Cooperative Learning Theory

Have you heard about cooperative learning, but aren't sure what it is? Does your principal question why you are so passionate about cooperative learning strategies? Check out this post for the how and why of cooperative learning in the classroom!
 Have you heard about cooperative learning, but aren't sure what it is? Does your principal question why you are so passionate about cooperative learning strategies? In this post I hope to answer those questions and more!

I first heard about cooperative learning while I was working on my M. Ed. at Texas State University. I still remember receiving a big ol' book titled cooperative learning and when I first heard about the strategies they seemed to be a bit gimmicky, but boy oh boy was I wrong. VERY quickly I learned all about collaborative learning theory and why cooperative learning strategies work for ALL students. Soon I knew that I could never be in a classroom without cooperative learning, and became an evangelist myself. I now want to spread the good word about cooperative learning and make sure that everyone knows the miracles it works with out students.

What is Cooperative Learning?

Simply put, cooperative learning is when partners or small groups of students with differing abilities work together to accomplish a common goal. 

Of course, there is a ton more to it than that including positive interdependence, specific roles within the group or partnership, and imbedded social skills. 

Have you heard about cooperative learning, but aren't sure what it is? Does your principal question why you are so passionate about cooperative learning strategies? Check out this post for the how and why of cooperative learning in the classroom! Each cooperative learning strategy highlights students abilities and ensures success of the group by building in ways for students to scaffold for one another. When executed well, cooperative learning strategies leave students with a pumped up self esteem and confidence in their team. 

Tell Me More About Collaborative Learning Theory...

Collaborative learning theory is rooted in Vygotsky's Social Learning Theory. The short version is that when a learning experience maximizes a students's interaction with others the new information stands that much better of a chance of being cemented into a student's brain. 

This is achieved through shared conversations, questioning, physical interactions, following of social norms, and peer feedback. The general idea is to get students talking more with one another and the teacher talking less, while acting as a facilitator.

For more information on collaborative learning theory check out these articles:
Instructional Design Models and Theories: Cooperative and Collaborative Theory
Theories of Cognition in Collaborative Learning 
Collaborative Learning: Theories, Strategies, and Educational Benefits

Where Should I Start?

Anywhere! Truly, there is no wrong cooperative learning strategy to start with. When I throwback to my grad school days I think about how we were taught strategies. We learned about one new strategy a month to take back to our classrooms and really hone and master. 

In the classroom is is vital that you take the time to front-load the proper procedures for each strategy and take your time to get it right. Model the strategy for students with examples and non-examples, practice the structure with easy content or social questions, and then get down and dirty with content. 

To check out more on specific cooperative learning strategies click on over to the following posts:
Jigsaw (A personal favorite of mine!)

For more all about cooperative learning check out this post

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Professional Books to Motivate Your Teaching

Are you looking to renew your passion for teaching and motivate you to get started with a new school year? Check out these professional books that will leave you refreshed and ready to conquer the school year!
I don't know about you, but I LOVE to read professional books about teaching. You probably think that I am kidding, but I am not. There is something about reading about teaching that is really refreshing to me.

The bigger struggle for me is always finding time to read all the books that I want to. With this being said, I pulled together a list of seven professional books that I have read over and over again. Not only are these books motivating, but they continue to be resources that I return to over and over again.

Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase Amazon gives me a little bit back, but it does not change the price that you pay. The money that Amazon gives me goes for the upkeep of this blog.

When I was trying to decide which books to include in this post as well as what order to put them in, I decided to go with the order in which I read them.

Setting Limits in the Classroom

This book was required reading for my very first education course in college and has been my best buddy ever since. I honestly reread it at least once a year, even years that I am not in the classroom. It is just that good. It is FULL of common sense actions to take in the classroom to build relationships with your students and have a healthy functioning classroom. I really cannot sing its praises high enough.

Positive Discipline in the Classroom

I grew up in an extremely strict household and held the belief that discipline had everything to do with punishment and negatives. That is until I really dove into this book, another required read for a college education course.

