learning is a type of learning in which students
are divided into sub-groups of 2-6 students that
work together to achieve a certain educational
result. Most research into cooperative learning
strategies has been conducted in North America,
especially by researchers such as Bob Slavin (John
Hopkins University in
(1985), the Johnson brothers in Minnesota (1991)
and Elizabeth Cohen at Stanford University (1994,
The educational component of The Big Myth is especially
inspired by the research conducted by Elizabeth
Cohen. The method that she has developed, Complex
Instruction, was the starting point of the European
project "CLIP" (Cooperative Learning in Intercultural
Education) (Batelaan, 1997). This project took
place under the auspices of the IAIE (International
Association for Intercultural Education) and was
financed by the European Commission.
The most imporatnt arguments that have been used
to implement cooperative learning methods have
· By implementing cooperative learning methods
one stimulates social skills such as collaborating,
communicating and taking responsibility.
· Cooperative learning is an effective way of
reaching cognitive goals.
Reaching cognitive goals is the main thrust of
The Big Myth. We view improved social skills primarily
as a positive side effect.
in schools is aimed at:
· The development of skills (motor skills, using instruments
such as computers, reading, writing, communicating,
collaborating, reflecting, etc.)
· Acquiring information (factual knowledge, knowledge
of procedures and strategies, etc.)
· The acquisition of understanding (we can speak of
understanding when students are able to apply new knowledge
to new situations and connect such knowledge to previously
· The development of attitudes (we speak of an attitude
when one's view of an object or situation predisposes
that person to act in a certain way, for instance leading
a person to take initiative and responsibility).
Many activities can lead to learning. Some activities,
however, are more effective than others when attempting
to reach a certain goal. For instance, a person will
learn certain skills quicker if they are "learned through
doing", rather than through listening to a lecture or
through reading. Intellectual skills such as cooperation,
communication and learning are most effectively gained
by "doing" and by reflection on these actions (also
by discussing one's experiences with others). Examples
of learning activities that lead to understanding are:
listening, reading, observing, discussing, experimenting
(alone or together), preparing and executing a presentation
(alone or together). Research shows that activities
such as "discussing things with each other", working
together to solve problems, experimenting together and
reflecting on this process, and jointly preparing and
executing a presentation are more effective learning
tools (leading to more understanding) than listening,
reading and observing. In other words: interaction facilitates
Cooperative learning implies more than simply placing
students in small groups and asking them to complete
an assignment. If group work is limited to this, the
process can be counter-productive. This is especially
the case for "weaker" students, since the "stronger"
students will tend to dominate the various aspects of
the group process (talking, taking initiative, leading,
deciding, interrupting, etc.). Obviously, if interaction
leads to learning then one needs to interact, and especially
to interact in a meaningful way. Group work cannot be
considered cooperative learning unless it is organized
in such a way that students participate in the interaction.
This also holds true for The Big Myth, in which the
computer plays such an important role.
Participation in an interaction
is influenced by:
1. Organizational aspects
2. The content
3. The participants
Organization refers to how the groups are composed,
how the classroom or furniture is arranged, and how
the tasks and responsibilities are assigned. With respect
to group composition we adhere to the following guidelines:
1. The teacher assigns the children to groups. This
avoids the immediate isolation of the less popular children,
who tend not to be chosen as groupmates by their peers.
Students tend to dislike this at first because they
prefer to be seated with friends. It is fairly easy,
however, to explain to them that they need to learn
to work together with everybody in the classroom.
2. Group composition is changed from time to time to
avoid the development of fixed role expectations.
3. Group composition should be as heterogenous as possible,
so that the students can profit the most from the diversity
of talents present in the group.
4. Tasks and responsibilities need to be clear. The
teacher assigns these to the students.
5. Tasks and responsibilities need to rotate from time
Content refers to the subject matter (should
be experienced as interesting and useful) and the assignments
(open-ended questions, assignments that require collaboration).
The assignments also need to be "rich": they need to
stimulate the child's learning capacities. The American
psychologist Howard Gardner has developed a very useful
theory on what he calls "multiple
intelligences" (Gardner, 1993). In this theory he
discusses the many types of intelligence that a child
has. Assignments are most educational if many of these
intelligences are activated.
Participants refers not only to the social
skills that people possess (there are different ways
in which these can be acquired, such as the skill builders
described in the book by Cohen (1994) and in the work
of Kagan (1994)). We are also dealing here with the
expectations that people have of each other.
