Education Theories

Cooperative Learning in the Middle Grades


In today’s educational environments, it is important to address different concepts and approaches to teaching that will motivate students and keep them interested in the subject matter more effectively. This is an ongoing challenge for many educators to develop or try new strategies to improve learning outcomes for students. Grades K-8 are particularly important because they represent some of the most formidable years of the educational track and require significant attention and support from teachers, parents, and peers. One strategy that has been proven successful under some circumstances is cooperative learning, which reflects the opportunity to acquire knowledge and to learn in smaller teams to achieve the desired learning objectives. Cooperative learning provides students with enhanced learning opportunities across a wide range of subject areas. Cooperative learning is also a viable and effective teaching method because it demonstrates the ability of students to communicate and collaborate to share knowledge and ideas with teacher-based support of this practice. Finally, cooperative learning supports students’ personal growth and development.


Cooperative learning enhances group and team interaction to acquire knowledge and share ideas rather than being dependent on a traditional lecture format in a variety of subject areas (Shimazoe and Aldrich, 2010). In many K-8 classrooms, this practice has been largely successful in enabling students to learn new material and to apply it during examinations and other projects to improve academic performance (Shimazoe and Aldrich, 2010). Under these conditions, the development of groups designated to address concepts in different subject areas is widely effective; however, this is best accomplished when teachers possess the appropriate framework to accomplish these objectives in a successful manner (Shimazoe and Aldrich, 2010).  By the time that the cooperative effort ends, it is expected that the group will provide students with the tools that are necessary to achieve effective learning in the school-based environment; however, teachers should encourage students in this capacity to accept cooperative learning and to make the most of these experiences (Shimazoe and Aldrich, 2010). The creation of an environment that supports cooperative learning also requires an understanding of the specific areas of study where this learning strategy is most effective. It is already assumed that this practice is effective in the social sciences and in English courses; however, its impact on science and mathematics is less known, at least in some countries and should be explored more readily (Zakaria and Iksan, 2010). In the traditional classroom setting with the lecture platform, “Lecture-based instruction emphasized the passive acquisition of knowledge. In such an environment, students become passive recipients of knowledge and resort to rote learning. The majority of work involved teacher-talk using either a lecture technique or a simple question and answer that demand basic recall of knowledge from the learners. Lecture based instruction dominates classroom activity with the teacher delivering well over 80% of the talk in most classrooms” (Zakaria and Iksan, 2010, p. 35). Therefore, there is little benefit for students in a more traditional format when education has shifted towards a more collaborative and discussion-based framework in many classroom settings (Zakaria and Iksan, 2010). It is expected that this type of traditional approach may leave many students without the ability to effectively contribute to classroom instruction that might be available in open discussions and organized smaller group environments (Zakaria and Iksan, 2010). This study also demonstrates that the ability to integrate cooperative learning into science and mathematics classrooms may provide important benefits in these subject areas and should be considered as an opportunity for continued student growth and learning (Zakaria and Iksan, 2010). This also serves as a means of enabling teachers in mathematics and science to experiment with the unknown as their subjects support and provide students with an alternative means of learning the subject matter by sharing ideas and approaches to solving problems without being told by the teacher to do so (Zakaria and Iksan, 2010).

Cooperative learning is utilized to accomplish a variety of objectives that enable students to achieve new outcomes as they collaborate with other students in an effort to obtain knowledge and share ideas. At the same time, some teachers are hesitant to implement this practice because it breaks traditional lecturing to some degree by requiring students to communicate with each other rather than their teachers, which may be disconcerting to some educators (Gillies and Boyle, 2010). Teachers appear to find cooperative learning a strategy that they are simply not willing to implement in their classrooms for a variety of reasons; therefore, students do not benefit from these interactions with their peers (Gillies and Boyle, 2010). However, when teachers embrace cooperative learning in their classrooms, their students benefit significantly from these objectives and are likely to demonstrated improved performance in the classroom setting. When students are engaged in conversation and in team-based assignments or exercises, they are focused on a particular task and are able to acquire knowledge in unexpected ways. Teachers must recognize that cooperative learning is a benefit for their students and should incorporate this tool into their classrooms whenever possible so that students gain familiarity with team-based exercises and idea sharing in smaller groups across a variety of subject areas, from mathematics and science to social studies and literature, as students will likely improve their level of comfort with the material that is required.

