Complex Instruction (Cohen & Lotan, 1997) is a variation on cooperative learning that has been more successful because it directly addresses issues of status and access.

  • Tasks need to be group-worthy, draw on multiple abilities, and have multiple entry-points.
  • Students need to know and have practiced the collaborative norms, particularly roles that they take on within the group.
  • Teachers need to stress the importance of multiple abilities in doing mathematics.
  • Teachers need to look for times in which certain students are not being listened to in their groups, and at that point do a status intervention with them: a specific, relevant public comment that assigns competence to that student.

Here is Jo Boaler (math education professor at Stanford University) explaining Complex Instruction. Also on that page there is a research article she wrote about the successful use of the approach in a high school.

I particularly like this new book on using Complex Instruction with elementary school students.  Great book, super readable, and right on the money.

Featherstone, H., Crespo, S., Jilk, L. M., Oslund, J. A., Parks, A. N., & Wood, M. B. (2011). Smarter Together! Collaboration and Equity in the Elementary Math Classroom (First edition). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.