• Heather Buzzard


Let's start with the simpler principle—individual accountability. Robert Slavin at Johns Hopkins University examined cooperative learning studies and discovered that gains were dependent on the presence of positive interdependence and individual accountability. 2 That is, when individual accountability was present along with positive interdependence, almost without exception cooperative learning produced achievement gains. If individual accountability was not present, results were mixed, often with no positive results. On the basis of this research, individual accountability became accepted as a basic principle of cooperative learning.

The “P” and “I” of PIES: Powerful Principles for Success

What do we mean by individual accountability? Individual accountability is present if three conditions are present: 1) a student performs on his/her own; 2) the performance or the product of the performance must be seen by someone else; and 3) the individual performance is required. To summarize these conditions we define individual accountability as "An individual, public performance is required."3

Positive. The word positive in the term positive interdependence is based on extensive research demonstrating that cooperation almost always results when there is a positive correlation among outcomes. There are numerous ways to structure interaction in the classroom so there is a positive correlation among outcomes. For example, if we tell students they will all get an ice cream treat if every student scores above 90 on a quiz, students will encourage, tutor, and hope for the success of their classmates. They will feel they are on the same side. Why?

The outcomes of students are linked; they are positively correlated. As the quiz score of each student goes up, it increases the probability all students will get the treat. A positive correlation among outcomes is created also by team projects. For example, if students create a team mind map, they feel they are on the same side, hoping for positive contributions from each teammate. Why? The outcomes of students are linked; the better the contribution of any teammate, the better their team mind map.

"Interdependence occurs when help is necessary."

Interdependence. The word interdependence in the term positive interdependencerefers literally to situations in which students must depend on each other. My favorite example comes from my own childhood. When I was a child, back in the day of metal skates, the skates were designed to slide open or shut to fit foot size. It was possible to take off the nut so the front and back of the skate could be separated. When we wanted to make a skateboard, often one kid would have a board and another a skate.

We would nail the front of the skate on the front of the board and the back of the skate on the back of the board to complete our skateboard. This is a perfect example of interdependence: If a child had a skate but no board, she/he could not ride a skateboard; if a child had a board but no skate, she/he could not ride a skateboard. Only if we pooled our resources could we get the ride we wanted. Success depended on the contribution of each. No one alone could complete the task. Thus we say, "Interdependence occurs when help is necessary."

In the classroom, if we set up a task where one or two students can do it without the contributions of the others on the team, the students are not fully interdependent. Interdependence occurs when a contribution of each is necessary for success.

Positive interdependence drives cooperation. When our outcomes are linked, we hope for and support the success of others; when we cannot do a task alone, we work with others.

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