At first glance, the idea of cooperative learning – with all of its face-to-face interaction, directions, information-processing, etc., would be a bad thing for a student involved in a Special Education program.
But it is that same mindset that keeps other students away from the “special” ones. They are led to believe that a Special Education student doesn’t know very much and can’t do anything without assistance.
A cooperative learning group would give “special” students the opportunity to show the other students, the teachers and maybe even themselves that they are capable of doing quite a bit. And they can do it without someone holding their hand.
The following is a closer look at parts of the cooperative learning process and the effect on special education students. To avoid including that three-word phrase throughout the next five paragraphs, the subject will instead be named “Ed”.
– All students must “buy into” the targeted outcome
This will be an easy one for Ed. The other kids in his group are really excited about what they are doing. They are telling Ed that he should be excited, too. But he is way past that. He is thrilled to be part of a team of kids who are looking at him and talking to him. He wants to do his very best to help them win the prize.
– Clear and complete set of task-completion instructions
It is possible that Ed will not understand everything the teacher says or writes. If that happens, he may need to ask the teacher to simplify things a bit. Or maybe one of his team members can help him. As long as he takes it slow the first couple times through, Ed knows he can figure things out. Once that happens, he will remember what to do.
– Positive interdependence
The goal is for the teacher to make students realize that they will either win awards as a team or win no awards at all. Depending on the other students is not new to Ed. He has needed their help getting a book or carrying a lunch tray or pronouncing a word. But now he is part of a real team with them and they might need to depend on him, too. This will be different.
– Positive social interaction – behavior and attitudes
This one is likely to be more difficult for the other members of the group. Generally speaking, Ed is light-hearted and friendly – despite some occasional mood swings. But the people who have been trying to stay away from Ed now have to work with him face-to-face, and that could be difficult.
– Individual accountability
This is not a group project where Ed and the other kids just have to turn something in for a grade. Instead, Ed must be individually responsible for doing his share of the work and learning what he is supposed to. The teacher already told him he has to take a test when he is done being on the team with the other kids, so he has to work hard.
It may take “special” students a little more time to figure things out or to complete a task than other members of their group. But they can still get the job done. And when they do, the other students won’t be so worried about staying away from them anymore.
Then they can learn – and grow – together.