HLP’s: Cooperative Learning

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As a teacher, I am always looking for ways to help my students learn, whether they are gifted in my subject area of music, whether they do not prefer this special yet have an understanding and an appreciation for it, or whether they struggle to learn and perform it. I know that my colleagues who teach the core content areas feel much the same as I do. They work hard to prepare their lessons for the core subjects so that our students can stay engaged, remain interested, and will learn what is presented to them.

One valuable framework that I’ve recently learned more about is the set of High Leverage Practices, and these could be able to help support what my colleagues and I do for our students to achieve their best potential in any content area. These practices are those “that are fundamental to support… student learning, and that can be taught, learned, and implemented by those entering the profession” (Okolo, quoting Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012: https://vo-general.s3.amazonaws.com/0909b782-90db-4ee8-aa57-29d7ee361600/gTwpzLeQTiiPORlXgCLo_HLPs%20Feedback%20TED%202015%20McLeskey.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ3YBR5GY2XF7YLGQ&Expires=1552052174&Signature=nf8xRTW6TKr5yrsTw3Yb62FUNI0%3D) Included in these practices is Cooperative Learning, as students learn to work together as they learn within a certain content area. This piece could prove to be very beneficial, not only for students who have challenges in learning, but also for all students in general.

Though I see the educational value in “HLP’s”, specifically in Cooperative Learning, I also see that there could be drawbacks in employing them. Given that Windschitl et al. described HLP’s as factors that new teachers will be able to implement in the classroom, I have to wonder about the training current educators would receive in this regard, and what would be expected of them. It could be difficult for some seasoned teachers to implement changes for group work, possibly having to revamp what they have been doing throughout their whole career. Barbara Levin, teacher and author of Case Studies of Teacher Development, An In-Depth Look at How Thinking About Pedagogy Develops Over Time, commented on this notion, saying some “… other teachers don’t want to change what they are doing. They say, ‘We’ve seen this before. It’s the same thing we did before. ‘Or they just [ask] why should they change to this new thing because it will just change again… Other teachers have their classrooms they way they want them and they aren’t willing to change. Change is hard…” (Levin, 2003). Though I can surely see the value in having professional development for current teachers to learn to use and implement HLP’s, I agree with Levin because it is hard to incorporate changes into what and how you may currently teach in any content area, even if the changes do have merit.

Another point that I could challenge within the premise of Cooperative Learning is how teachers may put certain learners together for the best end result. Students working together toward common goals, fulfilling various roles in a group, and offering what knowledge they have about a certain subject can grow in that knowledge and as productive members of that group. Students who may struggle can benefit from working with others, to learn from what their group members know, and also to teach others what material they have learned. Yet, as Dr. Okolo of Michigan State University pointed out, “Despite our beliefs about the benefits of working in groups for diverse learners and our commitment to collaboration among students, cooperative learning can actually disadvantage students who struggle if not implemented thoughtfully and systematically” (Okolo, 2017).

When I think of my own experiences in the classroom, both in my own content of music and also in those settings of my colleagues’ core content teaching, using group work can turn out to be amazing, but is not always easy to facilitate. Making sure that students are placed together in order to tap into their strengths can be challenging task to coordinate, especially if some of those learners struggle in that content area, or if they have particular challenges in their learning. Teachers, do you feel that using the context of Cooperative Learning would be helpful in your classroom group work? How do you construct groups for your students to get the most out of collaboration in your classroom setting?