In a mathematics-based context, students are likely to achieve greater outcomes when they recognize the benefits of cooperative learning, particularly in subject areas in which they are less comfortable or familiar. For example, “Cooperative learning promotes deep learning of materials and helps students to achieve better grades…students tend to enjoy mathematics, and this enjoyment motivates them to learn…the cooperative learning method is more effective than the traditional teaching method in the academic success of students” (Zakaria, 2013, p. 98). This is an important concept for the future direction of education because it emphasizes the importance of cooperative learning and to move away from traditional learning methods in a variety of classroom settings. It is expected that as these opportunities become more prevalent in classrooms, they will provide an effective means of developing students that moves away from the traditional lecture-based method of classroom instruction that many traditional teachers prefer and to allow students to become more independent and learn new forms of knowledge in the process (Zakaria, 2013). It is necessary as an educator, regardless of the subject matter, to demonstrate his or her willingness to utilize different models of classroom instruction in an effort to produce successful outcomes for students, many of whom do not achieve great benefits from lectures where learning is in a passive form (Zakaria, 2013). Therefore, it is important to address how to improve student performance in the classroom through other methods, such as cooperative learning (Zakaria, 2013). It is expected that this method will be particularly useful in the areas of science and mathematics as a means of providing students with a greater opportunity to acquire and retain knowledge in a manner that is consistent with the proposed curricular objectives in these subject areas that are very difficult for many students (Zakaria, 2013). Since mathematics represents a challenge for many students, open discussion regarding problems and solutions is an important tool for these students in expanding their learning curves and portfolio accordingly and is likely to have a significant long-term impact on this student population (Zakaria, 2013). Students require different methods of learning in order to make education interesting, fun, and challenging so that they are able to achieve an optimal level of personal and academic growth and development in this manner.


The transition from traditional classroom-based methods to other types of educational models is an important opportunity to convey the changing trends of education in the modern era. It is necessary to consider traditional learning models and their impact on students in contrast to newer models, such as cooperative learning. It is expected that the latter will provide students with a means of greater participation in smaller groups, the experience of greater comfort in the classroom setting, and the development of new ideas and approaches that will encourage students to share knowledge and ideas in an open forum. This type of learning promotes active engagement in the subject matter and supports the development of new ideas and frameworks to support student learners more effectively. This method also provides a meaningful interface for students in order to achieve effective outcomes for long term success in the classroom setting. It is expected that this method will be influential on science and mathematics classrooms and will demonstrate the importance of idea sharing and collaboration in smaller groups to stimulate learning capacity as best as possible. These efforts will provide students with a framework to support their academic objectives in a unique and stimulating format. Although cooperative learning is not universally accepted throughout all classrooms, teachers will gain significant benefits from this practice in classrooms and subject areas where students might struggle with traditional methods of learning. In this context, cooperative learning provides important opportunities for students to learn more effectively and with a fresh perspective to ensure that their academic needs are met in an environment that embraces individuality and expressive approaches to learning in group settings.


Gillies, R.M., and Boyle, M. (2010). Teachers’ reflections on cooperative learning: issues of                 implementation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 933-940.

Shimazoe, J., and Aldrich, H. (2010). Group work can be gratifying: understanding &

Overcoming resistance to cooperative learning. College Teaching, 58, 52-57.

Zakaria, E., and Iksan, Z. (2010). Promoting cooperative learning in science and mathematics                education: a Malaysian perspective. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science &             Technology Education, 3(1), 35-39.

Zakaria, E., Solfitri, T., Daud, Y., and Abidin, Z.Z. (2013). Effect of cooperative learning on                 secondary school students’ mathematics achievement. Creative Education, 4(2), 98-100.