What Works: Cooperation vs. Competition

Many of you may be acquainted with Alfie Kohn’s radical views on creating a noncompetitive classroom environment. When I first read his controversial views on education, I shook my head and rolled my eyes. This response was in reflection of some of my teaching habits. Yes, I reward students with external awards, such as stickers, prizes, and grades.
Kohn’s theories also made me reflect upon my educational practices. Self-reflection is the first step to change!

Bùùùùù! by Max-B

Photo by Max-B licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic.

My Comedy of Errors

At the time, I co-taught at an English camp for German speaking children. The class consisted of 20 children between the ages of six- to seven-years-old who spoke and understood very little English. On the first day, I received a less than warm welcome. The children ran around the classroom flying paper airplanes. They climbed the walls! They ignored me, since I knew as much German as they knew English. The worst part of the week was that one little boy was treated as an outcast and the children were quite cruel to him. We experienced many behavior problems. Everyday, fights occurred.
The second year I was asked to help at the English camp again. This time I decided to try Kohn’s idea to make the classroom more cooperative versus competitive.

The Transition

First, I set-up learning stations and group work areas. Then, I put the students into groups of three. Since we were learning about Native Americans,these small groups represented their tribes. Each student was given a role and responsibility in the tribe. Each day the tribe was given a mission. Furthermore, we only played cooperative learning games and activities. My co-teacher looked at me strangely when we played the cooperative learning version of musical chairs! However, the children enjoyed this much better than the original version.

My Growth

This experience in a cooperative learning environment was one of my best teaching experiences. The children learned English. We experienced no behavior problems, no fighting, and no cruelty. Instead, the children helped each other. At the end of the camp, I actually received hugs from all the children. They wanted to return the next year!

Your boot camp challenge for this week:

Reflect upon yourself as an educator, by taking this teacher effectiveness quiz. Ponder the results. Can you improve in any area?

Do you have a teaching strategy, tip, or lesson that caters to diverse learning styles in the classroom, including English Language Learners?  Please, include a comment!


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