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Benefits of Collaborative Learning for Students with Special Needs

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 1/5/2012

Special needs students can not only learn from regular education teachers, but can participate in collaborative learning with mainstream students as well. Collaborative learning allows students to work together in groups to complete lessons and assignments. Read on for the benefits of this method.

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    A number of educators with inclusion classrooms are realizing the benefits of collaborative learning and special needs students being placed in small group environments with regular education classmates. Collaborative learning allows students to converse with one another and brainstorm together in order to find solutions to problems or to complete an assignment. This type of learning allows students of varying ability levels to lend their individual strengths to the group as a whole, thereby encouraging an appreciation of diverse ideas and approaches to problem solving.

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    Four Strategies for Students

    Teachers can choose to implement several different types of collaborative learning strategies, depending on the needs of students and the focus of specific assignments. Examples of small-group collaborative learning methods are:

    1) The Think-Pair-Share strategy, which involves each student in the group taking one minute to formulate a response to the teacher's question, then sharing individual findings with a partner. After collaborating in pairs, students can then share input with slightly larger groups or with the entire class.

    2) The Simple Jigsaw strategy, which involves four-person teams splitting a teacher-assigned task into equal parts. Each student in the group acts as an "expert" on one section of the assignment and meets with corresponding "experts" in other groups for discussion and task mastering. Students then return to their initial teams to share their knowledge of the task with other members.

    3) The Three-Step Interview strategy, through which students initially break into pairs and take turns interviewing one another about an assignment. Each pair of students then combine with another pair in order to enhance the discussion.

    4) The Numbered Heads Together strategy, where each team member is assigned a number, then instructed to collaborate on a question. The teacher then calls a number randomly, and the student in each group who has that number acts as spokesperson in answering the question. Each student must be prepared for the possibility of having his or her number chosen.

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    Benefits for Special Education Students

    The process of collaborative learning is advantageous for special education students in quite a few ways. When working in small groups to grasp concepts and complete assignments, children with special needs can:

    • increase self-esteem through contributing valuable input to the group.
    • strengthen communication skills through conversing and socially interacting with classmates.
    • strengthen critical thinking skills through problem solving, group discussion, and taking responsibility for portions of a task.
    • decrease feelings of anxiety that stem from having to work independently in the classroom.
    • model the problem solving and behavioral techniques exhibited by typical children in the group.
    • contribute to an understanding of diversity within the group. When collaborating with one another on schoolwork, all group members can learn to respect and appreciate the individual strengths, differences, and insights of others.
    • gain a positive attitude in regard to learning new classroom material. The sense of being included in problem solving and working with "teammates" to complete an assignment can bring great satisfaction to children who have struggled academically or socially in the past.
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    The benefits of collaborative learning and special needs students having the opportunity to engage in small group tasks can produce positive results in regard to classroom organization and management. Teachers who research tips on collaborative learning and implement the practice with students are likely to have a successful inclusion classroom.