Student Voice and Choice

Student Voice & Choice: Collaborative vs Cooperative work


Cooperative vs. Collaborative learning: Each has its place and time in the learning environment.

Listening to another person isn’t easy especially when we are asked to work with someone who may not have the same opinions or viewpoints as us. Being asked by the teacher to work in small groups, towards an end goal involving multiple required tasks, isn’t easy.

We ask our students to work together on many occasions. We must equip them with the necessary social skills to work successfully with others. There is a difference between cooperative groups and collaborative groups in learning environments. Let’s look at them:

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning tasks are usually teacher-structured with students given assigned specific tasks to complete, specific reading materials to read and activities to complete. Teachers observe and intervene when necessary and teachers again assess completed work at the end of the assignment when the students turn in their work. In other words, cooperative learning it teacher-driven. There isn’t much, if any, student voice or choice.  Cooperative learning activities are beneficial because they can:

  • help students learn information quickly with the help of others.
  • encourage students to work together to achieve a common goal.
  • promote excitement in learning
  • promote support of each other to complete an assigned task
  • encourage time-on-task behavior

To be successful with cooperative learning, it is important students understand their particular role in the group project. Task Managers, Time Keepers, Artist, Historian, Visualizer, Materials Manager, and whatever other roles or titles are given for the task, for each student, it is important to outline for every student the responsibilities and time frame for the group start and completion date. There is also individual and group accountability built into the process and product. Cooperative learning usually has some kind of rubrics to self assess and group assess the work and productivity throughout and upon completion of the work. There is an assessment of the product as well by the teacher and students.

Cooperative Learning works great in classrooms for all ages of learners. Kindergartens can learn to cooperate with each other on tasks with specific jobs, up to high school seniors working on a presentation in AP History about the effect of past and future battles and lessons learned throughout. Specific responsibility placed on individuals to collectively achieve a common goal is a value and communication skill needed to work with others in any environment. When our boss asks a group of people to work together on specific tasks based on strengths to reach a common goal, communication is critical. Cooperative learning used wisely in K-12 settings with fluid teacher support, will help students learn the value of timelines and strengths to achieve a common goal.


Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning gives students the responsibility to work individually on a task while being responsible for a common goal with others in a group. Students are expected to self-manage their tasks and time use as they have to report to their group on their progress, along with the others working on the same goal. In collaborative learning, there is an expectation students will understand through conversation and processing, the strengths of their group members thus assigning specific tasks to each member by these strengths. The process is student-directed, not teacher-directed. It is the group’s responsibility to give deadlines to each other and hold each other accountable for task completion.  Students assess their own individual and group performance. The teacher does not monitor the group’s progress; only provides support when asked by the group and at these points usually acts as a facilitator and not the administrator.

The activity or challenge question (think inquiry-based learning) is open-ended than cooperative learning. Students are expected to explore the question and attempt to solve the problem using their choice of materials, research, and learning processes. The learning is much less structured with students deciding their path of exploration. The teacher is a facilitator to listen to and support the processes in each group.

Benefits of collaborative learning include:

  • development of self-directed learning
  • development of student strengths
  • development of communication skills
  • development of problem-solving

Whether you choose cooperative or collaborative learning for any educational task, preparation is important.

Remember these points to help set the class up for success:

A. Classroom environment

The physical classroom space should have spaces for whole-group learning and exploration, small-group teamwork, technology access, hands-on exploration and manipulation center, and independent workspace.

B. Classroom Workspace norms

It is important to discuss and model positive communication examples for each area. Voice level, movement, sharing materials, storing materials, how to disagree; all are needed to help students understand how to effectively communicate and problem-solve. Place expectations (developed by the class) on charts and displayed at each area. Groups should go over the norms whenever they walk into an area to ensure everyone understands and is agreed to the working rules.


When teaching, decide whether the learning standard would best be accomplished through cooperative or collaborative learning, develop the physical environment to best meet the needs of the task and learners, and instruct your students in the proper ways to interact and the students should reap the benefits from the learning activity.

Cooperative vs Collaborative:  Both have their place in teaching depending on the results you wish to achieve.


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