Cooperative Learning Benefits Special Education Students – Yes

Finding the best teaching formula to assist students with learning disabilities is not easy. However, some tactics come very close to it. Cooperative learning is one of them. This particular concept can benefit these students, if used properly.

Cooperative learning is a concept in which students are put into small groups. The groups will usually consist of three to five students – many with different grade or skill levels – and are assigned to work on a project or lesson presented to them by the teacher. Within each group, the students work together, often dividing different tasks between each other. Also, one person within the group may become the leader or the presenter of the finished project.

Like so many procedures used in today’s education, cooperative learning is only beneficial when it is adapted to the student’s learning ability and needs. Luckily, this method is flexible and can be used in almost any situation and with nearly every group of people.

Often this concept has been successfully used in general education classrooms, and has been a part of the curriculum at nearly every level of education. In fact, due to its success, a preschool student, today, may see this method used throughout his future educational career. This may include college, as well.

Cooperative learning has even been used in numerous special education programs. And, by all accounts, it would appear that this concept would benefit this particular educational system.

However, the method has had mixed results when used in special education courses or with mainstreamed students with disabilities.

The problem can be pinpointed by the very nature of those who are eligible for special education. Students with disabilities will have a myriad of conditions that affect the way they learn, process information or store memory. These effects vary with each individual. Standard planning for cooperative learning may not work for a certain group of students if certain forms of intervention or accommodations are not included.

On the other hand, cooperative learning, when modified to fit the learning strengths and needs of the special education students, can be an effective tool. Traditionally, special education curriculum has been based on small groups, specialized learning techniques or accommodations, and individual goals written for the students.  Cooperative learning is essentially the formation of small groups with specialized roles for each student.

Also, cooperative learning – by its nature – offers additional help for these students. In the groups, students not only work with each other; they learn from one another. Students with higher levels of knowledge and skills may end up dispensing these abilities to the lower level or skilled students.

Since the students are placed in smaller groups within a large classroom, they may receive more direct instruction from the teacher or instructional assistant. Cooperative learning groups may number up to four or five in a classroom. Still, the teacher can spend at least 5 to 10 minutes with each group instructing, facilitating, or divulging pertinent information. In this situation students with disabilities (especially RSP students who were mainstreamed into a regular education course) will benefit from this personal touch.

Another aspect of a well-planned and modified cooperative learning situation is that it offers multi-faceted process of learning. It often uses auditory, visual, or tactile learning. Many students with disabilities will have particular strength in one these forms of learning.  Due to the various task often used in a cooperative learning project, each member will utilize one of these senses to learn the material or create the finished product. This is particularly true for students with disabilities.

Cooperative learning is a method that includes all. Still, despite its inclusiveness, it still needs some tweaking in order for it to work for students with learning disabilities. However, when one views the benefits, the tweaking is slight. This method has much to enlighten a certain group of students who have struggled to learn the same lessons that is taught to their non-disabled peers.