Student Team Learning and Success for All: A Personal History and Overview

Robert E. Slavin and Nancy A. Madden

Student Team Learning (STL) is a set of approaches to cooperative learning that emphasize academic achievement as the main outcome and are designed to be used all year as a routine part of daily instruction. STL mainly includes Student Teams-Achievement Divisions (STAD) and Teams-Games-Tournament (TGT), plus programs for particular subjects, such as Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC), Student Team Writing (STW), and Team Accelerated Instruction (TAI) in mathematics. Success for All (SFA) is a whole-school reform model for disadvantaged elementary and middle schools. It adds to cooperative learning elements such as tutoring for struggling readers, parent involvement approaches, social-emotional learning methods, and more.

This chapter has two sections. First, it contains a personal history of the intellectual and pragmatic journey that led us to create, evaluate, and disseminate these programs. This chapter is the only place this story has been published. Second, it contains a section describing our theoretical perspective, main programs, and the research on them. This story has been told frequently, but it is important, we think, to include it with the personal history to help readers understand what we are talking about and what we think we offer to the practice of education.

Student Team Learning: A Personal History

Our approach to cooperative learning began in 1970, when I (Bob) was a sophomore and Nancy was a freshman at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. We were psychology majors, both very interested in the possibilities of making schools exciting places, where learning was social and engaged the energies and enthusiasm of all students, especially students at risk.

As often as we could, we walked around the rain-swept streets of Portland, trying out ideas about education. Initially, we were thinking that group simulation games might be the key to making schools engaging and exciting, but we had opportunities to try them out and realized that it was what the groups did together, more than the simulation games, that held the greatest potential. Still, in the summer of 1970, we got a small grant to create a science program called WorldLab, in which young adolescents would learn and apply lab science in order to solve the problems of made-up countries on a made-up planet. Later, we both did undergraduate theses on applications of WorldLab. And we were still walking in the rain, trying out new thoughts, new approaches.

In an educational psychology class, I came upon a book by James Coleman (1961), entitled The Adolescent Society. In it, Coleman was wondering, as Nancy and I did, why the academic part of school was so boring and unengaging, while the sports parts were so exciting. He hypothesized that the difference was that in academics, one person’s success causes another’s failure. In contrast, in sports, each team member’s success increased the chances that others would succeed, because their team would succeed. Therefore, students encourage and assist each other’s hard work and engagement in sports, while discouraging hard work and engagement in academics. Strivers in academics get bad names, such as “nerds” or “geeks,” while strivers in sports are “stars.”

Coleman, like us, followed this idea into an interest in simulation games, and “It’s Academic!” tournaments. But the core concept was just what we’d been chewing on. I taught for a year after Reed, waiting for Nancy to graduate, and then I went off to Johns Hopkins University for only one reason. Coleman was there.

As it happened, Coleman left the year I came, 1973, so I worked with David DeVries, creator of Teams-Games-Tournaments (TGT) (DeVries & Slavin, 1978). TGT not only used teams like those we later used in other models but also used academic games in which students competed to win points for their teams. I worked on TGT, but two years later DeVries left academia. I quickly finished my Ph.D. and took his now-empty position.

Nancy was teaching emotionally disturbed children in Baltimore, and then got a degree in clinical psychology, but we still worked together on cooperative learning. Seeing the difficulty of getting teachers to use the games of TGT or the simulations of WorldLab, we created a simpler program, STAD, in 1975 (Slavin, 1977, 1978, 1980). STAD involves students working in four- to five-member teams to help each other master content introduced by the teacher. Students then take individual quizzes, and teams are recognized based on the average team score.

Our Approach to Cooperative Learning

STAD and other cooperative learning programs we have developed at Johns Hopkins University have distinct characteristics, not only in the program procedures but also in the role of research and development in our work.

For us, like many others, teams are heterogeneous groups of four or five. The teams sit together, and they have team names and a responsibility to ensure the success of all team members.

