Monitor and Intervene

Initial Publication Date: December 11, 2006

Preparing for and Recording Observations

When there is a desire to identify and record the extent to which groups display specific behaviors during the cooperative learning exercise, a number of key steps help to facilitate the process.

  • Decide which behaviors, attitudes, and/or skills will be observed. Broad categories of these attributes would include academic learning and performance, reasoning, social skills, attitudes, and work habits.
  • Decide who will be doing the observation: the instructor (you) or selected student or others. You can have more experienced students (seniors, teaching assistants) roving the room, checking in with the reasoning behind groups' arguments. You can also draft any visitors to your class into helping observe.
    • Train the observers in the proper procedure. This involves explaining the role they will play and the procedure they should follow, along with practice using the form or checklist they will use. It is also important to process with your observers after an observation period to see what they've learned by observing.
  • Plan your method of observation. Will you observe only one group for the whole class period or will you be roving around observing each group for a short amount of time? This has obvious implications for the data you get from the observation as well as your ability to intervene with different groups should it be necessary.
  • Develop the observation procedure. Examples would include standard forms or checklists for tabulating observations or detailed note taking to keep track of the attributes you are trying to monitor. Here is an example of an observation sheet that you can use as a template.

The Practice of Observation

This step may seem self-explanatory, but generating quantitative data from watching your groups isn't trivial. You are looking for specific actions or verbal cues related to your target behaviors. When a student engages in that action, the observer puts a tally mark on the group's observation form. This is a good reason to start small and only look at a few behaviors to begin with. But the observer should also keep notes about specific positive contributions made by group members to supplement the tally data, as well as to use in praising student actions during processing.


In the process of observing your students working in groups, you will likely see patterns of behavior that impede their progress and thus you'll want to intervene. These might include misconceptions of the task and concepts involved in the project or deficiencies in use of social skills and communication.

When faculty interact with groups, their role should be one that is supportive of cooperation rather than simply telling them what they are doing wrong and how to fix it. Kagan (1992) suggests that students should be advised to to use the "three before me" method- seeking input from three sources before asking the instructor a question. Barkley, et al. (2005: 71-72), citing Johnson and Johnson (1984) and Silberman (1996), provide a number of strategies that promote supportive interaction:
  • Be available to clarify instruction, review procedures, and answer questions about the assignment.
  • Paraphrase or ask a question to clarify what a student has said.
  • Compliment the student on an interesting or insightful comment.
  • Elaborate on a student's statement or suggest a new perspective.
  • Energize by using humor or by asking for additional contributions.
  • Disagree with a student comment, but be gentle.
  • Mediate between students.
  • Pull together ideas by pointing out relationships.
  • Summarize the group's major views.