This book is the way that I learned to build a positive, interdependent classroom community from day one. It helped me to establish class meetings which began an absolutely integral part of our community and led to our classroom feeling much more like a family than a bunch of strangers thrown in together for a year. This meant that when struggles did arise we were able to handle them with dignity and love towards one another.

Who Moved My Cheese?

While this book is clearly not a strictly teaching book it is important to just being a human, especially if you are going to be an adult human. 

This book is all about change and accepting change rather than fighting it. As teachers we have to come to terms with change on a yearly, monthly, weekly, daily basis, and even at just a moment's notice. This book is a SUPER quick read, and another one that I have read over and over again when I need to be reminded to move with my own cheese.

Are you looking to renew your passion for teaching and motivate you to get started with a new school year? Check out these professional books that will leave you refreshed and ready to conquer the school year!AND because learning to deal with change is such an important lesson there is also a children's version of the book that I have enjoyed sharing with my students.

Kagan Cooperative Learning

The final book from my college days that motivates me to this day is Kagan Cooperative Learning. This is where my love affair with cooperative learning started, and it has never ended. This book has everything you need from rationale, to structures, to cooperative learning activities to get you started with cooperative learning. Soon you will be as in love with it as I am.

The truth is that there are so many nuances that go into cooperative learning that you may as well go straight to the source and get all the details.


Drive is another book that does not fall strictly into professional teaching books, but applies none the less! I first read this book because I had forgot a book for my flight and it was recommended in the overpriced airport book store. True story. 

It is all about motivation and I took home lessons about what motivates me as well as how I could work to motivate others around me, namely my students. While reading this one, keep an open mind as to how the different ideas can be used in your classroom and you are sure to come away motivated!

The Strategic Teacher

This last book on this list is the newest addition to my absolute must have and refer to all the time teaching books. It was recommended by Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy at a conference last summer. If you are familiar with Jennifer and her blog or podcast you will jump all over this one. Everything she recommends is pretty much amazing. 

This book is chock full of twenty teaching strategies that you can use in your classroom pretty much as soon as you read them. They are all research proven and pack a whole lot of bang for their buck. I mean, aren't the most motivating professional books the ones you can apply right away?

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15 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers from Teachers

Are you new to the classroom this year? Check out the advice that real teachers want you to know before you get started to have your best, successful, and fun year in the classroom!
Whether you are fresh out of college, coming to teaching from another career, or are going back to teaching after some time away from the classroom I am willing to bet that the rumor mill has been swirling surrounding the world of teacher, and it isn't all positive.

In order to combat the negative teacher mentality I set out to ask teachers for what advice they would give a first year teacher. I posed the question on Facebook and as I knew would happen, teachers were ready to jump in with their best advice.

Teachers are amazing about helping one another out, and this was no different. While MANY teachers responded to the post there seemed to be a few themes that were touched on over and over again which I will highlight in this post. You can check out the whole original thread here. A huge thank you to all of you who responded!!

At the end of the day, while all of these items are amazing advice for someone just starting out, they are also great reminders for us each and every day of our teaching careers!

"Not to worry when you feel happens
to all of us!"

Overwhelmed is kind of a way of life for teachers, but it is a matter of how you harness this feeling and take care of business that will define you. My biggest recommendation would be to talk to a team mate when you are feeling overwhelmed. This accomplished a few things in that you get it out, find out if others are stressed about the same thing to gain perspective, and will most likely be offered support.

"Take care of yourself!"

This one is everything. If you are not the best you then you can't possibly be the best for your students as well. This means that sometimes you are going to have to put yourself first, say no to taking on more than you can handle, and relax a little bit.

"You will always have more to do than what you can get done, so don't stress over the unaccomplishable!"

The to do list for a teacher is infinite. Instead of becoming overwhelmed rank your list in order of importance and take care of what needs to be done first and be ready to let some of the other stuff go.

"Keep it simple! Less is more!"

