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September 1998 | Volume 56 | Number 1
Realizing a Positive School Climate
Elizabeth G. Cohen
By considering multiple abilities and recognizing competence, teachers can help students of low academic and peer status gain acceptance into classroom groups and attain appreciation of their intellectual contributions.
Miguel was a shy and withdrawn child who spoke no English and who stuttered when he spoke Spanish. His Spanish reading and writing skills were very low, and although math was his strength, nobody seemed to notice. Recently arrived from Mexico, Miguel lived with relatives more than 10 adults and three children in a two bedroom apartment. He came to school hungry and tired, wearing dirty clothes. Shunned by his classmates, who said he had the "cooties," Miguel was left out of group activities. Even when he had a specific role, other members of the group would take over and tell him what to do. Miguel was obviously a low-status student. When I observed Miguel's group I saw that the other members simply wouldn't give him a chance. Cooperative learning was not helping him at all. (Shulman, Lotan, & Whitcomb, 1997, p. 69)
The story of Miguel is not uncommon. Teachers who use cooperative learning precisely because they want to see all students actively talking and working together. It is painful to see certain students ignored by the group and forced into social isolation. Teachers are also asking for help with problems of social dominance. Some students take over the group, telling other people what to do and trying to do all the work themselves. Strangely enough, social isolation and social dominance are two sides of the same coin. They are two ways in which cooperative learning reveals status differences among students.
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Copyright © 1998 by Elizabeth G. Cohen
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