Deirdre Crofts


Cumbernauld Academy

  • Cooperative Learning

What happens when social intentions are introduced as part of the learning criteria?


Cooperative learning is a pedagogy that has been the focus of significant and ongoing research worldwide (Johnson & Johnson, 2017; Kagan & Kagan, 2015; McAlister, 2010;

Gilles & Boyle, 2005). Johnson & Johnson’s meta-analysis of this research has found that the use of cooperative learning “results in higher-level reasoning, more frequent generation of new ideas and solutions, and a greater transfer of what is learned within one situation to another” (2017, p.7). Closer to home, the educational reforms we have seen in Scotland, have largely been based on evidence from research into what makes learning effective with the aim of this new curriculum being to develop “skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work” (Scottish Government 2009, p.8). Not surprisingly, the Curriculum for Excellence advocates the use of cooperative learning in classrooms to support and develop these transferrable “skills for life” and as such requires all practitioners to focus on how learning and teaching takes place using active learning strategies (Building the Curriculum 4, 2009).

At its simplest, cooperative learning means that learners work together in small groups to accomplish shared goals. Individuals within each group, seek outcomes that are beneficial not only for themselves but for all other members in the group thus encouraging a positive interdependence among students where for everyone to succeed, the whole group needs to succeed. Cooperative learning is structured using five basic elements, the fourth of which is social skills. A group cannot begin to function effectively if students do not have or use verbal and non-verbal communication skills. So important are these skills to the success of the group that researchers have recommended that they “need to be taught just as purposefully and precisely as any academic skills” (Johnson & Johnson, 2017, p. 4).

In line with Assessment is for Learning (AifL) techniques, most practitioners share a learning or academic intention with students at the beginning of a lesson. Including a social intention along with this academic intention is a practice more commonly seen in cooperative learning where social skills are an essential component of an effective group dynamic. It therefore seemed appropriate to investigate what effects introducing a social intention to pupils had on their ability to develop skills such as good listening, contributing and reaching agreements while they worked cooperatively with their peers.


To evaluate the impact of setting a social intention on pupils’ abilities to:

  • Display intended social behaviours such as effective verbal and non-verbal skills.
  • Work cooperatively with their peers.
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