I have been interested in the use of cooperative learning in my teaching for a number of years. My interest grew out of my realisation that it wasn't enough to believe that cooperation was an automatic and assumed part of my teaching and instead I decided that I had to make it a key component. My initial use of cooperative learning came in gymnastics where I created a jigsaw classroom in which my students could learn about gymnastics, and themselves and each other. A jigsaw classroom is a simple way of encouraging cooperation. Firstly I picked fair teams or 'home groups' that were split by gender, ability and race and which kept existing rivalries and friendships separate.

Once the home groups for the unit had been picked and team mates identified then, just like with a jigsaw puzzle, these groups are split into their individual parts (called experts). These individual experts then form new groups or expertises.

Each expert group now has responsible for developing one part of a routine (for example a floor routine, a vaulting box routine, a routine using a bench and a routine using ropes). In this way one person from each home group now has a unique understanding of one aspect of gymnastics. Once the allocated time has passed and the expertises have been mastered then experts returned to their groups.

They were now the teachers in their home groups and as they were the only people who understood their section of the routine then they had an important role to play in the learning of the home group. In turn these experts then teach each other their segment of the routine. Once all four elements are united each home group should be able to perform an identical routine. In my teaching the experts acted as judges for their section of the routine and an overall mark was awarded based upon the routine with bonus marks given for the teaching done by each expert.

There are over a hundred recognised approaches to using cooperative learning in the classroom, although only a few have been successfully used in physical education. The five main components of cooperative learning are:

  • Individual Accountability - Every child has a part to play
  • Positive Interdepence - Everyone relies on each other
  • Shared Group Goal - The groups work to the same aim
  • Promotive Face-to-face Interaction - Time to talk and plan
  • Group Processes - Time to reflect

If students have the time and opportunity to achieve each of these then they can be said to be cooperative rather than simply collaborative.