Collaborative vs. Cooperative Learning And Their Place In Democratic Education

Program Standard 2

2. Instruction – The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students.

2.2 Element – Engaging Students in Learning

2.2 Example of Proficient – Most activities and assignments are appropriate to students, and almost all students are cognitively engaged in exploring content.


Democratic education can have a profound affect on students in terms of how they approach their peers and their learning. This educational method “aim[s] to develop ideal citizens who could live in and enhance society, who could fulfill themselves in and through it, and who would even be able to help and revise it” (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, p. 248). Thus it is important for students to be able to work collectively towards common goals in the classroom. This style of teaching can help students develop many skills pertinent to life after school and will allow them to explore topics through divergent perspectives. When done effectively, democratic education has the potential to create more thoughtful, engaged, and tolerant students capable of considering viewpoints outside of their own. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted, “It appears likely to nurture interpersonal warmth and trust, respect for negotiated rules and policies, independence in learning, and respect for the dignity of others” (p. 255). The positive effects of democratic education are apparent so the question is not whether to implement it in classrooms but how to.

Both collaborative and cooperative learning are engaging ways to get students thinking democratically and collectively. These terms are often used interchangeably but are in fact two distinct teaching approaches that teachers can employ during group work. Collaborative learning is the process of students working together to gain new insights and direct their own learning. Students have more individual efficacy which drives them to teach their peers new information by presenting their unique perspectives on a topic. Students generate their own goals and do their own research to find resources pertinent to their self-determined learning target. Often times multiple perspectives and outcomes are present at the end of the learning process (Roberts, 2004, p. 205). This collaboration allows students to set aside their own ideals and to see issues from perspectives outside their own. Contrarily, cooperative learning is recognized as group work directed by the teacher and not the students. The teacher provides students with resources and a learning target and students work together to come to a single consensus and produce one outcome (Roberts, 2004, p. 205). While this type of learning does not afford the same level of student efficacy as collaborative learning, it does provide students with vital cooperation skills that will help them succeed in life after school. Both of these styles of teaching have individual merit but they can also be used in conjunction in classrooms to help student learn a wide range of cooperative and collaborative skills.

Often teachers utilize a blend of the two styles to their benefit. They can provide students with the opportunity to explore in groups and pick their own learning outcome within a range of topics controlled by the teacher. Teachers can also direct learning by picking the subject matter for student to explore but still allow them freedom to research it independently. When teachers learn to seamlessly integrate both collaborative and cooperative learning, or elements from the two, the benefit to student achievement and engagement will be noticeable. Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, and Stone (2015) stressed, “By intentionally incorporating the elements of positive interdependence and individual accountability, teachers set the stage for students to be responsible for their own learning, the learning of those in their group, and the ability to demonstrate what they know, understand, and are able to do” (Chapter 3, para. 14). These methods of teaching can require more flexibility and planning from teachers but the benefit to students is well worth the effort.

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.) Denver, CO: McRel [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Roberts, T.S. (2004) Online Collaborative Learning: Theory and Practice. Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing. [Kindle DX version] Retrieved from

How Questioning Can Be An Effective Teaching Strategy

Program Standard 2

2. Instruction – The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students. 

2.1 Element – Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques

2.1 Example of Proficient – Most of the teacher’s questions are of high quality. Adequate time is provided for students to respond.

As traditional ways of thinking have diminished and new theories have taken their place, education in the United States has undergone a transformation. Although many traditional teaching techniques are still prevalent in American classrooms the general consensus concerning learning has shifted. No longer are teachers thought to be the sole proprietors of knowledge and students the passive vessels waiting to receive information. Instead it is believed that students are natural learners waiting to discover different concepts and that a teacher’s role is to encourage and aid students in the discovery of new information. Inquiry based models are now seen as an effective teaching style to engage students and inspire them to become lifelong learners. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted, “If we build learning communities that draw students into inquiry into subject matter and help those students engage with it conceptually, they will master any subject” (p. 23). It is now seen as essential that teachers use questioning techniques to unlock the knowledge that students already obtain and then encourage them to build upon that information. Research has shown that in order for students to succeed they need to feel that they have self-efficacy and control over their own future and inquiry based teaching can provide that to them (Johnson, 2015, 28).

It is important for students to develop a sense of agency in order for them to realize their self-efficacy. Once students are aware of their own capabilities they will come to realize that they can achieve any goal they set out to accomplish. Leading students into inquiry through thoughtful questioning can help them achieve that realization. Johnson (2004) stated, “Teacher’s conversations with children help the children build the bridge between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency” (p. 29). In order for students to be engaged in learning it is important that teachers demonstrate to them that their ideas are important. One way to do that is to create a supportive environment where students are encouraged to express their opinions. If teachers ask questions that allow students to direct the conversation it is more likely that students will become engaged in the subject matter. This type of teaching allows students to ignite their imaginations and connect the content to their own personal experiences.

It also allows students to make connections between the content that they are learning and real world scenarios. Johnson (2004) believed “that the less compartmentalized we make children’s learning lives, the more likely they are to transfer their strategic problem-solving to other situations” (p. 44). One main goal of education is to prepare students for life after school and help them develop the skills to thrive throughout their lives. It is important that the skills learned in school are transferable to a multitude of different situations. Posing questions and allowing student to explore topics on their own can teach them how to learn instead of just what to learn which will help them as they get older. As demonstrated it is essential for educators to employ questioning as part of their teaching strategy. It creates learners who can think for themselves and who understand the process of developing new skills. When students are a part of an inquiry based environment they develop the agency to take learning into their own hands and the skills to do so efficiently.

Johnston, P. (2004). Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

Characteristics of an Effective Educator

Program Standards 1–5

1. ExpectationsThe teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.

2. InstructionThe teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students.

3. Differentiation The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

4. Content KnowledgeThe teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning.

5. Learning Environment The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.

An effective teacher must be competent, dedicated, adaptable, and most importantly skilled at maintaining order in the classroom. Learning cannot take place in a classroom that is not productively managed and controlled. There are a great many techniques available for teachers to employ when maintaining and retaining structure in the class. A competent teacher must be a keen observer and amend his or her strategy for each new set of students and always be evaluating if adjustments need to be made. Once a teacher has created a stable environment conducive to learning they can use their competence, dedication, and adaptability to become a successful educator.

When a teacher is competent in and dedicated to their subject matter they can not only seamlessly answer student questions and create valuable lessons but they can also inspire student to want to know more about the material being taught. Educators who are passionate about what they are teaching create students who are more likely to be enthusiastic about learning. Another aspect of being competent and dedicated as an instructor is staying current with up-to-date teaching methods and available technology. Teachers today have more resources available than ever before and it is important for them to understand how to find and effectively use them to the benefit of their students. Teachers are now empowered to use software and hardware to individualize the training each students needs.

deskTo become particularly competent educators must be adaptable in the planning and execution of their instruction. Recent and ongoing research has caused administrators and instructors to understand the necessity of differentiating lessons for a variety of students (Marzano, 2007). Teachers must be able to create exercises on a single subject for several different learning styles in order to expertly educate each one of their students. Beyond differentiating direction, teachers must also be able to adapt on the spot when they see that an activity is ineffective. If a teacher can see that their plan is not having the desired effect and then modify it immediately they provide their students with the best chance of learning the subject matter. Educators who are competent and dedicated tend to be naturally adaptable and able to observe each of their students’ needs giving them the best chance at success.

Marzano, R. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching a Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. [Kindle DX version] Retrieved from
 The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Flickr following creative commons licensing.