In the world of Pinterest it is really easy to feel like you are not keeping up with other teachers, but I have news for you, your classroom does not have to be perfectly decorated in order to be inspiring. At the end of the day it is the substance of the classroom that matters so much more than the decor, so don't beat yourself up about not going all out on every item.

"Be flexible and value the support of experienced teachers."

No matter how well you have your day planned out it isn't going to happen. Something will come up or change and you have to move with it. The sooner that you can accept that flexibility is vital the better off you will be. 

Experienced teachers have been in your shoes, and often will feel like they still are. When I first entered the classroom I thought I had all the tools I needed to lead my students into the brave new world, but quickly got a slap across the face that is real world classrooms. Fortunately I had an amazing mentor, and great team that were there to dust me off, offer advice, and get me going again. Use and abuse advice from your teammates. If nothing else, two+ heads are always better than one!

"You will hate it. You will want to quite every day, but don't, because it truly is rewarding. Make sure your class rules/procedures are explained and understood during the first week of class."

Now, I hope that you won't want to quit every day or hate it, but I have certainly been there. I have even sat in a cubby while my students were at specials and balled my eyes out. At the end of the day though I do love teaching, and while I am not in the classroom right now, I will be again at some point. 

As far as procedures go, give up the first week of school to drill in on those procedures. You will have ample time to make up for it later when your classroom is running like a dream, and it will, because you took the time to establish norms from day one.

"Find your calm place in the middle of the storm."

At the end of the day you are the only one that can find your own zen. One of the biggest pieces of advice for remaining calm that I was ever given was to drop your voice when you are upset instead of raising your voice. I am telling you, it works wonders, plus you don't have to worry about your voice cracking out of anger.

"Be firm, but fair. Kids respect it."

Firm and fair is what it is all about. When you offer this to your students they respond with respect and allegiance. It does not matter if the rest of the school views you as the "strict" teacher, because your students know that when you take care of business you get to have fun, and that is what matters.

"Each day is a new day. Also, to be kind to yourself."

One of the best things about teaching is that you, and your students, get a fresh start each and every day. Seize this opportunity and treat each day as a new chance to make a difference in the world.

"Look for balance. Take care of yourself. Give yourself grace-you're going to make mistakes. Use them as learning opportunities, just like we want our students to do."

Life is about balance and teaching can make you quickly forget that, but you can't. You have to take the time to enjoy your family and life outside of school. It will make you a better teacher. 

Mistakes happen. They happen every day, and there are plenty of them to be made. Keep your head about you and work to correct mistakes when they happen. Be an example for your students, and don't be afraid to share your mistakes and how you are working to find a fix with them.

"Make sure your students always know they matter!"

After all, our students are what it is all about. If absolutely nothing else, every student should leave your classroom knowing that they matter and are cared for.

Are you new to the classroom this year? Check out the advice that real teachers want you to know before you get started to have your best, successful, and fun year in the classroom!

"Work smarter, not harder."

I have met so many teachers that make their lives so much more difficult than they need to be by not streamlining their processes. Teaching is a ton of work, don't make it harder than it needs to me. 

On this note, if your students can do it then they should. There is no reason why students can't do the things that keep your classroom running.

"Build a good rapport with your students ad most of them will do anything for you. Start out firm, fair, be consistent, then you can ease up."

Relationships are what make the world go round, and classrooms are no different. Take the time to get to know your students and let them get to know one another and you. When you build a true classroom community it is more like family, and it becomes easier to handle possible problems as they arise.

"You are not alone! Don't give up."

There are millions of teachers the world over that are ready and willing to help you when you need it. Reach out to a teammate, a friend, a blogger, or a teacher leader when you need it. Teaching can feel really lonely when you are the only adult in the room, but you are never truly along. If you are struggling reach out!

"If you make every decision with someone else in mind (students)  you will be just fine."

Our students are the end all and be all of our classrooms. When you focus your attention on them above all else you cannot go wrong. Thing of every decision that you make through the lens of what is best for your students, and you will rock as a teacher! 

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