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Incidental vs purposeful cooperation

Posted on: October 19, 2018

I completed another round of performance assessments of future faculty this week. The experience reminded me of something that I have been meaning to write and share with future batches of learners. This is the difference between incidental and purposeful cooperation, and the importance of the latter.

Incidental cooperation is not designed for, or at best superficially designed for.

For example, a teacher might hand out worksheets to students, and if students choose to work with one another, the cooperation is incidental. It is not planned or required.

The teacher might design the worksheet to be challenging and perhaps tell students that they can consult each other. But this is also incidental because students have a choice to work alone.

Purposeful cooperation is well-designed and skilfully implemented.

This requires a teacher to design a task that is unlikely to be resolved by individuals working on their own. Cooperation is a must. Such a design might consist of one or more A-B layers.

In paired work, you have students A and B. Each has a task that each must complete separately. This is like giving each student a jigsaw piece whose complementary piece is held by someone else. They must then work together to create a more complete picture.

The A-B strategy can also extend to different groups. If A is one group and B is another, A could teach something that B does not know. Alternatively, B could prepare a resource for A, challenge A with it, and discuss outcomes with A.

In any implementation of purposeful cooperation, the teacher needs to monitor closely, pull answers out of learners instead of pushing answers to them, and deal with unproductive behaviours.

This type of cooperation limited only by the creativity and critical thinking of the teacher. It is also challenging because the preparation is more complex and the facilitation more involved.

But the design and implementation of purposeful cooperation is worth the effort particularly if learners are challenged with higher order outcomes and are given insights on what working life is like.

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