We place a great deal of emphasis on two key factors: group goals and individual accountability (Slavin, 1978,1980, 1981, 1983, 1995,2014). Group goals mean that the team is working together to achieve success, and they can earn recognition or small rewards for doing so. Individual accountability means that in achieving their group goals, teams have to ensure that every member of the team is mastering the material the group is studying (Slavin, 1983, 1995). The purpose of the combination of group goals and individual accountability is to try to make sure that team members are teaching each other, explaining difficult ideas, helping each other study, and encouraging each other’s success. These structures are intended to prevent the “free rider” problem of group work, in which one student works and three students watch them do it. It is also intended to prevent the “bully,” the team member who takes over and tells others what to do. When there is a group goal and individual accountability, the team cannot succeed if only one or a few members are learning. All must learn.

We recognize that there are different structures for different objectives. Writing or project-based learning, for example, need structures different from studying math, science, or reading. But whatever the academic goal, there is a way to ensure that groupmates work eagerly together but cannot do each other’s work.

Our focus on achievement as the principal goal of cooperative learning also affects our research. We are uninterested in short-term lab studies or artificial experiments. Instead, our studies generally operate in real classrooms in real schools over extended time periods, often a whole school year or more. We value studies that use traditional measures of traditional academic content. We respect more theoretically driven studies as steps on the way to larger and longer experiments, but before anyone claims that evidence supports any program, cooperative learning or anything else, we want to see evidence from experiments that took place in schools over extended periods.

In the mid-1970s, we became aware of other groups also working on cooperative learning: David and Roger Johnson, Elliot Aronson, Shlomo and Yael Sharan, and others. Each had their own ideas about how cooperative learning should be done, and each had different objectives. From the outset, we set as our goal creating practical approaches that could be used to help students learn traditional academic subjects, reasoning that these subjects have always driven the practice of education and always would, so if we expected to give large numbers of students the joy of working in teams, we’d need to help teachers use them to accomplish their basic goals.

By the late 1970s we were holding big workshops at Johns Hopkins and doing large-scale, year-long studies to evaluate many forms of cooperative learning. Around 1980, however, we recognized a problem. Much as teachers loved cooperative learning and loved the workshops, they had a lot of difficulty teaming up cooperative methods with the academic content they had to teach. We created blackline masters and other practical supports to help teachers apply STAD to reading, math, grammar, and other topics in many grade levels. The quality of implementation gained dramatically.

In the early 1980s, when Nancy gave up her clinical work and came to work at Johns Hopkins, we took another major step. We created a complete approach to upper-elementary math, called Team-Assisted Individualization (TAI). Much more than blackline masters, it combined individualization with cooperative learning. Students worked within teams on material at their instructional level, with the teacher providing leveled lessons. Teammates helped each other succeed on their individualized content. Evaluations found TAI to be one of the most effective initiatives we ever engaged in (Slavin, Leavey, &c Madden, 1984), but teachers found it hard to implement, because students were working on so many different levels.

We also made a complete approach to upper-elementary reading and writing, called Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition, or CIRC (Stevens, Madden, Slavin, & Famish, 1987), which was also very effective and not so difficult to implement. CIRC involves students working not only in teams on reading and writing activities but also at times in reading groups, with all activities contributing to team scores and recognition.

As we worked with more and more schools, we began to see that the school, not individual teachers, was the essential unit of change. We created and studied a whole-school program called the Cooperative Elementary School, which mixed various cooperative learning approaches with a focus on mainstreaming, parent involvement, and whole-school leadership. Again, the outcomes were very promising (Stevens &c Slavin, 1995a, 1995b).

Success for All

In 1987, a major change happened. We were approached by Buzzy Hettle- man, a former Maryland State Secretary of Human Resources, about creating a successful approach for inner-city schools in Baltimore. This was the fruition of the ideas we’d been discussing since Portland. We already had many of the necessary components in place, but between fall of 1986 and fall of 1987, we had to create a beginning reading program, a tutoring model, an assessment model, and much more. Success for All uses cooperative learning in pre-K to eighth grade. It also provides struggling readers with tutoring and helps schools build school-wide leadership, assessment, parent involvement, and other features focused on disadvantaged schools.

We did all of this with many collaborators in the Baltimore City Public Schools, and our very first school was a rousing success. We expanded to four more Baltimore schools, and they were very successful as well (Madden, Slavin, Karweit, Dolan, & Wasik, 1993). Our early schools averaged effect sizes of +0.50 and +0.75 for the lowest quarter of students. A follow-up of these schools showed effects lasting through eighth grade, and there were major reductions in grade failures and special education referrals (Borman & Hewes, 2002).

