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Teaching Strategies: Grading Cooperative Learning

Janelle Cox

Working with others is an important skill that every child must learn and develop. Cooperative learning lessons are a great way for students to develop these important social skills. However, grading these types of lessons can pose a challenge for teachers. Dr. Spencer Kagan, a pioneer in the cooperative learning movement, advocates that cooperative learning is for learning, not for grading. So, when is it appropriate to use teaching strategies to grade cooperative learning lessons? And, should we even grade these lessons at all? Here we will take a look Dr. Kagans theory, as well as discuss when it’s appropriate to use teaching strategies to grade cooperative learning lessons.

Teaching Strategies: Dr. Kagan’s Theory

Dr. Kagan argues that cooperative learning is meant for learning, not for grading. Grading a student’s work based on their teammates is unfair. Dr. Kagan gives the example that if two students with the same ability were each given the same assignment but one student was with weak teammates, and the other with strong teammates, the outcome would be that both students would receive different grades. So therefore, if grades have to be given, they should be solely based on the individual, not the group. A student’s grade should be a reflection of what they do, not what others in the group do.

When is it Appropriate to Grade Lessons?

When it comes to grading cooperative learning lessons, you have a few options. Most of the time teachers use cooperative learning activities for practicing skills already learned. Students are usually with a partner or in a small group and usually fill out a worksheet together. When this happens, it’s very hard to tell who did what work, therefore making it hard to give a grade. The only way to tell if a student truly understood the concept is by assessing them after the lesson is completed. You can do this by giving them an additional individual assessment assignment, or by giving them a quick quiz.

When it comes to grading a group project, it may be more complex. Group assignments need to have a grading system that is based on individual accountability. Grading group projects fairly can be quite a challenge. You need to hold each individual student accountable for what they contributed to the group. When it is possible to assign each student a specific role, grading is simple and straightforward. It’s when the roles are not clearly defined that it poses a problem. Laura Candler from Corkboard Connections came up with a great solution to this problem. She has the students in each group fill out an individual evaluation form once their group project was complete. Here’s how it works.

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  • After a group project was completed, each member would fill out a form listing the materials they used and tasks they completed for the project.
  • Next, every student must pass their form to each group member to sign off that what they wrote down was legit.
  • Students would then answer reflective questions about how or what they would improve in their group.
  • Once the groups forms are handed in the teacher would grade objectively based in the work of the group and their forms and responses.
  • The grade of each student is individual and can be different from the rest of the group. It is based on the evaluation form, as well as project.

Cooperative learning lessons teaches and reinforces the social skills that are necessary for our students to learn. However, it is essential to be fair when grading group work. Before you jump to grade an assignment think about your objective first, then you can decide if it’s best to assign an additional skill assessment afterwards, or just grade each individual student based upon their contributions to the group.

Do you believe that cooperative learning lessons should be graded? If so, how do you grade these types of assignments in your classroom? Please share with us in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the elementary education expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or visit her website at Empoweringk6educators.

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