The Best Laid Schemes

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promised joy.

To a Mouse~ Robert Burn, 1786


Like most experiences in life, what I imagine vs. the actual outcome are two incongruous realities. My experience implementing my first two instructional strategies (advance organizer and cooperative learning- Jigsaw) has been an excellent, albeit somewhat painful, opportunity for growth. I love cooperative learning and have often utilized Jigsaw as a means to break large quantities of information into digestible chunks that could be disseminated amongst students through this instructional strategy. I assumed that because I had been successful with this strategy in the past that modifying Jigsaw would be a workable and authentic way to cover a large social studies concept with a language arts standard for both a grade 5 and grade 8 learner. I carefully considered the materials that I would use gathering learner-specific videos that I felt were at standard, thought about the amount of reading each learner would be able to process in the amount of time I had set-aside, created KWL charts and anticipatory journaling prompts, and planned for a summative journal entry to assess each learner’s understanding of the social studies concept of movement of people and goods all in an effort to provide an excellent learning experience that would showcase my proficiency as an instructor.

In reviewing my original discussion post (see detailed entry below) I can see that I identified the two essential elements of cooperative learning as positive interdependence and individual accountability yet I failed to truly create a scenario in which my learners did indeed, rely upon each other.

This is my original discussion posted on February 9, 2013

Despite being one of the most theoretically grounded (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone, 2012) and widely used (Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007) instructional strategies, cooperative learning is susceptible to misuse and overuse, potentially undermining the potential benefits of this highly effective instructional strategy. According to Dean et al., (2012) there seems to be two absolutely essential elements of cooperative learning: positive interdependence (all in it together, one’s success is not at the expense of an other’s, and equal distribution and sharing of the workload) and individual accountability (individuals receive feedback on their efforts, formative or summative assessment, demonstrate proficiency of knowledge and skills). We learned from Dell’Olio & Donk (2007) that research about cooperative learning such as Jigsaw’s, promote empathy while enhancing self-esteem and self-efficacy, deemphasizes competition, and helps students to appreciate each other’s strengths.

Teachers that are unfamiliar with or haven’t properly set the stage for cooperative learning may feel that it is difficult or impossible to ensure an element of individual accountability or conversely, keeping one student from dominating the direction of learning. As with any instructional strategy, really with anything that happens in the classroom, it is imperative that expectations are discussed, modeled and revisited. While it may seem obvious to the adult in the room that everyone should attend to the task at hand or allow all voices to be hear, this is a social and cognitive skill/disposition that must be explicitly taught. Dean et. al., (2012) remind us that small groups work best and that personal accountability can be achieved through both formative and summative assessments tied to the cooperative learning task at hand. Finally, while cooperative learning is a highly effective instructional strategy with an average effective size of .44 (Dean et al., 2012) it can still be overused; independent practice is important to master skills and processes. Cooperative learning isn’t appropriate in every context, every time, but an element of “cooperation” can be injected into every class period through a simple pair and share that lasts just a few minutes. What is a critical underlying theme of cooperative learning is that students are afforded the opportunity to interact in meaningful ways that build their self-confidence and relationship with others.

I assumed that there would be a higher level of engagement by both learners, but as I reviewed the video, I can see that the Grade 8 learner was complete bored with the entire experience. This is a link to my blog post that details my strategy implementation and video analysis. And though I had been warned that she was a reluctant learner, I believed that since I would be engaging her in unique learning experiences (she and her sister are typically home schooled) that she would be more engaged. I was wrong.

One way that I could have created more interdependence was by having the learners be responsible for learning their assigned readings and video, then working together to create a group presentation that they would have to present to me and their Mom. Individual accountability could have been accomplished through a simple selected response quiz with information taken from both learner’s materials, helping to ensure a higher level of attention during presentations. Finally, I just simply needed more time, realistically multiple lessons, if I expected my learners to engage with the social studies concept movement of people and goods in anything more than a surface manner. Though joy is not what I was seeking, in the end despite my best laid schemes, foresight I had naught for I feel that my lesson fell far short of the expectations that I had of myself as an instructor.


Burn, Robert. 1786. To a Mouse. Retrieved from

Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone. 2012. Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement 2nd Edition. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Dell’Olio, Jeanine M. & Donk, Tony. 2007. Models of Teaching: Connecting Students Learning With Standards. California: Sage.


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