Appreciative Inquiry and Cooperative Learning

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Unit 4: Appreciative Inquiry and Cooperative Learning

Appreciative Inquiry and Cooperative Learning

Appreciative Inquiry is a process by which students can reflect upon a situation, their learning, or group dynamics in a way that takes stock of all of the assets and positive aspects of a situation. It can be a powerful tool for cultural inclusion, appreciation for plurality, and dialogue. Here's an example of how it works:

  • Pose a question such as: "What is an example of a great team experience you have had either in or outside of school?"  Students tell their team experience stories.
  • Then, ask the students what these stories have in common. What qualities made each of these teams successful or effective?
  • From these qualities and stories a rich metaphorical image might arise. You might even help students to see the metaphorical image: "I think the way we're describing our peak team experiences is like a grove of aspen trees. The trees look like distinct units, but really underground their roots are interconnected and the grove is really one living organism." Then, you could talk about the strengths that each student brings to your learning environment and how they benefit that environment. Take inventory of these strengths by listing them on the board.
  • Whenever students need to work out a challenge or reflect on how they best learn as a group, they can use the aspen grove metaphor (or whatever metaphor arose) and apply it to the new learning moment at hand.

Appreciative Inquiry is therefore a process that engages individuals in thinking critically about their experiences in order to learn from them, and apply their thinking and reflection to renew and change the way they work or learn. Students who engage in Appreciative Inquiry learn to appreciate the best aspects of their experiences and this leads them to discover more ways of effective work or learning.

With Appreciative Inquiry students are heard, seen, and appreciated. It also enables students to be active participants in the thinking process and encourages them to amplify what strengths or qualities they already possess towards their learning or class environment.

Teachers who use Appreciative Inquiry in the classroom often begin by asking "What's the problem?" They help students focus their energy on what they want less of and work on how to fix things and address shortcomings and challenges. Appreciative Inquiry is about focusing on what you want more of; knowing that what you want more of already exists; and amplifying what strengths and assets a group already has.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is an instructional technique that uses positive interdependence between learners in order for learning to occur. It is a way of modeling cooperation and understanding between individuals and cultures.

Research shows that both competitive and cooperative interactions are a healthy part of a child's repertoire of behavior. By second grade, however, urban children have effectively extinguished their cooperative behavior and persist in competition, even when it's counterproductive. By deliberately developing cooperative techniques, educators aim to correct the unconscious societal and educational bias that favors competition.

In Cooperative Learning, patterns for student interaction are called "structures." Together, teachers and students develop a repertoire of these structures. When the teacher announces that the class will use a particular exercise to explore today's lesson topic, students know what type of interaction to expect. For example, when the teacher says the class will use the Think-Pair-Share exercise to study African wildlife, students know they will work independently to write down their thoughts on elephants or lions, then find a partner, share their ideas with their partner, and probe each other for complete understanding.

It is up to the instructor to integrate the interactive exercises with the specific lesson content. The teacher must give careful thought to who should collaborate with whom and why; how to manage the classroom while engaging students in a cooperative activity; and how to balance the attention to both content and cooperative skill-building.

Features of Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning is most successful when the following elements are in place:

  • Distribution of leadership.
  • Creation of heterogeneous groups
  • Promotion of positive groups and individual accountability
  • Development of positive social skills
  • Empowerment of the group to work together

Distribution of Leadership

All students can be leaders. They can also surprise you with their ability to rise to the occasion.

Creation of Heterogeneous Groups

You can either randomly place students in groups counting off by 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, or 5s and putting all of the 1s together, the 2s in another group, and so on. Another way to do it is to review the learning styles and create groups that reflect different kinds of learning.

Students need to depend upon each other and work cooperatively. They need to know their roles, what they are expected to achieve, how to value their piece of the puzzle, and how to demonstrate that it benefits the group. In this way, materials are shared, group members create one group-product, group members are given common tasks, and roles are rotated amongst the members.

