Cooperative Learning:Perceptions, Effects, & Implications Within a Middle School Social Studies Environment Elysia Terrill Miami University
Abstract • This study takes the form of a qualitative case study, largely resembling action research in that it involves an investigation and implementation of everyday instructional strategies to better promote student learning and cooperation. The study took place over the course of four weeks in a seventh grade world history classroom. The purpose of this study was to answer three central research questions: 1. What past experiences have middle school students had with cooperative learning? 2. Do students’ perceptions of cooperative learning change after proper implementation of such strategies (including heterogeneous groupings, specific directions, and appropriate tasks)? 3. Do students’ interactions with one another and their desire to work in groups or with partners change after proper implementation of cooperative learning strategies?
What is cooperative learning? • “a way of organizing instruction that involves students working together to help one another learn” (Sapon Shevin, 1994, p. 183). • Activities: • Jigsaw, Think/Pair/Share, Three-Step Interviews, Round Table Discussions, Group Reviews
Potential Benefits • Helps students… • learn course material faster, • retain information longer, • develop critical reasoning power faster than if working independently, • build positive student relationships, • foster life skills, • learn to work with individuals of varying ethnic, economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds, and • accept classmates with disabilities (Carnegie Council, 1989). • Neurological research has proven… • students participating in engaging learning activities within well-designed, supportive cooperative groups actually learn more effectively • children’s brain scans show a facilitated passage of information from the intake areas into the memory storage areas of the brain (Willis, 2007).
How to do it right? • Structuring learning tasks in such a way that students must serve as resources for each other in order to be successful at something (Sapon-Shevin, 1994) • Random or strategic group assignments (high-, average-, and low-achieving students) • Foster positive and open learning environment where students feel safe participating in class • Provide opportunities for students to express their ideas, questions, conclusions, and associations verbally (Willis, 2007). • Students need to be taught social skills for working with diversity of their peers (Sapon-Shevin, 1994).
Why middle school? • A developmental period characterized by rapid cognitive, social, and physical changes (Kingery & Erdley, 2007) • Students often experience declines in academic achievement, self-esteem, interest in school, level of motivation, and increases in psychological stress • Period in school when class division evident • developmental maturation • participation in extracurricular sports and other activities • formation of romantic relationships and close friendships
Why social studies? • Student teaching placement and future classrooms • Little research about cooperative learning within AYA social studies classrooms • Conducive to alternative methods of teaching (not just chalkboard/notes) • Excellent for incorporating projects for students with multiple disabilities (Tomasik, 2007). • Russell (2007)—9 high school students; cooperative learning and primary sources to teach Holocaust • Student interest increased; gained deeper understanding/appreciation of content • Yamarik (2007)—college-level intermediate macroeconomics; experimental and control group; • students taught using cooperative learning performed better on exams than sections taught in lecture format
Positive Implications vs. Student Perceptions • Despite positive implications, students still have negative perceptions—negative past experiences • Phipps, Phipps, Kask, & Higgins (2001) • 210 college freshman, sophomores, juniors in various classes • Perceived cooperative learning techniques as positive, but perceived cooperative learning in general to be ineffective in terms of motivation (p. 20). • Suggest negative past experiences • King (1993) • 8-third graders; math instruction • Students enjoyed cooperative groups • Lower achieving students—still more passive; Higher achieving students took on more dominant roles
Sample Population • Four 7th grade world history classrooms • Mixed-abilities (separate gifted class) • 71 total; 100% white/Caucasion
Research Design Method:Frequency, Time, Length of Participation • 4 weeks—Monday, 9/22 – Friday, 10/17 • Week One—No cooperative learning • Weeks Two-Four—Daily cooperative learning instructional strategies
Research Design Methods:Methods & Procedures • 7 key procedures
Research Design Method:Content Instruction • Part of 2 units • Ancient Mesopotamia & the Fertile Crescent • Ancient Egypt Week Dates Content Strategies/Assessment Week 1 M, 9/22- F, 9/26 Sumerian People, No cooperative learning; Inventions, Laws trade book reading; collage; “what would you do?” scenarios; whole-class disc.; video; chart Week 2 M, 9/29- F, 10/3 Mesopotamia & the Daily cooperative learning; Fertile Crescent jeopardy review game; chapter test; newspapers; connection essays Week 3 M, 10/6- F, 10/10 Ancient Egypt Daily cooperative learning; Overview maps; artifact exploration; god/ goddesses chart; Internet research; Jigsaw; video; map quiz; cooperative study groups Week 4 M, 10/13- F, 10/17 Ancient Egypt King Tut Daily cooperative learning; skit; CSI investigation; Jigsaw
Research Design Method:Data Collection • Private & Protected Observational Field Notes • Discussions; After every lesson taught • Personal information note card • Pre- and Post- Cognitive Style Questionnaire • Daily Exit Slips
Research Findings: • Cognitive Style Questionnaire • Each block of students varied in rankings of cooperative learning and other preferred learning styles • Ranked 1st or 2nd (preference) or 6th or 7th (dislike)
Research Findings • First-day note cards • Helped determine cooperative group placement (friends/activities/etc.) • Ranked cooperative learning more desirable on CSQ • Students participating in athletics/extra-curricular activities • Students native to the area
