I recently had the pleasure of revisiting my music teaching days by discussing music composition with a student. We discussed what makes a composition good, and I reflected on two elements: unity and variety. Within a quality musical composition, both will be present.
As I thought about the need for unity and variety in a musical setting, I also came to the realization that those elements are necessary components of a cooperative classroom. Our groups experience unity in pursuing the same aim, but within the groups there can be a variety of approaches applied. In the article Differentiating Cooperative Learning, authors Nancy Schniedewind and Ellen Davidson provide the following examples of differentiating (variety) within cooperative learning environments (unity):
- Adjust task complexity and task quantity within the group. Some students can cover more materials than others. Some students can produce more evidence of learning than others. Be intentional in planning for the needs of all group members.
- Build on the work of the high achievers. Have the high-achieving students bring their work to the fore and let other build on it.
- Improve on individual work. Let each group member bring his/her work to the table and to receive peer feedback. Let each member improve his/her work and use it to advance the aims of the group.
- Create opportunities for enrichment within the groups. Allow for learning to extend beyond the parameters for the assignment. Design a few tasks that further student knowledge and give students the choice to take on those tasks.
- Incorporate multiple intelligences. Encourage students to express their new knowledge in a variety of ways. Encourage students to use their areas of strength to add value to the cooperative experience and to others within the group.
- Individualize assessment goals. Each group member brings different growth needs to the group. Work with students to develop individualized contracts related to the growth they need and assess accordingly.
As you plan for next week, consider ways that you might be able to inject variety into the cooperative group activities you have planned. Your students will benefit greatly from your efforts as their individual learning needs are met.