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Separate cooperative and basic skills education

News Herald – Juliann Talkington


Cooperative learning first gained traction as an instructional method in the 1970s and was widely implemented in K-12 classrooms by the 1990s. It is based on the premise that collaborative participation creates an enhanced learning experience. Proponents of this teaching strategy site improved student communication, heightened oral skill development, more advanced learning, and enhanced student responsibility.

Cooperative learning, however, is not without challenges. One of the biggest obstacles to effective cooperative learning is a negative group dynamic. Conflicts between individuals can reduce a group’s ability to work together and problems are magnified when members are too immature to adequately resolve conflicts. To make matters more challenging, personality mismatches can stall learning even when no overt conflicts are present. In addition, assertive students often move into leadership roles even when they are not best suited to direct a project.

Beyond personality issues, cooperative learning can also result in uneven workloads. When this type of learning is working efficiently, students support and inspire one another. Everyone has a similar workload and everyone learns. In many instances, however, more advanced students take over projects rather than spending extra time to help struggling students. In addition, unmotivated students often rely on more conscientious team members to complete required work. The result is not only an uneven workload but also uneven learning that leaves struggling students behind, permits lazy students to slide by, and allows more advanced students to stagnate.

Also, student evaluations for group assignments are challenging. It is often impossible to evaluate group members individually. This can result in all group members receiving the same grade regardless of how much they participated and contributed. In addition to artificially high or low marks, it is difficult to determine gaps in student understanding. This proficiency issue is particularly problematic in subjects like math, science, grammar, and writing where learning is cumulative.

It is not that the skills associated with cooperative learning are not important, but that the academic classroom may not be the best place to teach these skills. Instead of compromising basic learning in science, language arts, math, history, and foreign language we should consider using electives for collaborative activities. In addition, we should give students credit for sports, theater, makerspace (cooperative technical and art gatherings), and other group activities that occur after school hours. This approach would provide kids with an opportunity to build both basic educational and soft skills that are critical for success later in life.

States Should Use ESSA To Do Right by High-Achieving Students

Education Next – Chester E. Finn, Jr

“The Fordham Institute’s new report, High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, examines whether states’ current or planned accountability systems for elementary and middle schools attend to the needs of high-achieving students, as well as how these systems might be redesigned under the Every Student Succeeds Act to better serve all students. It finds that the overwhelming majority of states provide schools with few incentives to focus on their high-achieving students. This is a problem. Accountability has been a central theme of education reform for almost two decades, driven by the unchallenged central finding of James Coleman’s seminal 1966 study: Although some interventions are demonstrably more effective than others, there’s no direct link between what goes into a school by way of resources and what comes out by way of student learning. Sage policy makers have recognized that trying to micromanage school and district “inputs” is a waste of time. Instead, the prudent course is to (a) clearly state the results that educational institutions ought to produce, (b) assess how satisfactorily those results are being achieved, and then (c) hold schools and school systems to account, with rewards of various sorts for success and interventions of various sorts in the event of institutional failure.”(more)

Experts aim to shift school policy to cover ‘invisible students’

The Gazette Extra – Jonah Beleckis

“New research from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy draws attention to the higher-achieving end of that classroom distribution. It’s coauthored by Scott Peters, a UW-Whitewater associate professor of educational foundations who specializes in “advanced learners.” The paper is titled “How can so many students be invisible? Large percentages of American students perform above grade level.” Peters’ research warns against a system of teaching rigidly to grade level, where the primary focus is getting students to meet benchmarks rather than focusing on the substantial student population that learns above the target. The current system drives the implicit idea that because a school knows a child’s age and grade level, it will know what to teach that child, Peters said.”(more)

Dispelling the myths around gifted education

Thomas B. Fordham Institute – M. René Islas

“How often have you heard, “Gifted students will do fine on their own?” This is just one of the many myths that become barriers to properly educating millions of high-potential students. The following is a list of the most prevalent myths in gifted education, accompanied by evidence rebutting each of them.”(more)

Leaving talent on the table: Fixing gifted education in America

Thomas B. Fordham Institute – Norm Augustine and Rudy Crew

“Our schools should exist for one reason—to help our children achieve their potential. The evidence today is that we are largely failing to achieve this goal when it comes to our most talented students. But with a renewed commitment and targeted interventions, our nation can turn this tide…we must build a national strategy to develop our academic talent, revisiting the approach from more than a half-century ago that enabled the United States to win the space race. As leaders, perhaps the single most important message we have learned is that no resource is more critical to a successful enterprise than its people…We must grasp a sense of connection to the global sphere and ensure that decisions serve the bigger picture and make it brighter for our Nation’s gifted and talented students. Otherwise the talk about globalization and education is just rhetoric with no real vision.”(more)

Advocating for high-achievers

Thomas B. Fordham Institute – Brandon Wright

“Thanks to No Child Left Behind and its antecedents, American education has focused in recent decades on ensuring that all children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, attain a minimum level of academic achievement. Yet our focus on the performance of students “below the bar” has been accompanied by a neglect of girls and boys who have already cleared it, and especially those who soar over it. While it’s true that “federal rulemaking must not inhibit the ability of states to continue to focus on the lowest-performing students,” as the group Chiefs for Change has stated, our high-performing students deserve an education that meets their needs, and maximizes their potential. Far too few of them, especially the poor and minority children among them, are getting that kind of education today.”(more)