What Are the Statistics on Cooperative Learning

WHAT ARE THE STATISTICS ON COOPERATIVE LEARNING ANYWAY? Cooperative learning has been debated by educators for a long time and continues to be questioned today. Many educators feel that cooperative learning strips students of the benefits of direct instruction. Proponents of homogeneous learning tend to stray from cooperative learning because it seems to deprive gifted students of learning with their gifted peers.

Five studies will be summarized that look at different aspects of cooperative learning: effects with the learning disabled, the advantage of helping behaviors, math achievement, strategic reading in groups, social support, and heterogeneous vs. homogeneous grouping. A study was conducted to find out if students with learning difficulties interacted positively in cooperative learning groups. This study also looked at the importance of training students to work together as opposed to just putting them in groups to complete tasks (Gillies & Ashman, 2000). The study looked at 152 third grade students from Australia.

Twenty-two of those students had learning difficulties (12 boys and 10 girls). The students were randomly placed in cooperative learning groups of five to six students consisting of one high-ability student, two medium-ability students, and one low-ability student. The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test measured learning ability and grade level readiness. An ANOVA test showed no significant difference between the structured groups (those trained to work cooperatively) and the unstructured groups (those not trained to work together) at the onset of the study.

During the study period the structured group received the treatment of cooperative learning training before completing a social studies unit (independent variable). The unstructured group was encouraged to work together as a group and given the same time period to complete the social studies unit, but they never received training for such group work. The students were videotaped twice during the study to observe behaviors and interactions, and they were given comprehension and word reading pre- and posttests. The researchers focused their findings on the students with learning difficulties.

There was no significant difference in the behaviors of students in the structured or unstructured groups. However, there were significant findings regarding group interactions. Those students in the structured groups interacted and benefited from interactions significantly more than students in the unstructured groups. Students in the structured group also reached greater achievement on the comprehension posttest than those from the unstructured groups. No significant findings resulted in the word reading posttest between the two groups.

The authors did find that this study supported that students with learning difficulties do benefit from working in small, structured cooperative groups (Gillies & Ashman, 2000). Nattiv’s study of cooperative learning (1994) focused on four topics: Do helping behaviors found in cooperative groups have a link to achievement gains in third, fourth, and fifth grade math students? Did gender, grade, or ability level within cooperative groups affect achievement? Do all helping behaviors benefit academic achievement? Does gender, grade, or ability level have an effect on the helping behaviors exhibited? Nattiv, 1994)). The subjects included 36 third-grade students, 34 fourth-grade students, and 31 fifth-grade students. Fifty-four of those students were male and the remaining 47 were females. The children were ability grouped from the results of the California Test of Basic Skills and the Southwest Regional Lab (both math assessments). Males and females were separately grouped as high-, medium-, and low-ability. The author states that these pretest results could be seen as achievement rather than ability, but the teachers of the students were consulted about the placement of the students (Nattiv, 1994).

All of the students received direct instruction, modeling, and practice of helping behaviors in cooperative group learning. Teachers also received training in this area. The groups, then, participated in grade-level appropriate math units. Students were further encouraged to work cooperatively because individual improvement on assessments also earned team points. Data was collected by audio and video recordings. The research team hypothesized that helping behaviors would be related to achievement. Achievement gain would be used as the dependent variable and would be measured by an ANCOVA test.

The team found that there was a significant relationship to students using helping behaviors in cooperative learning groups to academic achievement gain. The only behaviors that did not show significant growth were the giving and receiving of answers without explanation (Nattiv, 1994). Another study conducted in Southeastern United States focused on a different type of cooperative learning called Collaborative Strategic Reading. Klingner, Vaughn, and Schumm (1998) sought to discover if this program would be effective in a heterogeneous classroom.

They further wanted to analyze reading comprehension, social studies content, and student interactions in conjunction with this technique (Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998). The participants included 141 students. Eighty-five students were split into three classes to represent the treatment group (or intervention condition), and 56 students were split into two classes to represent the control condition. To ensure equal groupings the students were assessed with the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement, then paired and randomly assigned to conditions.

Both conditions received the same instruction, number of sessions, time periods per session, and homework activities. The intervention condition received instructions on how to use specific reading strategies to read strategically. The strategies were modeled, practiced, used in small groups, and then encouraged when students broke off into their cooperative groups of five to six students. The control condition received direct instruction for the same social studies material and participated in all lessons as a whole group.

