A Simple Bully Buster: Cooperative Learning

By Bernie Wong | August 31, 2011 | 6 comments

A recent study suggests how teachers can promote kindness in the classroom, not competition.

As educators become increasingly aware of the prevalence and harm of bullying, there have been major conferences, school-wide programs, and legislation in 47 states intended to curtail it. But a recent study suggests how simple exercises in the classroom, involving just small groups of students at a time, may also have a positive impact.

In the study, researchers gave surveys to 217 students in grades three through five, measuring how much the students liked to cooperate or compete with their peers, and how often they acted with aggression or kindness toward them. The students also reported how often their teachers put them in small groups to complete assignments together, a classroom strategy known as “cooperative learning” because the students have to collaborate with one another in order to get their work done.

The results, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, suggest that cooperation begets cooperation: Students who participated in more cooperative learning exercises were more likely than their peers to say they liked cooperating with other students, leading the researchers to conclude that “cooperative experiences promote the development of the personality trait of cooperativeness.”

What’s more, students who engaged in more frequent cooperative learning were also more likely to report performing kind, helpful—or “pro-social”—behavior toward their classmates.

On the other hand, students who said they liked competing were significantly more likely to act aggressively toward their peers and try to do them harm.

Students who cooperate with each other are not just more likely to do well on their shared projects, say the researchers. Prior studies suggest that participating in cooperative projects leads to positive relationships and greater psychological health. On the other hand, they report, being competitive is associated with bullying, and bullies tend to be more sad, lonely, and anxious.

Based on their results, the researchers advocate more cooperative learning in classrooms as a way to promote positive behaviors and combat bullying (which they dub “harm-intended aggression”).

“Cooperative learning experiences may be used to increase students’ cooperative predispositions,” they write. “Doing so will increase student engagement in pro-social behaviors and will reduce the incidence of harm-intended aggression among students.”

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Bernie Wong is a Greater Good research assistant.


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I think this is great information, especially for younger kids. In our region, the horrid Phoebe Prince suicide brought up some serious issues. Prince was not just being teased by classmates; her ex-boyfriend was alleged to have a personal agenda against her (seems somewhat related to the competition point) and recruited friends to bully her. That aspect can’t be helped, of course; relationships outside of school. What’s shocking is that she was allegedly threatened, stalked and assaulted right on school grounds, and some say it was right in front of teachers, who ignored it. This criminal behavior is not allowed in workplaces or on the street; why on earth is it allowed in schools? I don’t care how young the kids are. If I had a kid who was a victim to this, the bullies would be talking to the cops every day until something changed.

Emmy | 6:33 pm, September 5, 2011 | Link


and i agree with Emmy

Asala mp3 | 11:16 am, November 11, 2011 | Link


Fully agreed with her too!

how many calories should I eat | 10:29 am, November 22, 2011 | Link


The competition is very good, other than as a forum to discover new talent, this competition also helps the environment are not capable. Moreover, with themes that serve as the theme of this competition, will surely attract the attention of many people.

Preschool in Lake Ridge VA | 11:32 am, January 7, 2012 | Link


Teach children to be cooperative is not easy, because basically the kids still have a high selfish. let him and his friends study together or finish a game together, can teach it bit by bit to be more cooperative.

Lake Ridge VA school | 11:37 am, January 7, 2012 | Link


I disagree with the competitive approach. I think it is one of the biggest problems we have in western societies today. IVF

IVF | 2:45 am, January 12, 2012 | Link

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