Anybody who has conducted group work in the past knows
that there are always students who immediately take
the initiative and others who do not participate and
do not get the chance to participate. In her research
Elizabeth Cohen was led by the question why this is
the case. The results of her research confirmed the
theory that the status of the student is the most influential
factor in determining that student's level of participation
in group interactions. A student's status is to a great
extent determined by the expectations that students
have of each other and of themselves, as well as the
teacher's expectations of the students. We are referring
here to expectations regarding capacities. In order
to improve the quality of the interactions taking place
one must therefore alter these expectations. It goes
beyond the scope of this discussion to delve deeper
into this issue. Instead, we refer interested readers
to the work conducted by Elizabeth Cohen (Cohen. 1994)
and to the CLIP-report (Batelaan, 1998). In short, the
most important means that the teacher has at his/her
disposal is the giving of positive feedback. In order
to accomplish this and to deal effectively with status
differences the teacher must especially discover what
positive contributions students with low status can
contribute to the group process. The assignments must
also be designed in such a way that the low status students
can demonstrate their abilities. Assignments must therefore
address a much larger scala of skills than is traditionally
the case (majority language and math). The approach
used in Complex Instruction, CLIP, and now also in The
Big Myth focuses on addressing as many skills as possible
- or to use the terminology of Howard Gardner (1993)
- as many intelligences as possible.
Using cooperative learning in the classroom has consequences
for the teacher's task. When the learning activity involves
listening, reading and observing the teacher is primarily
involved in explaining, telling, clarifying, presenting
texts to read, giving assignments, showing videos and
(sometimes) organizing excursions. When learning activities
involve discussion, group investigation and experimentation,
and presentations the teacher needs to utilize different
skills: organizing, stimulating discussion (for instance
by asking students questions that lead to better understanding),
observing and giving feedback. These are also skills
that a teacher needs when using information technology
(IT) in the classroom. A recent report on process management
and IT (PmL, 1998) lists the following as necessary
for IT implementation:
· learning processes need to be organized in such
a way that they generate questions that students can
tackle individually or in groups;
· students must learn to make connections;
· students need to be observed, also to identify variations
in learning styles;
· feedback needs to be given.
The Big Myth has been designed for lessons in which
students can work in groups of 3-5 persons. The assignments
are best completed through the cooperation of these
group members with each other.
Each group has a computer with internet access at its
disposal. There are sufficient other materials in the
classroom (such as crayons, paper, sheets, simple musical
instruments, glue, scissors, cardboard, costumes). The
students should also have access to a library or a media
The teacher creates the groups for each The Big Myth
session, and assigns various roles and tasks. These
roles and tasks can be assigned and labeled as follows:
Facilitator/ Team Captain
· Makes sure that everybody understands the task
· Makes sure that everybody in the group participates,
and also, for instance, that the person using the computer
does not "surf" independently of the others
· Represents the group if it has a question for the
· Organizes the group presentation
· Makes sure that the group works on time, and according
· Makes sure that the group gets all the materials it
needs (including computer print outs)
· Makes sure that all the materials are cleaned up after
the assignment has been completed (this does not mean
that this person needs to clean up everything him/herself
but that he/she organizes this activity)
· If relevant, this person fills out the group questionnaires
or work sheets Information manager
· Finds all the information necessary to complete the
· Works with the computer and the printer
· Makes sure that there is a positive atmosphere in
the group · Mediates is case of conflicts or disagreements.
These tasks can be assigned differently for groups of
four, for instance by giving the mediation task to the
it is the teacher that transfers knowledge. He/she is
the most important source of information. In The Big
Myth all the information the students will need can
be found on the website and the internet. This gives
the teacher much more time to observe the learning processes
that are taking place among the students and to assess
what is being accomplished by groups and individuals.
Within the philosophy associated with Complex Instruction
it is important that students are appreciated for what
they can do, and to express this appreciation (positive
feedback). The aim is to increase the status (trust
in each other's capabilities) of students and their
self-esteem. Within the framework of The Big Myth the
teacher assumes the following roles:
1. Organizer and manager
The teacher is responsible for creating the composition
of the groups and the distribution of tasks. Subsequently,
the teacher delegates responsibility to the groups.
In other words, the teacher makes sure that everybody
sticks to his/her role.
· The teacher makes sure that a question posed by the
facilitator is indeed the group's question.
· If uncertainty exists regarding the assignment the
teacher initially asks the facilitator to attempt to
clarify the instructions.
· The teacher makes sure that only the material manager
collects the materials. The material manager is held
responsible for these materials.
· Time management and planning issues are discussed
only with the reporter.
· If there is too much disagreement or tension then
the teacher will approach the mediator.
Of course, the teacher is responsible for helping groups
that get stuck or fail to function properly. When difficult
questions arise the teacher does not provide ready-made
answers, but instead asks questions that get the group
back on track.
3. Observer (watching what the groups are doing
It is important in Complex Instruction that the teacher
responds to what groups and individuals do well. This
means closely observing what is taking place in each
4. Evaluator (giving feedback)
The teacher responds to the behavior of the students,
based on what is observed. This can occur during the
group work, but also during the presentation. The feedback
is concrete and based on a description of what has been
The classroom assignments
There are three types of assignments that are associated
with each myth:
1. A-assignments are aimed at information processing.
2. B-assignments are aimed at preparing classroom presentations.
C-assignments are aimed at individual reflection
concerning what the students have learned, as
well as suggestions for further activities.