Negotiating the cooperative learning model : teacher narratives about their implementation experiences
Huntley, Marilyn A. Hallquist
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The purpose of this narrative study was to investigate the ways in which teachers responded to their cooperative learning training and how they resolved the perceived contradictions and dilemmas they met in implementing a model that promised to make them more effective teachers. The Johnson and Johnson model was chosen because it is one that many districts use in their staff development programs, and it was the one supported by the local education service center. This model allows the teacher to determine that for a time, at least, students will talk about the lesson. It promises that its method leads to improved academic achievement, higher order thinking skills, and increased student motivation to succeed. The Johnsons also claim that the model is a classroom management tool since teachers grade one product per group instead of one for each single student. This frees up time, permitting the teacher to circulate among the groups to provide more contact with more students who are engaged on task. In addition, the Johnsons designed their training course for teachers incorporating a systematic structure. This study tested these claims against the experiences of classroom teachers seen as primary implementors. Four teachers told their stories about how they discovered the Johnsons’ cooperative learning model and how they responded to their training and implementation of the design, a model that promised to make them more effective teachers. The teachers’ reasons for attempting to teach cooperatively and their early experiences were explored. They related their classroom practices and the long-term impact of cooperative learning upon their thoughts and teaching practices. The impact upon their professional self-confidence and their critiques of district support efforts as well as critiques of the model itself were examined. Through extended interviews this narrative analysis relates the experiences of four women whose experiences with the model began in the trainings connected with an education service center in the state of Illinois between 1987 and 1989. Conclusions were drawn from the stories of the interviewees which indicated that in the course of the transfer to classroom practice, these women experienced dilemmas arising from various expectations about the popular staff development movement. They also related successes with students who previously had chosen little involvement in classes. The teachers reported professional satisfaction from adding another strategy to their instructional methods. Some explained detailed uses of cooperative learning while others reported superficial or little use five years after their training. Seventy-five percent of them expressed their need for peer and administrative support of their efforts with the innovation. All offered comments they wished to share with the designers of the model, and none regretted their exposure to it. Implications for practice and further study were drawn.