From that point, our efforts shifted decidedly from teacher-by-teacher cooperative learning to school-by-school reform, still incorporating cooperative learning at all grade levels, but also incorporating tutoring, parent involvement, pre-kindergarten, and other elements.

From 1988 throughout the 1990s, Success for All grew at a rapid rate. Evidence from large-scale, usually randomized evaluations continued to support the effects of SFA (Borman et al., 2007; Rowan, Correnti, Miller, & Camburn, 2009; Quint, Zhu, Balu, Rappaport, & DeLaurentis, 2014). Success for All now operates in about 1000 schools in the United States, 150 in the United Kingdom, and smaller numbers in the Netherlands and Canada. We created and evaluated Student Team Writing (Madden, Slavin, Logan, & Cheung, 2011), and evaluated our preschool and kindergarten approaches (Chambers, Cheung, & Slavin, 2016).

Student Team Learning:Theory, Programs, and Research (Portions ofThis Section Are Adapted From Slavin (1995))

Theoretical Perspectives on Cooperative Learning

Although there is a fair consensus among researchers about the positive effects of cooperative learning on student achievement, discussed in this chapter, there remains a controversy about why and how cooperative learning methods affect achievement, and most importantly, under what conditions cooperative learning has these effects. Different groups of researchers investigating cooperative learning effects on achievement begin with different assumptions and conclude by explaining the achievement effects of cooperative learning in quite different theoretical terms. In earlier work, Slavin (1995) identified motivationalist, social cohesion, and cognitive as the three major theoretical perspectives on the achievement effects of cooperative learning.

The motivationalist perspective presumes that motivation is the single most impactful part of the learning process, asserting that the other processes such as planning and helping are driven by individuals’ motivated self-interest. Motivationalist-oriented scholars focus more on the reward or goal structure under which students operate (Slavin, 1995, 2009). Methods derived from this perspective emphasize the use of group goals and individual accountability, meaning that group success depends on the individual learning of all group members (see later).

By contrast, the social cohesion perspective (also called “social interdependence theory”) suggests that the effects of cooperative learning are largely dependent on the cohesiveness of the group. This perspective holds that students help each other learn because they care about the group and its members and come to derive self-identity benefits from group membership (Johnson Sc Johnson, 1998). In essence, students will engage in the task and help one another learn because they identify with the group and want one another to succeed. This perspective is similar to the motivationalist perspective in that it emphasizes primarily motivational rather than cognitive explanations for the instructional effectiveness of cooperative learning. However, motivational theorists hold that students help their groupmates learn primarily because it is in their own interests to do so. Social cohesion theorists, in contrast, emphasize the idea that students help their groupmates learn because they care about the group. A hallmark of the social cohesion perspective is an emphasis on teambuilding activities in preparation for cooperative learning, and processing or group self-evaluation during and after group activities. Social cohesion theorists have historically tended to downplay or reject the group incentives and individual accountability held by motivationalist researchers to be essential. They emphasize, instead, that the effects of cooperative learning on students and on student achievement depend substantially on the quality of the group’s interaction. For example, Cohen (1986, pp. 69-70) stated

if the task is challenging and interesting, and if students are sufficiently prepared for skills in group process, students will experience the process of groupwork itself as highly rewarding ... never grade or evaluate students on their individual contributions to the group product.

Cohen’s (1994) work, as well as that of Shlomo and Yael Sharan’s (1992) group investigation and Elliot Aronson’s Jigsaw (Aronson, Blaney, Stephan, Sikes, & Snapp, 1978), may be described as social cohesiveness theories. Cohen, Aronson, and the Sharans all prescribe forms of cooperative learning in which students take on individual roles within the group, which Slavin (1983) calls “task specialization” methods. In Aronson’s Jigsaw method, students study material on one of four or five topics distributed among the group members. They meet in “expert groups” to share information on their topics with members of other teams who have the same topic and then take turns presenting their topics to the team. In the Sharans’ group investigation method, groups take on topics within a unit studied by the class as a whole and then further subdivide the topic into tasks within the group. The students investigate the topic together and ultimately present their findings to the class as a whole. Cohen’s Finding Out/Descubrimiento program has students play different roles in discovery-oriented science activities.

