Approaches_Cognitive Constructivism_Peer Learning

Peer Learning


I) Reflect on your experience

Cooperative learning can take on many different forms, sometimes it can be quite simple such as doing pair-work but it can extend to groups. When you first start, you might try pair-work and then move onto more complex forms of cooperative learning. Teachers can also vary activities combining group work with whole-class teaching. It is also useful to consider planning (e.g., grouping, set a group task) as well as monitoring and assessing student progress (e.g., find out what they are doing).

Read the materials extracted and adapted from David and Roger Johnson’ work on cooperative learning

1) Pairing Up

When students have difficulties answering your questions, you can ask them to pair up and think over the questions. You can also ask students to work in pairs to explain to each other how they got their answers.

2) Think-Pair-Share

This involves a three step cooperative structure. During the first step, individuals think silently about a question posed by the instructor. Individuals pair up during the second step and exchange thoughts. In the third step, the pairs share their responses with other pairs (1-2-4). Then the teacher can ask students to share their answers with the whole class.

3) Peer Tutoring

This usually involves a more knowledgeable student helping a less knowledgeable student on performing some learning some tasks such as reading and doing mathematics. It can be same age or cross-age tutoring.

4) Numbered Heads

A team of four is established. Each member is given numbers of 1, 2, 3, and 4. Groups work together to answer the question so that all can verbally answer the question. Teacher calls out a number (e.g., two) and each two is asked to give the answer.

Some forms of competition can be set up among groups and so group members have the responsibilities of teaching everyone in their group to learn the materials.

5) Three-minute review

Teachers stop any time during a lecture or discussion and give teams three minutes to review what has been said, ask clarifying questions or answer questions.

6) Jigsaw

Several students work together as a home-group; each member in the group is assigned to study one of the several topics (e.g., What is a hero? four characters). After studying the materials, students working on the same character will gather together as the expert group and decide what is important about this character and what to teach to others. After discussion in these “expert” groups the students go back to the home-group and students teach each other. Assessments, tests, or integrative tasks follow.

Have you tried out such cooperative learning activities before? Share your other experience.


II) Scenarios and Practical Problems

How to use cooperative learning to foster deep learning effectively? Dealing with problems arising from cooperative learning. Suggest what the teacher can do to prevent or solve the problems he/she faces in using cooperative learning

Case 1
Mr. Lo asked students to do group discussion in class. Once the groups were formed, students became off-task: They either chatted or did their own homework. The teacher did visit groups to remind them to be on task but he found it difficult to monitor all the groups at one time.

Case 2
Miss Lee was using cooperative learning in her teaching. She moved around and observed the groups when they were discussing. Very soon she found that one student in Group A was very dominating and she talked all the time; For Group B, two students always fought over who was right, and for Group C, there was one weak student who was just very passive and never said one thing. The most difficult problem she faced was that nobody wanted to group with Tommy because he never did anything.

Case 3
Miss Lai has tried cooperative learning approaches in her classes and discovered that students did learn more effectively. Yet she found herself much behind the original teaching schedule. She had to take give supplementary classes during lunchtime and received complaints from the students.



Figure 1. Source:

Peer/cooperative learning is an effective classroom method that enhances the value of student-student interaction and results in various advantageous learning outcomes.


Basic Assumptions and Principles

Three broad, interrelated theoretical perspectives on the effects of small-group learning on academic achievement as motivational, affective, and cognitive (Leonard Springer, Mary Elizabeth Stanne and Samuel S. Donovan,1999):

  • From a motivational perspective, group members will encourage and help one another to achieve, in contrast to competitive learning environments. Competitive grading and reward systems lead to peer norms that oppose academic effort and academic support.

  • From a Affective perspective, group work in a nonthreatening environment can lead to learning naturally. Affective or humanist theorists generally emphasize intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations

  • From a cognitive perspective, interactions among students increase achievement because of more intense information processing. Learners engage in some sort of cognitive restructuring, or elaboration by explaining the material to someone else lead to deeper conceptual understanding

According to Johnson, Johnson (1990), small-group learning can bring improvements in areas such as these: 

  • Tolerance and positive interactions among students from different cultural backgrounds

  • The exchange and processing of information

  • Academic achievement

  • Ownership of new knowledge and skills

  • Opportunities to solve real-world problems

  • Positive attitudes toward the content

  • Openness to new perspectives

  • Motivation to learn

  • Confidence in one’s social skills

  • Psychological health (e.g., social development, selfesteem)

  • Attendance

In Johnson and Johnson’s model (1990), Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Group interaction, and Social skills are the bases of successful peer learning

  • Group members should realize that they not only need each other to complete the overall  task, but also that each group member is responsible for the success of every other member

  • Each member must be held accountable for his or her share

  • Group interaction has many facets through discussing concepts, sharing personal experiences, solving problems, and encouraging each other

  • The social skills needed to competently complete a small group task include leadership, communication and active listening, delegation, conflict management, and decision making

Classroom Implication and Teaching Strategies

  • Give students clear and explicit directions and state your expectations.

  • Group composition should be a key part of your instructional design and lesson planning. Before breaking students into groups, instructor must decide:

    • The length of time that students need to think about a problem or issue.

    • The number of students who need to be involved to create the dynamic of that you want (research shows that groups of 3 to 5 members work best).

    • The formation of a group—as an informal group for a single class or as a formalized group or team.

    • The assignment of group members: random, selfselected (by students), or instructor-assigned. Ideally, students express preferences to the instructor who then creates balanced groups.

    • The product for which you want to hold students responsible.

    • Assign group roles—particularly for informal, inclass group work—to increase student accountability

  • Be sure to include everyone and everyone has a chance to make strong contributions to the group work.

  • Be sure to discreetly monitor the working process of all the groups. Grading the group achievement overall should be based both on the success of the final product and the process of achieving the product.

    • Formative feedback:

      • Use verbal feedback during group work

      • Walk around the room, check in with each group

      • Ask for questions and respond to group work

    • Summative Assessment

      • Give groups clear information about grading and whether you will use individual or group grades, teacher or peer grades, or some combination.



Key Works
  • Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (1999). Peer learning and assessment.Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education24(4), 413-426.

  • Blumenfeld, P. C., Marx, R. W., Soloway, E., & Krajcik, J. (1996). Learning with peers: From small group cooperation to collaborative communities. Educational researcher25(8), 37-40.

  • Mazur, E. (1996). Peer instruction: a user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

  • Michaelsen, L., Knight, A., Fink, D. (Eds.) (2004). Team based learning. Sterling

  • Topping, K. J. (2005). Trends in peer learning. Educational psychology25(6), 631-645.

Successful Examples


  • Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1990). Cooperative learning. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

  • Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of educational research69(1), 21-51.