Training Executives from Age Five

By Lainey S. Cronk on December 18, 2007

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Educational gurus David and Roger Johnson, co-directors of the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota, brought their dynamic workshop to the Napa Valley on June 28-30. The Johnson brothers, well-known for their international research, have dedicated their life’s work to educating teachers about the importance of cooperative learning. The workshop, coordinated by Sandy Balli of Pacific Union College’s education department, drew participants from both public and private schools from as close as Angwin and as far as Wyoming.

Dr. David Johnson, professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota and the author of over 350 research articles and book chapters and over 40 books, has been the editor of the American Educational Research Journal. His brother, Dr. Roger Johnson, is a professor of science education at the University of Minnesota and has co-authored numerous research articles and books with David Johnson. Roger is also a member of the Search for Excellence Team of the National Science Teacher’s Association.

The Johnson brothers are advancing ideas that are hundreds of years old, but which have been overlooked in recent decades. They are trying to achieve a form of the cooperative learning that took place naturally in the old one-room schoolhouses and farming families, where older students helped younger students and siblings worked together to achieve goals.

The Johnson brothers’ concepts apply to students of every age group, from elementary school children to employees in the business workplace. Their vision of cooperative learning, which is consistently supported by both research and results, includes a move toward active (rather than passive) learning, emphasis on the importance of talking about concepts (rather than just thinking them through in your own head), and a focus on building a sense of community. David Johnson explains that true cooperative learning leads to academic achievement, social competence, and psychological health – in fact, he says, “It’s a real puzzle why every teacher doesn’t do this [type of teaching] most of the time.”

Mike Adams, a substitute teacher in Santa Rosa, was thrilled with the Johnson brothers’ seminar. “It taught me how much I need to learn and gave me insights into how to integrate cooperative learning into my lesson programs.”

Roger Johnson adds that support for training in cooperative learning is coming in large quantities from the business community. Major companies want employees who excel at teamwork, a characteristic developed in cooperative learning. Roger explains that the idea they are promoting is to use cooperative learning to “train executives starting at age 5, rather than at age 45.”