Social Skills

Discussion, observation, and understanding are key. From time to time, the atmosphere in the class must be such that time is set aside to examine what is going on, how students feel, and what could be the best way of going about conducting the business of learning.

Empowering the Group

The teacher is not there to "rescue" students from problems or settle arguments. The teacher suggests solutions and promotes social skills by having the group itself come to a fair conclusion.

Cooperative Learning depends upon several variables:

  • The teacher's sense that the class can take this on.
  • Just enough structure and just enough freedom. Keep it simple in the beginning.
  • Everyone knows what is going on.
  • Make certain that methods are clear - explaining how the group will work is key.
  • Make certain that each individual is engaged.
  • Make certain that groups do not exceed five students.
  • Arrange the room so that the environment works well with a group.
  • Students need to know there is a reward and celebration for working together, rather than sorting themselves as winners and losers.

How Cooperative Learning Works

  • Groups of 4-5 students are created.
  • The teacher describes each role (below), and either the teacher or the group assigns a responsibility/role to each member of the group:
    • Reader: Reads the written instructions out loud to his/her group.
    • Time-Keeper: Periodically, tells the group how much time is left for the activity.
    • Scribe: Takes notes and writes down each person's response.
    • Includer: Actively encourages each person to share ideas in the discussion.
    • Reporter: Organizes the presentation and shares the group's ideas.


  • Each group is given a current event, for example. The Reader reads the written instructions out loud to his/her group.
  • The group decides how it will provide a response to the current event by demonstrating:
    • a) what the event is - for example, crime in the neighborhood;
    • b) why they think it may be occurring;
    • c) what the current plan is for dealing with the problem;
    • d) advantages and disadvantages of that plan and why; and
    • e) what they would do.
  • Each student in the group is given the task of exploring all of the issues above. Those responses are shared within their group. The Includer makes sure each person's voice is heard and encourages every member of the group to participate. The Scribe writes down all of their responses. The Time-Keeper keeps track of time.
  • The group decides how the information will be presented to other groups and the teacher.
  • The group presents their work, either collaboratively or by selecting one member of the group as its representative. The Reporter might present the ideas, or set it up so that several people in the group present the various ideas discussed within the group.
  • The group conducts an evaluation of performance.

(Note: You may wish to choose a current event or any other relevant topic for discussion in this Cooperative Learning activity. Each group can work on the same issue or different topics).

Rules of Conduct

  • Teacher must not judge the group or berate individual members.
  • All positions are respected, whether or not the rest of the class agrees.
  • No one may force anyone else to agree with their answer.
  • No negative comments about oneself or others are allowed.
  • Teacher praises with description, rather than evaluation. In other words, spend your time focusing on what good things students did, such as giving specific examples of their courtesy and support. Avoid statements such as "You did a good job" or "Your group was better than the first group." Instead, focus on descriptive assessments of what worked well in each group.

The Multicultural Quilt

Imagine a quilt and the various cultures and individual identities of our students as the individual panels that make up the quilt. Each panel stands on its own, yet, side by side there is a relationship; they complement one another and create the larger design of the whole tapestry or quilt.

Multiculturalism is about recognizing and appreciating the individual panels, while at the same time seeing the larger whole, and how the whole and the parts interplay and create a kind of dialogue with one another.

How can we meet the other "panels" and appreciate the entire quilt?


The image you see here challenges us. With our physical eyes, we can, at best, bounce quickly between seeing the old woman and the young woman in this picture.

When we stand on the ground we can only see one town or village at a time. From an airplane, however, we can see all of the villages at once. From this bird's eye/airplane view or view from our mind's eye we can begin to see and appreciate pluralism; we begin to make room for listening and for dialogue.

Anne Michaels writes in her novel, Fugitive Pieces, about a character who looks around and sees a world falling apart and out of sync, and realizes that what is needed is to make love necessary. In our times, we might also add, "to make multi-dimensional seeing necessary." This is at the heart of multiculturalism.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. fred. (2008, June 13). Education for the New Millennium. Retrieved May 04, 2010, from TWB Courseware Web site. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.