The major alternative to the motivationalist and social cohesiveness perspectives on cooperative learning, both of which focus primarily on group norms and interpersonal influence, is the cognitive perspective. The cognitive perspective holds that interactions among students will in themselves increase student achievement for reasons that have to do with mental processing of information rather than with motivation. Cooperative methods developed by cognitive theorists involve neither the group goals that are the cornerstone of the motivationalist methods nor the emphasis on building group cohesiveness characteristic of the social cohesion methods.

One example of the cognitive perspective is Davidson’s (1990) small- group discovery method of learning mathematics. Based on Dewey’s philosophy,

interest in the mathematical topics and activities is to provide the primary source of motivation.... The ideal goal is to provide a learning environment in which all topics are perceived as interesting, valuable, or useful to the students.

Students learn mathematics by doing mathematics together in small groups. They make conjectures, state and prove theorems, and develop techniques for solving various classes of problems (Davidson, 1990, pp. 337-338).

Integrating Alternative Perspectives

The alternative perspectives on cooperative learning may be seen as complementary, not contradictory. For example, motivational theorists would not argue that the cognitive theories are unnecessary. Instead, they assert that motivation drives cognitive process, which in turn produces learning (Slavin, 1995). They would argue that it is unlikely over the long haul that students would engage in the kind of explanations to each other found by Webb (2008) and others to be essential to profiting from cooperative activity unless the learning of their teammates is important to them. Similarly, social cohesion theorists might hold that the utility of extrinsic incentives must lie in their contribution to group cohesiveness, caring, and pro-social norms among group members, which could in turn affect cognitive processes.

A simple path model of cooperative learning processes, adapted from Slavin (1995), is diagrammed in Figure 6.1. It depicts the main functional relationships among the major theoretical approaches to cooperative learning.

Figure 6.1 begins with a focus on group goals or incentives based on the individual learning of all group members. That is, the model assumes that motivation to learn and to encourage and help others to learn activates cooperative behaviors that will result in learning. This would include both motivation to succeed at learning tasks and motivation to interact in the group. In this model, motivation to succeed leads to learning directly and also drives the behaviors and attitudes that lead to group cohesion, which in turn facilitates the types of group interactions that yield enhanced learning and academic achievement. The relationships are conceived to be reciprocal, so that motivation to succeed leads to the development of group cohesion, which may reinforce and enhance motivation. By the same token, the cognitive processes may become intrinsically rewarding and lead to increased motivation and group cohesion.

Integration of theoretical perspectives on cooperative learning effects on learning

Figure 6.1 Integration of theoretical perspectives on cooperative learning effects on learning

Group Goals (or Rewards) and Individual Accountability

Considerable evidence from practical applications of cooperative learning in elementary and secondary schools supports the position that group rewards are essential to the effectiveness of cooperative learning, with one critical qualification. Use of group rewards enhances the achievement outcomes of cooperative learning, if and only if attaining the group rewards is based on the individual learning of all group members (Slavin, 1995). Most often, this means that team scores are computed based on average scores on quizzes, which all teammates take individually without teammate help. For example, in STAD (Slavin, 1994), students work in mixed-ability teams to master material initially presented by the teacher. Following this, students take individual quizzes on the material, and the teams may earn certificates based on the degree to which team members have improved over their own past records. The only way the team can achieve their rewards is by ensuring that all team members have learned, so the team members’ activities focus on explaining concepts to one another, helping one another practice, and encouraging one another to achieve. In contrast, if attaining group rewards is based on a single group product (e.g., the team completes one worksheet or solves one problem), there is little incentive for group members to explain concepts to one another, and one or two group members may do all the work (see Slavin, 1995,2009).

A 1995 review of 99 studies of cooperative learning in elementary and secondary schools that involved durations of at least four weeks compared achievement gains in cooperative learning and control groups (Slavin, 1995). Of 64 studies of cooperative learning methods that provided group rewards based on the sum of group members’ individual learning, 50 studies (78%) found significantly positive effects on achievement, and none found negative effects (Slavin, 1995). The median effect size for these 64 studies was d = +0.32 (32% of a standard deviation separated cooperative learning and control treatments).