Sessions within the intervention condition were audiotaped to hear student interactions. The Gates-MacGinitie Standardized Reading test and a social studies unit test served as dependent variables to measure student achievement. The researchers of this study did find these strategies to be successful. The strategies caused the students of the intervention condition to participate more and discuss more academic content. The students also received higher achievement gains in reading comprehension, while also finding success on the social studies testing.

LD students and LEP students did not show statistically significant growth, but did show some growth. Not all of the strategies proved to be successful for the intervention condition, but most did serve their purpose (Klingner, et al. , 1998). Johnson, Johnson, Buckman, and Richards (2001) were only interested in the social aspects of cooperative learning. “The purpose of the present study was to determine whether cooperative learning experiences are related to social support in the classroom,” (Johnson, Johnson, Buckman, & Richards, 2001).

The researchers used The Classroom Life Instrument to measure their data. It included 59 Likert-type questions rating statements on a five point scale of truthfulness. The measure was taken in November and January of the same school year. The sample included five eighth-grade classes with 45 girls and 46 boys. They were divided by those who reported being in cooperative groups less than half of the time (35 students) and participating half of the time or more (56 students). The hypothesis was that students would feel more social support in classrooms experiencing cooperative learning more often.

Between November and January, research found that students did indeed feel more support with more exposure to cooperative learning. Support was felt by teachers and other students. Students felt more comfortable with materials presented and felt less alienated in the classroom. Students felt more responsible for what they were doing and had a better relationship among classmates both academically and personally (Johnson, et al. , 2001). Grouping students heterogeneously is typically a cooperative learning “must. Watson and Marshall (1995) wanted to test that theory in a study comparing the effectiveness of heterogeneous grouping and homogeneous grouping in cooperative task structures (Watson & Marshall, 1995). Thirty-five undergraduate elementary education students in a life science class were chosen to participate in this study. In this 13 week treatment, the independent variable was in the grouping of students. Six of the groups were arranged heterogeneously and six groups were arranged homogeneously.

All groups were exposed to cooperative task structures, cooperative incentive structures, and individual accountability. Control was measured by the National Association of Biology Teachers/ National Science Teachers Association test (form A) before the treatment began. The dependent variable was taken from the results of the NABT/NSTA (form B) posttest. A five-item, five-point Liken scale was used to measure student response to the cooperative learning experiences. The authors felt that greater achievement would be gained by students heterogeneously placed in cooperative learning groups. They were rejected.

Findings indicated no significant difference in test results from the heterogeneous groups to the homogeneous groups. In fact, in measuring the students’ perceptions of their experiences the homogeneous groups rated their experiences higher than those of the heterogeneous groups. The authors concluded that further studies should be done to find out if heterogeneous grouping is the most beneficial in all cooperative learning tasks (Watson & Marshall, 1995). I am a strong supporter, and user, of cooperative learning. I feel that students best learn from the modeling of those they can relate to most: their peers.

After reviewing these studies I have not only gained a better understanding of what might be needed to strengthen cooperative learning in the education of my students, but I also feel validated in my use of cooperative learning as an effective learning tool. While some of the researchers did reject initial hypotheses, all of them showed value in the practice of cooperative learning. It is important to teach students how to work cooperatively, model good helping behaviors, and help students to receive not only strong academic support but strong social support as well.

Finally, heterogeneous grouping may not be best in every experience in the classroom. Different group experiences may be needed to enhance the benefits. References Gillies, R. M. & Ashman, A. F. (2000). The effects of cooperative learning on students with learning difficulties in the lower elementary school. Journal of Special Education, 34(1), 19-27. Johnson, D. W. , Johnson, R. T. , Buckman, L. A. , & Richards, P. S. (2001). The effect of prolonged implementation of cooperative learning on social support within the classroom. The Journal of Psychology, 119(5), 405-411.

Klingner, J. K. , Vaughn, S. , & Schumm, J. S. (1998). Collaborative strategic reading during social studies in heterogeneous fourth-grade classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 99(1), 3-22. Nattiv, A. (1994). Helping behaviors and math achievement gain of students using cooperative learning. The Elementary School Journal, 94(3), 285-297. Watson, S. B. & Marshall, J. E. (1995). Heterogeneous grouping as an element of cooperative learning in an elementary education science course. School Science & Mathematics, 95(8), 401-406.

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