Research Findings: • Observational Notes • Taken during first-day whole-class discussions (about experiences with cooperative learning and rules for its utilization) & after daily lessons Top 3 Reasons Students Enjoy Working in Groups 1. Socialization/Work with Friends 2. Reassurance of Answers/Extra Help 3. Easier/Not as Much Work
Research Findings: • Observational Notes Continued Top 3 Reasons Students Dislike Working in Groups 1. Group Members Don’t Do Work/ One Person Does It All 2. Don’t Like Partner(s) or Prefer to be Alone 3. Unorganized/Easily Distracted
Research Findings: • Observational Notes Continued Key Findings from Daily Observational Notes Transcriptions • Talking and typical classroom distractions when cooperative learning is NOT implemented (especially when classroom changes) • Students request partners when instructed to work individually • Student interactions more positive when placed with a partner, rather than in a group • Students complain about group assignments when given more than one partner • Students prefer selecting own groups/partners • Shy students prefer individual assignments rather than cooperative learning • Cooperative learning works best when each student is given a specific task • Assignment type affects reaction to cooperative learning groups • Higher achieving and more cooperative students benefit from cooperative learning situations more easily than other students • Students unaccepted socially or considered bullies can be detrimental to cooperative learning situations
Research Findings • Exit Slips • Daily exit slips data proved inconclusive results • Student rankings of class (on scale 1— terrible, 5—great) varied • Scores varied amongst classes • Assignment type plays larger role than implementation of cooperative learning strategies
Research Findings • Post-Cognitive Style Questionnaire • Given at conclusion of 4 week study • Rankings of coop. learning improved, decreased, or stayed the same compared to initial CSQ
Discussion of Findings • What past experiences have middle school students had with cooperative learning? • All students had some experience • Few elaborated that they enjoyed cooperative learning experiences in other classes • Top three reasons students enjoy working in groups: to socialize/work with friends; get reassurance of answers or extra help; work is easier or they do not have has much work to do • Top three reasons students dislike working in groups: group members do not do work or one person ends up doing everything; do not like assigned partners or prefer to work alone; activity is unorganized or students easily distracted
Discussion of Findings • Do students’ perceptions of cooperative learning change after proper implementation of such strategies? • Yes, but the change varies. Some students indicate a stronger liking of the strategies, while others indicate a stronger disliking or show no change. • Each group of students is different—NEVER treat all classes the same • Block 1 showed stronger dislike of cooperative learning • Block 2 showed no change • Block 3 showed slight stronger liking of cooperative learning • Block 4 showed much stronger liking for cooperative learning
Discussion of Findings • Do students’ interactions with one another and their desire to work in groups or with partners change after proper implementation of cooperative learning strategies? • Yes and no. Each group of students is different. • Blocks 1 & 3 complained about group assignment more often than blocks 2 or 4 • Cooperative partners worked better (less off-task behavior and complaining) than cooperative groups of 3 or larger • Jigsaw method best (everyone had task and was responsible for teaching others) • Bullies/less-popular students acted-out more often than others (esp. blocks 1 & 3) • Highest achieving and cooperative students made experience for everyone more powerful (block 4) • Student interactions and desire to work in groups (students requested to do so) improved greatly for block 4
Limitations • Action research—investigation and implementation of everyday instructional strategies to better promote learning and cooperation • Relevant to my group of students (demographics & experiences differ) • Relevant to Social Studies only (not all subjects) • Study spanned content—student interest in content may have affected student perceptions (as occurred in Exit Slips)
Future Research • Experimental and control groups • Cooperative learning’s effect on student achievement (grades) • Follow specific students, rather than whole class (case studies) • Student N1 • Effects on student with disabilities or exceptionalities • Small population (only 3 receiving services) • Separate gifted classroom
Conclusions • Study specific to my experience and my students • ALL classes are different, no matter how homogenous they seem • Use data to help improve daily lessons • Use cooperative strategies often in Block 4 • Slow down, and teach Blocks 1 & 3 rules for group work and discuss student differences and toleration • Experiment with strategies for Block 2—they produced good results with cooperative learning but did not show significant changes
References Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. 1989. Turning points: Preparing American youth for the 21st century. Washington, DC: Carnegie Corporation of New York. King, L.H. 1993. High and low achievers’ perceptions and cooperative learning in two small groups. The Elementary School Journal 93 (4): 399-416. Kingery, J.N., & Erdley, C.A. 2007. Peer experiences as predictors of adjustment across the middle school transition. Education and Treatment of Children 30 (2): 73-88. Phipps, M., Phipps, C., Kask, S., and Higgins, S. 2001. University students’ perceptions of cooperative learning: Implications for administrators and instructors. The Journal of Experiential Education 24 (1): 14-21. Russell, W.B. 2007. Teaching the Holocaust with online art: A case study of high school students. Journal of Social Studies Research 31 (2): 35-42. Sapon-Shevin, M. 1994. Cooperative learning and middle schools: What would it take to really do it right? Theory Into Practice 33 (3): 183-190. Tomasik, M. 2007. Effective inclusion activities for high school students with multiple disabilities. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness 101 (10): 657-659. Willis, Judy. March 2007. Cooperative learning is a brain turn-on. Middle School Journal 38 (4): 4-13. Yamarik, S. 2007. Does cooperative learning improve student learning outcomes? Journal of Economic Education 38 (3): 259-277.