U.S. society is becoming increasingly multicultural. With the proliferation of enclaves of arriving immigrants, it follows that conflict will often be defined along ethnic lines. Unfortunately, a legacy of prejudice, sometimes even hatred, has been passed on to some youth by parents, grandparents, and their ethnic communities. Although in general acts of intolerance in the United States are at a more subtle level than that of 20 years ago, currently there are more obvious expressions of violent discrimination and prejudicial behavior in schools. The wide spectrum of U.S. diversity is also experienced in the public school setting, with the racial and ethnic mix far greater than it was even 10 years ago. Similar circumstances now exist in many countries, because immigration and refugee movements have increased in a globalized, turbulent world. The challenges this presents for educators are great. Schools must seek to create safe environments for students to reach out across racial and ethnic borders and begin to empathize with members of other groups. One of the educators’ responses to this challenge has been the development of cooperative learning techniques. In cooperative learning programs, the traditional classroom of one teacher and many students is reorganized into heterogeneous ability groups of four or five students who work together to learn a particular subject matter. Cooperative learning is also an excellent example of contact theory, as previously discussed in Chapter 7, and the relationship is elaborated later in this chapter. Cooperative learning has grown steadily since the early 1970s. These efforts stem partly from a desire to find alternatives to the usual lecture mode and to involve students actively in the learning process. In part, coopera- tive learning builds on the recognized benefits of peer tutoring. Cooperative learning can offset the negative impacts of traditional individual competitiveness for grades, approval, and achievement in which there are inevitable and (after a while) predictable winners and losers. Moreover, cooperative learning can instill appreciation for student diversity and belief in the value of mutual aid. Teachers utilize cooperative methods in small groups in a variety of ways, seeking to strengthen students’ motivation to learn as well as providing individual help for students in the quest for content learning such as mathematics. They also seek to develop skills that lead to high productivity in joint problem solving.
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