In contrast, studies of methods that used group goals based on a single group product or provided no group rewards found few positive effects, with a median effect size of only d = +0.07. Comparisons of forms of cooperative learning with and without group rewards within the same studies found similar patterns; group rewards based on the sum of individual learning performances were necessary to the instructional effectiveness of the cooperative learning models (e.g., Fantuzzo, Polite, & Grayson, 1990; Fantuzzo, Riggio, Connelly, & Dimeff, 1989).

Why are group rewards and individual accountability so important? To understand this, consider the alternatives. In some forms of cooperative learning, students work together to complete a single worksheet or to solve one problem. In such methods, there is little reason for more able students to take the time to explain what is going on to their less able groupmates or ro ask their opinions. When the group task is to do something, rather than to learn something, the participation of less able students may be seen as interference rather than help. It may be easier in this circumstance for students to give each other answers than to explain concepts or skills to one another. More aggressive students may dominate the group, and others may avoid participating, letting others do the work (and the learning).

When the group’s task is to ensure that every group member learns something, it is in the interests of every group member to spend time explaining concepts to his or her groupmates and to ask groupmates for explanations and help in understanding the topic of study. Studies of student behavior within cooperative groups have found that the students who gain most from cooperative work are those who give and receive elaborated explanations (Webb, 1985, 2008). In contrast, giving and receiving answers without explanations were negatively related to achievement gain. Group rewards and individual accountability motivate students to give elaborated explanations and to take one another’s learning seriously, instead of simply giving answers.

While research has focused on group rewards (usually recognition for achieving a given group score), there are other ways groups can achieve group goals that need not involve scores or recognition. For example, a community might decide to build a garden together, and all share in the produce. The garden and its vegetables are not a “reward,” but the dynamic is the same: Group members collaborate to achieve something of value to them. So the concept of “group rewards” can be expressed more broadly as “group goals,” although in schools, it is usual that group goals are to achieve a standard set by the teacher, for which groups receive recognition or small privileges.

Student Team Learning: Programs and Research

As noted earlier in this chapter, two concepts are central to all STL methods: group rewards and individual accountability. Using STL techniques, teams earn certificates or other team rewards if they achieve above a designated criterion. Individual accountability means that the team’s success depends on the individual learning of all team members. This focuses the activity of the team members on explaining concepts to one another and making sure that everyone on the team is ready for a quiz or other assessment that they will take without the help of teammates.

Four principal Student Learning methods have been extensively developed and researched. Two are general cooperative learning methods adaptable to most subjects and grade levels: Student Teams-Achievement Divisions (STAD) and Teams-Games-Tournament (TGT). The remaining two are comprehensive curriculums designed for use in particular subjects at particular grade levels: Team-Assisted Individualization (TAI) for mathematics in grades 3-6 and Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC) for reading and writing instruction in grades 3-5. Middle school adaptations of CIRC are called Student Team Reading and the Reading Edge.


In STAD (Slavin, 1994), students are assigned to four-member learning teams mixed in performance level, sex, and ethnicity. The teacher presents a lesson, and the students work within their teams to make sure that all team members have mastered the lesson. Finally, all students take individual quizzes on the material, at which time they may not help one another.

Students’ quiz scores are compared to their own past averages, and points are awarded based on the degree to which students meet or exceed their own earlier performances. These points are then summed to form team scores, and teams that meet certain criteria earn certificates or other rewards. The whole cycle of activities, from teacher presentation to team practice to quiz, usually takes three to five class periods.

STAD has been used in a wide variety of subjects, including mathematics, language arts, and social studies. It has been used from grade 2 through college. STAD is most appropriate for teaching well-defined objectives, such as mathematical computations and applications, language usage and mechanics, geography and map skills, and science facts and concepts. In STAD, students work in four-member heterogeneous teams to help each other master academic content.

Numerous studies of STAD have found positive effects of the program on traditional learning outcomes in math, language arts, science, and other subjects (Barbato, 2000; Mevarech, 1985; Reid, 1992; Slavin, 1995; Slavin & Karweit, 1984). Across 11 comparisons that met standard inclusion criteria (e.g., use of control groups, minimum duration of 12 weeks, measures not made by researchers), nine of which used random assignment to conditions, the sample-size-weighted effect size was +0.14. These studies involved a total of more than 4000 students in grades 3-12.


