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Including Children with Special Needs: Cooperative Groups
Ed Clement

Inclusive children blend much better academically and physically into a classroom where cooperative groups are being used to further academic achievement. I've also found that the academic performance of a cooperative group often reaches a higher level than the individual students would have reached on their own. The down side to cooperative grouping is that you don't really know if the students in a given group are going to gel until after you start the lesson. To cut down the risk of failure when deciding the composition of cooperative groups, I advise:

  • Learning everything you can about your class, especially their past academic achievements. I keep a data base with every year's standardized test scores for every child that is likely to become a member of my class.
  • Not letting the children decide the groups' compositions.
  • Creating groups in which the non-inclusive students have similar or equal achievement levels.
  • Letting the students sit where they want to before you group them. Observe who they sit with and then try to avoid putting them in the same group.
  • Seating students that you intend to group together close to each other and observing how they interact.
  • Observing potential group members outside the classroom, in the playground or cafeteria, to see how they interact.
  • Never putting more then one inclusive student into a cooperative group.
  • Keeping the cooperative group size to 2,3 or 4 students with 3 being the most desirable.
  • Changing group membership very reluctantly. If the members of the group know that there is no chance of changing groups, all but a very few will learn to work together.
Several years ago a new automobile assembly plant opened in our area offering $22-an-hour jobs with full benefits. In the last and most important step in the application process, each prospective employee was asked to perform a simple task. The only two criteria used to judge that part of the evaluation were: could the applicant follow directions and could the applicant work successfully as part of a group.


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