What’s in a name?

A note on nomenclature

Everyone agrees that cooperative learning means groups of students interacting in order to learn.  According to Laurel S. Walter’s 2000 article there is also even an agreement on two key components that must be present for a group process to be termed cooperative learning: promoting interdependence and individual accountability (i.e. avoiding one member of the group doing all the work, while his peers are off-task).

Others, such as  Johnson and Johnson (1994), count a total of five key components, adding social skills, student-to-student interaction and group process. American psychologist Spencer Kagan counts only four.

In fact, nomenclature aside, in the complexities of day-today teaching, having to assign and explain roles and remembering whichever key elements every time one starts a lesson is often a frustrating experience for both teachers and their students.

In my experience as Head of English, the most promising development  is what is termed the” structuralist approach”, which essentially expands the range of classic task-flows dating back to the jigsaw technique invented by social psychologist Elliot Aronson in 1971 and Think-Pair-Share often attributed to Frank Lyman in 1981.

Different proponents of CL use different terms for such pre-planned action-flows that ensure key requirements are present: units, tasks, sequences, structures, flows, CLIPs (Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern).

Though I use the formal “CLIP” in most material, I personally prefer the word shell, as shell indicates an hard form (the fixed interaction) with a soft, living content (the input that you want to teach that day).


Please insert suitable animal…

The often very few steps in these interaction patterns have the benefit of being simple for students to learn, but since the content is infinitely varied, never get tiresome. Two practical examples of CLIPs (or shells) are found in Newlsetter #1.


Laurel S. Walter’s 2000 article

 Johnson and Johnson


Frank Lyman

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