TGT (Slavin, 1994) uses the same teacher presentations and teamwork as in STAD but replaces the quizzes with weekly tournaments. In these, students compete with members of other teams to contribute points to their team score. Students compete at three-person tournament tables against others with a similar past record in mathematics. Table assignments rotate to keep the competition fair. The winner at each tournament table brings the same number of points to his or her team, regardless of which table it is; this means that low achievers (competing with other low achievers) and high achievers (competing with other high achievers) have equal opportunity for success. As in STAD, high-performing teams earn certificates or other forms of team rewards. TGT is appropriate for the same types of objectives as STAD. Several studies of TGT have found positive effects on achievement in math, science, and language arts (Slavin, 1995).


TAI (Slavin, Leavey, 8c Madden, 1986) shares with STAD and TGT the use of four-member mixed-ability learning teams and certificates for high-performing teams. However, where STAD and TGT use a single pace of instruction for the class, TAI combines cooperative learning with individualized instruction. Also, where STAD and TGT apply to most subjects at grade levels, TAI is specifically designed to teach mathematics to students in grades 3-6 (or older students not ready for a full algebra course). Across five comparisons (two randomized) involving almost 3000 students, the sample-size-weighted effect size for TAI was +0.19.


CIRC is a comprehensive program for teaching reading and writing in the upper elementary grades (Stevens et al., 1987). In CIRC, teachers use reading texts and reading groups, much as in traditional reading programs. However, all students are assigned to teams composed of two pairs from two different reading groups. While the teacher is working with one reading group, the paired students in the other groups are working on a series of cognitively engaging activities, including reading to one another, making predictions about how narrative stories will come out, summarizing stories to one another, writing responses to reading comprehension questions, and practicing spelling, decoding, and vocabulary. Students work as a whole team to master the main idea and other comprehension skills. During language arts periods, students engage in writing drafts, revising and editing one another’s work, and preparing for publications of team books.

In most CIRC activities, students follow a sequence of teacher instruction, team practice, team pre-assessments, and quizzes. That is, students do not take the quiz until their teammates have determined that they are ready. Certificates are given to teams based on the average performance of all team members on all reading and writing activities.

Research on CIRC and similar approaches has found positive effects in upper-elementary and middle school reading (Stevens 8c Durkin, 1992; Stevens et al., 1987; Stevens 8c Slavin, 1995a, 1995b). CIRC has been adapted as the upper-elementary and middle school components of the Success for All comprehensive reform model and is currently disseminated under the name Reading Wings by the Success for All Foundation (see Slavin, Madden, Chambers, & Haxby, 2009).

Success for All

Success for All (SFA) makes extensive use of cooperative learning, but also adds additional elements to transform entire schools. It was designed and first implemented in 1987 in an attempt to serve very disadvantaged schools, in which it is not practically possible to serve all struggling readers one at a time. The program emerged from our team’s research at Johns Hopkins University, and since 1996 has been developed and disseminated by a non-profit organization, the Success for All Foundation (SFAF). SFA was designed from the outset to provide research-proven instruction, curriculum, and school organization to schools serving many disadvantaged students.

Success for AlhTheory of Action (Portions of This Section Are Adapted From Cheung,

Xie, Zhang, Neitzel, and Slavin (in press).)

The theory of action for SFA assumes that students must start with success, whatever this takes, in the expectation that early success builds a solid base for later learning, positive expectations for future success, and motivation to achieve. However, success in the early grades is seen as necessary but not sufficient. Evidence on the difficulties of ensuring long-term maintenance of reading gains from highly successful first-grade tutoring programs demonstrates that ensuring early grade success in reading cannot be assumed to ensure lifelong reading success. The designers of SFA intended to build maintenance of first-grade effects by continuing high-quality instruction and classroom organization, with an emphasis on cooperative learning, after an intensive early primary experience sets students up for success. Beyond cooperative learning, reading, and tutoring, the design seeks to build on students’ strengths by involving their parents, teaching social-emotional skills, and ensuring high attendance.

