Group, collaborative and cooperative learning spaces

Learning with and from others can be a powerful tool. Why then do the words ‘Group work’ often strike dread into the hearts and minds of students, teachers and parents alike?

Because ‘group work’, as we often consider it, is fraught with dangers of unequal participation and lack of accountability (Kagan, TVO parents, 2010)… a frustration most of us have experienced. It is an ineffective way of enhancing individual or collective learning.

My own children have many times shared such feelings, causing us to debate the purpose and possible benefits. My suggestion that they are building skills for the future  and that maintaining their own good work ethic will serve them well is often met with eye-rolling disdain.  I understand their frustration though when reward for hard work is not forthcoming. Throughout life, however, there will be times when workload and reward are unequal, managing these times will take skill.

Despite this challenge, I see children enjoying the prospect and experience of working together, and if implemented well the experience can be highly beneficial to learning…academically and socially.

So how can we use group work effectively in our classrooms?

To help answer this I found it important to first understand the characteristics of different group work or “peer-based learning” (Shanahan, 2018) situations.

Cooperative and collaborative learning spaces have the capacity to improve learning for all abilities, increase motivation, creativity and encourage higher order thinking. Key aspects being group goals and individual accountability.

Collaborative group work requires sharing of ideas and thoughts. Responsibilities are equally divided. It is mostly student directed and individual contribution is assessed.

Teacher structured interactions encompass cooperative group work, designed to meet outcomes by sharing thoughts, ideas, knowledge and skills. Success is dependent upon new learning by all members. Process not product is valued. Co-operative learning, the most successful of the “peer-based learning” models “almost always improves effective outcomes” (Slavin, 2010. p.170).

Careful implementation of both ensures students develop team work skills necessary for their future.




Concept to Classroom. Cooperative and Collaborative Learning Workshop. retrieved from

Slavin, R. (2010). Co-operative learning: what makes group-work work? (pp. 161 – 178). In The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD Publishing.

TVOparents (2010). Does ‘Group Work’ Work? : Is It the Best Way for Children to Learn?Retrieved from:

image retrieved from


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