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Cooperative Learning in PE

Part 1

There are many strategies and instructional techniques we can use as teachers to help students achieve a wide range of outcomes. Cooperative Learning is a common instructional approach found throughout education; however, it is relatively new within the subject area of Physical Education.

In this blog post, we'll define models-based practice, explore what Cooperative Learning (CL) is, briefly describe the five non-negotiable features, and share some of the benefits of CL in a PE setting.

What is a models-based approach?

Kirk (2012) claimed that PE should move away from the multi-activity approach and adopt a models-based approach for the betterment of student learning and to help achieve legitimacy for the subject area. To be a "model", it must have sufficient evidence (e.g., research in schools with children and youth) to support its effect on learning (Arufe-Giraldez et al., 2023). Additionally, a model uses strategies and techniques that can help students achieve learning outcomes in each of the physical, cognitive, social, & affective domains (Dyson & Casey, 2012; Fernández-Río & Iglesias, 2022). Examples of models-based approaches used in PE are Teaching/Taking Personal and Social Responsibility (Hellison, 1978), Sport Education (Siedentop, 1994), Teaching Games for Understanding (Bunker & Thorpe, 1982), and Cooperative Learning (Dyson & Casey, 2012). One model is not capable of delivering all of the learning in a PE curriculum. As a practitioner, you are to decide which model to use that will help students gain an understanding of the learning intentions & content found in each unit.


What is Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning is a pedagogical model that emphasizes collaborative efforts among students to achieve common educational goals. It gets away from the traditional competitive and individualistic approach to learning, promoting the idea that students can accomplish more together than they can on their own. In this student-centered model, the teacher (acting as a facilitator) plans for social, physical, and cognitive learning outcomes (Dyson, Griffin, & Hastie, 2004).

There are four major approaches to CL; however, PE has primarily used Johnson & Johnson's (1991) CL conceptual approach which has five features described below (Goodyear, 2013). For the purpose of this blog, we will only refer to this approach (Johnson and Johnson's) as it is most relevant to PE.


Five Elements of CL

Dyson and Casey (2016) claimed that these five elements are critical to include to ensure the successful implementation of CL in PE.

  • Positive Interdependence - Pertains to each group member depending on group members while working to complete a task.

  • Individual Accountability - The “answerability” of a task (Dyson, 2001), and is when students take responsibility for their part within their group activities.

  • Promotion of Face-to-Face Interaction - Having students in close proximity as they work on a task. This may literally be students positioning themselves face-to-face, knee-to-knee, or feet-to-feet, as they help each other work through the task(s).

  • Interpersonal & Small Group Skills - Skills such as listening, giving and receiving feedback, encouraging others, shared decision making, and taking responsibility.

  • Group Processing - The time used for group members to discuss how well they achieved their goals. What happened? So what? What's next?

Benefits of CL

CL, although relatively new in the "model world" of PE, continues to have growing research to support its benefits for achieving learning outcomes in all domains. Generally speaking, research conducted in schools is done with students in Grade 3 and upwards.

Here are some of the benefits from research conducted alongside students in schools:

  • CL enhanced students’ willingness to participate, while also increasing responsibility for others’ skill improvement, confidence, and positive interactions with others (Dyson, 2001).

  • CL helped students learn new skills by demonstrating, correcting, encouraging, and communicating specific learning cues (Dyson, 2002).

  • Students decreased their quick-temperedness, their tendency to disrupt others, and their discomfort with group work. Additionally, students displayed greater cooperative skills, empathy, and increased their preference for group work (Goudas & Magotsiou, 2009).

  • CL helped alleviate the influence of individual athletic abilities on the peer acceptance of students with learning disabilities (Andre et al., 2011).

  • The CL model helped students collaborate with others and assisted students in establishing friendships (Velazquez Callado, 2012).

  • CL can increase academic achievement (apply and understand content), develop communication skills, enhance participation, and improve youth's psychological health including self-esteem and/or motivation (Casey & Goodyear, 2015).

  • In comparison to students who were taught by a teacher using direction instruction, students exposed to CL had improvements in motivation, peer relationships, and emotional self-concept (Zeleznik et al., 2023).

Final Thoughts/Questions

Now that you have a better idea of what CL is, in Part 2 of this blog (coming next week), we will examine a variety of Cooperative Learning structures that you can use with your students within the setting of PE.


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Thanks for reading!

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I am actually in a problem solving unit where students are working on these cooperative learning skills. This is helping us in other lessons because students have learned how to use these skills and take it further into their classrooms and other lessons to solve a problem or when arguing.

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