The logic of Success for All is much like that of response to intervention (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006), now often called Multi-Tier Systems of Support (MTSS). That is, teachers receive extensive professional development and in-class coaching to help them use cooperative learning and other proven approaches to instruction. Students who do not succeed despite enhanced teaching may receive one-to-small group (e.g., one-to-four) or, if necessary, one-to-one tutoring. Ongoing assessment, recordkeeping, and flexible grouping are designed to ensure that students receive instruction and supportive services at their current instructional level, as they advance toward higher levels. Program components focus on parent involvement, classroom management, attendance, and social-emotional learning, to solve problems that may interfere with students’ reading and broader school success. Each school has a full-time facilitator to help manage professional development and other program elements, some number of paraprofessional tutors, and coaches from the non-profit SFAF, who visit schools approximately once a month to review the quality of implementation, review data, and introduce additional components.

Program Components

Success for All is a whole-school model that addresses instruction, particularly in reading, as well as school-wide issues related to leadership, attendance, school climate, behavior management, parent involvement, and health (see Slavin et al., 2009, for more detail). The program provides specific teacher and student materials and professional development to facilitate use of proven practices in each program component.

Research on Success for All

Success for All has been in existence for 33 years and currently (2020) provides services to about 1000 schools in the United States. About half of these use the full program, and half use major components (most often, the K-2 reading program). The program has placed a strong emphasis on research and evaluation and has always carried out or encouraged experimental or quasi-experimental evaluations to learn how the program is working and what results it is achieving for which types of students and settings. Studies of Success for All have usually been done by third-party evaluators (i.e., researchers unrelated to the program developers). They have taken place in high-poverty schools and districts throughout the United States and in other countries.

A recent synthesis of research on Success for All by Cheung, Xie, Zhang, Neitzel, and Slavin (in press) includes every study of reading outcomes carried out in US schools that evaluated the program using methods that meet a set of rigorous inclusion standards. The meta-analysis found a sample-size-weighted mean effect size across 17 high-quality studies of +0.24 on independent measures. Effects were largest for low achievers (usually students in the lowest 25% of their classes at pretest). For these students, the mean effect size was +0.54. Long-term effects of SFA, reported by Borman and Hewes (2002), indicate that by eighth grade, students who had been in SFA elementary schools were still scoring significantly better than were control students and were significantly less likely to have ever been retained or assigned to special education.


Research on cooperative learning over a 50-year period has found that under a set of well-defined circumstances, students working in structured small groups can learn significantly better than can students working in traditional classrooms. Positive learning outcomes depend on the use of programs in which students work toward group rewards and are individually accountable for learning the content the group is engaged with. Outcomes are generally enhanced if students are taught specific ways of working in groups dealing with both metacognitive and social strategies for making best use of the group learning setting. Providing sufficient training and follow-up to ensure high-quality implementation is also essential.

Although important research continues to appear, the basic principles have been established for many years, and there are many pragmatic training programs available. The STL programs provide one well-researched set of practical programs. Yet cooperative learning remains an innovative approach familiar to most teachers but not used as a regular part of instruction. Most school principals can lead a visitor to a teacher enthusiastically using cooperative learning programs that are demonstrably working for the students, yet the visitor will note on the way to see that teacher the many fellow-teachers in the same school who are teaching students in rows, or using informal forms of group work without group goals or individual accountability, which research has rarely supported. Studies of actual use of cooperative learning (e.g., Antil, Jenkins, Wayne, & Vadasy, 1998) find that most use of cooperative learning is informal, and does not usually incorporate the elements that research has repeatedly found to be essential.

There remains a need for development and evaluation of cooperative learning programs that solve key problems of teaching and learning in all subjects and grade levels, and for continued research to identify the conditions under which cooperative learning is most likely to be effective. The greatest need at this point, however, is to develop and evaluate forms of cooperative learning that can be readily and successfully adopted by schools on a large scale, and to study the impediments to successful adoption of cooperative strategies. There is also a continued need to combine cooperative learning with other elements to create whole-school approaches capable of making a substantial long-term impact on the achievement of disadvantaged students, as has been achieved by Success for All. After 50 years of research and application, cooperative learning still has much more to contribute to students’ learning.


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Chapter 7

The Jigsaw Classroom

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