Levin, B. B. (2003). Case studies of teacher development: an in-depth look at how thinking about pedagogy develops over time. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=Fg6QAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA102&lpg=PA102&dq=teachers who don%27t want to change&source=bl&ots=FRJy5Uznyv&sig=XiCtl4l30bk1HAMy9Or7XBOlsxI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjls5zmpNrUAhVD8j4KHXh6CbE4ChDoAQhbMAk#v=onepage&q=teachers%20who%20don’t%20want%20to%20change&f=false

Okolo, C. (2017, June). Cooperative Learning. Retrieved June 25, 2017, from https://d2l.msu.edu/d2l/le/content/576255/viewContent/4999489/View

Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe. (2012). https://vo-general.s3.amazonaws.com/0909b782-90db-4ee8-aa57-29d7ee361600/gTwpzLeQTiiPORlXgCLo_HLPs%20Feedback%20TED%202015%20McLeskey.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ3YBR5GY2XF7YLGQ&Expires=1552052174&Signature=nf8xRTW6TKr5yrsTw3Yb62FUNI0%3D


4 thoughts on “HLP’s: Cooperative Learning

  1. Hey Molly,

    It’s interesting how so many of these topics including cooperative learning can be both beneficial as well as a challenge when not used effectively or efficiently. Putting the “right” students together can be a nightmare for instruction and productivity. Some groups will have one student wanting to do ALL of the work, while others will sit back and not participate based on lack of knowledge or confidence. Another thing that you did quite mention, but it came to mind is the assessment piece of cooperative learning. How do you assess group work as well as individual learning at the same time? I really like the statement in which you said “Students working together toward common goals, fulfilling various roles in a group, and offering what knowledge they have about a certain subject can grow..”. Providing group roles to make every student feel as though they are contributing to the task or activity is an excellent option for everyone to share or feel as though they are a part of the group. Your image at the top is spot on with the cooperative learning 🙂 Great job!


    1. Hi Keriann!

      Thanks for your thoughts on my post! 🙂 Yes, cooperative learning can be wonderful and yet demanding, can’t it? I’ve tried a number of ways to group my students to give them each the most benefit and I’m finding how vital assessment is, as you mentioned. I teach music, and at the end of the year, I tried a project for one whole grade level that was “outside the box”, having my students use group work to put together a storybook online. They needed to include specific details that we had covered this year, including musical notation, and the basics of playing the recorder, all with the intention of me being able to show the books to next year’s classes and to use my former fourth graders’ knowledge to teach my new fourth graders some basic musical details. As we progressed through the project, I definitely found that some students wanted to take the wheel and complete much of the group’s work, but as I also wanted to use this as a (sneaky!) way to assess them, I took time to meet with each group, and to sometimes seek out the kids who didn’t seem to have the chance (or to take the chance) to express their knowledge. When I was able to talk to these students, it helped me to assess them on an individual level, and we talked within the group about ways to include the ideas of all involved. Do you have any ideas you might use for assessment in group and individual learning?

      Thanks again for your thoughts, and I hope the course is going well for you!
      🙂 Molly


  2. Hi Molly,

    The thing that you said that really struck me as something I’ve struggled with was when you talked about teaching old teachers new “tricks” (my wording). I am one of those teachers who enjoys learning and adapting my teaching in order to better serve my students, and I work with many teachers who are like-minded. But for as many teachers I know who WANT to learn and implement new and helpful strategies, I know just as many who don’t want to do anything differently from how they’ve always done it, no matter how compelling the evidence that a new strategy may help students. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” is the sentiment expressed by many veteran teachers. And change, as you said, is not easy… even for those of us who are open to it. I think that maybe they are not realizing that things are, in fact, broken when there are some students in the class who are unable to learn well when taught with the older strategies that really only work for certain types of learners. Have you seen any of this in your experience as a teacher?



    1. Hi Becky!

      I’m so glad to hear from you- thanks for your reply! Your students are lucky to have you, that you are willing to try new things and to adapt them into what you do for their benefit. In my experience as a teacher, I have come across this notion, where it’s hard for some to adapt to new ideas or ways of teaching. I think maybe one way of helping these individuals to further help their students with new strategies and techniques is to lead them by example. If they see first hand how changing can make a difference in how and what their students can learn, and can observe you making the change, I think that’s a powerful way to lead, extending the idea of cooperative learning beyond your own classroom. Like you said, change is even challenging for those who are open to it, but I feel more supported to try when I network with great teachers like you! Thanks for your thoughts!

      🙂 Molly


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