and communicative group work and if necessary make suggestions for improvement. Firstly, a teacher has to guarantee that his students have the ability to appropriately evaluate and reflect on their own working process. Therefore, it is necessary for the teacher to “ focus students on the continuous improvement of the quality of the processes” (Johnson & Johnson, Cooperative learning in 21st century, 2014) and teach evaluation and self­assessment strategies. Secondly, it is the teachers’ responsibility to supervise the learner’s evaluation process and engage the students in some kind of quality management.

This suggests that when it comes to the implementation of cooperative learning in an inclusive classroom the importance of the teacher’s role is often being underestimated. A successful implementation of these five essential elements demands that the teachers “structure any lesson in any subject area with any set of curriculum materials cooperatively, fine-tune and adapt cooperative learning to their specific circumstances, needs, and students, and intervene to improve the effectiveness of any group that is malfunctioning” (Johnson & Johnson, 2014). The step process evaluation includes many skills, tasks, and requirements that a teacher has to take into account. This profile of requiremnets further demonstrates that the implementation of cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms can easily overburden the teacher.

2.2 The limits of cooperative learning

Cooperative learning is an effective, activating, form of teaching, which simultaneously, provides an opportunity to increase the support for individual learners. Webb (2009) argues that research documents the strong relationship between elaborated discussion and learning outcomes, especially the power of giving explanations and its connection to achievement in small groups. However, Brunning and Saum (2008) note that in most cases there are thirty students in the classroom and only one teacher.


1 “Formal cooperative learning consist of students working together, for one class period to several weeks, to achieve mutual learning goals and complete jointly specific tasks and assignments” (Johnson & Johnson, Cooperative learning in 21st century, 2014).

2 Informal cooperative learning is a group of students that only works together to achieve a temporary common goal, which can last from a few minutes to one class period.

3 “Constructive controversy exists when one person’s ideas, opinions, information, theories, or conclusions are incompatible with those of another, and the two seek to reach an agreement” (Johnson & Johnson, 2014).

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The teacher’s role in cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms
Free University of Berlin  (Institute for English Language and Literature)
Ausgewählte Themen der Englischdidaktik
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Englischdidaktik, cooperative learning, inclusive classroom, teacher role
Quote paper
Sarah Eisenfeld (Author), 2018, The teacher’s role in cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The teacher’s role in cooperative learning in inclusive classrooms

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free