In a categorization and retrieval task, first grade students were instructed to memorize 12 nouns and then to complete several retrieval tasks the following day. The 12 nouns were given in random order and students were told to (a) order the nouns in a way that makes sense and aids memorization and (b) memorize the words. Three of the words were fruits, three were animals, three were clothing, and three were toys. Eight of nine cooperative groups discovered and used all four categories. Only one student in the competitive and individualistic conditions did so. Even the highest-achieving students failed to use the category search strategy in the competitive and individualistic conditions.
This is an example of the power of cooperative learning on students’ thinking skills, critical and creative thinking, and higher-level reasoning (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 2007). Besides promoting higher achievement and greater retention than do competitive and individualistic learning, cooperative learning tends to result in the use of higher quality reasoning strategies, the generation of new ideas and solutions (i.e., process gain), and the transfer of what is learned in the group to another situation (i.e., group-to-individual transfer). In studies on tasks that could be solved using either higher- or lower-level reasoning strategies, students working cooperatively more frequently discovered and used the higher-level reasoning strategies than did students working competitively or individualistically. Studies on both Piaget’s cognitive development and Kohlberg’s moral development theories have indicated that the transition to higher-level cognitive and moral reasoning occurs more frequently by cooperative than competitive or individualistic experiences. Finally, studies on constructive controversy (a form of cooperative learning using intellectual arguments to develop, clarify, expand, and elaborate students’ reasoning) found that compared with concurrence-seeking, debate, and individualistic efforts, controversy tends to result in more frequent creative (a) insights into the issues being discussed and (b) synthesis combining different perspectives (Johnson & Johnson, 2007). Controversy increases the number, range, quality, and originality of ideas, the use of more varied strategies, and the number of creative, imaginative, novel solutions.
There are several reasons why cooperative learning promotes thinking skills, critical and creative thinking, and higher-level cognitive and metacognitive reasoning. First, material being learned to be taught to cooperators tends to be learned using higher-level strategies more frequently than is material being learned for one’s own use.
Second, the discussion within cooperative learning groups promotes more frequent oral summarizing, explaining, and elaborating of what one knows, as well as summarizing and paraphrasing another person’s knowledge and perspective, both of which are necessary for the storage of information in memory and the long-term retention of the information.
Third, cooperative learning groups are nourished by heterogeneity among group members. As students accommodate themselves to each other’s different perspectives, strategies, and approaches to completing assignments, divergent thinking and creative thinking is stimulated.
Fourth, cooperative experiences have been found to promote greater perspective-taking ability than did competitive or individualistic experiences, resulting in better understanding and retention of others’ information, reasoning, and perspectives.
Fifth, within cooperative learning groups there tends to be considerable peer monitoring, regulation, and continuous personalized process feedback on of students’ thinking and reasoning. Individuals working alone tend to have difficulty monitoring their own cognitive activity.
Overall, it may be concluded that in order to promote thinking skills, critical and creative thinking, and higher-level reasoning, cooperative learning should be frequently used.
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (2007). Creative controversy: Intellectual challenge in the classroom (4th ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company. Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R., & Holubec, E. (2013). Cooperation in the classroom (9th ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.