01 April 2008

Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement

If you're a regular here, you know the basic spiel about my doctoral work. My study is on how grading practices do or don't promote mastery goals in students. (I'm not going to restate the whole theoretical basis (again), but if you're not a reg or want a refresher, just click the EdD label and you'll see all kinds of things you can't unsee.) While my doctoral study deals with a tiny piece of the motivational puzzle, my broader interests are in how teachers create classroom environments which support mastery goals---from what they put on the walls to the words and phrases they use with students to the elements of the "hidden" curriculum. If we as teachers truly believe that we are about kids and their learning, do the actions we take match the end we have in mind? (This is the "congruence" idea I alluded to in a previous post.)

I was thinking about all of this when I saw this article on Science Daily: Cooperative Classrooms Lead to Better Friendships, Higher Achievement in Young Adolescents. Johnson and Johnson, the gurus of cooperative learning, "examined 148 studies that compared the effects of cooperative, competitive and individualistic goals on early achievement and peer relationships among 12- to 15-year-olds. The studies included more than 17,000 adolescents from 11 countries and used four multinational samples. No one was excluded from the analysis because of gender, nationality, or academic or physical ability. According to the studies, adolescents in classrooms that supported cooperative learning -- studying together to complete a project or prepare for an exam -- got along better with their peers, were more accurate on academic tests and achieved higher scores on problem-solving, reasoning and critical thinking tasks compared to adolescents who were in classrooms geared toward competitive learning -- studying alone knowing that success would mean only one winner and plenty of losers." (You can find a copy of the original Johnson and Johnson article here, including the methodology.)

This meta-analysis would match up well with much of the literature I've reviewed for my dissertation. While my study isn't about cooperative learning, the outcomes described here are consistent with those found in mastery-oriented classrooms. In fact, the authors do include a tiny piece of goal theory with their publication. These are all pieces of the complex puzzle of student achievement. I keep hoping that there will be a way to put them all together.

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