High and low achievers benefit from teamwork

Schoolchildren and teacher in science classBoth high and low achievers working in teams performed better than those working individually in a recent study of computer-based instruction. Chanchai Singhanayok, Chiangmai University, Thailand, and Simon Hooper, University of Minnesota, conducted a study of 92 suburban sixth-graders classified as either high or low achievers on the basis of their Stanford Achievement Test scores. Students were randomly assigned to group or individual learning using either learner- or program- controlled computerized science lessons.

An ecology unit of the sixth-grade curriculum was used to create computerized lessons on “Relationships Among Organisms” in which students learned to classify the relationship among organisms as mutualism, commensalism, competition, parasitism, exploitation or predation. One version of the program allowed students to determine their progress through the lesson by choosing learning activities that suited their preferences and needs. It allowed them to choose elaborated or fast-paced content, and to decide when they needed extra help or practice.

Teamwork for low- and high-achievers

Previous research indicates that high achievers can exercise effective control over their lessons, while low achievers perform poorly when allowed to choose the amount of practice they require to learn a concept. Research has also demonstrated that achievement improves when students explain information to each other and observe learning strategies used by their peers.

Singhanayok and Hooper designed this study to compare high= and low-achievers working individually with either learner- or program – controlled computerized instruction, as well as paired high and low achievers working together in these two formats.

Their goal was to investigate if peer-modeling of learning strategies in cooperative teams improved students’ achievement during learner- controlled computerized lessons. Students working with a partner were instructed to reach a consensus before entering an answer into the computer, and they were told that each person would be held individually accountable for learning the material.

Students were tested immediately after the lessons and again a week later. The same test was used both times. Test items were parallel but not identical to examples in the lessons. In addition, students were given an attitude survey to assess their feelings about the computer lessons and about cooperative learning. Both low and high achievers were assigned to work individually on the learner- controlled program as were teams of paired high and low achievers.

Test results show that both high and low achievers performed better when working together than when working alone. In addition, the cooperative pairs exhibited significant improvement between the first test and the delayed test. For low achievers, the greatest improvement was demonstrated in the program-controlled instruction, while for high achievers it occurred in the learner-controlled lessons. However, when working together, both high and low achievers chose to check their learning more often and to spend more time on the task overall. There was no difference in the amount of time high and low achievers spent on the task when they worked individually. Students who worked in groups had more positive attitudes toward the computer-based instruction and toward cooperative learning than either high or low achievers in the individual learning group.

Cooperative learning with computers appears to benefit both high and low achievers. When students worked together with computer-based lessons they took more time to complete the lesson because each was being held accountable for their learning. Team members took turns entering their answers and were given feedback on how each was progressing so that partners could help, advise or encourage one another. Shorter computer time was linked to poorer performance, suggesting that on-task time is an important consideration in the effectiveness of learner-controlled programs. Partners appear to convince each other to seek more elaborate feedback and to check their comprehension of concepts more often.

As a result of previous research and this study’s findings, these researchers suggest that greater attention be given to designing computer-based instruction for cooperative teams. Interaction with a peer encourages students to stay on task which particularly benefits low-achieving students without undermining the outcomes for high achievers.

“The Effects of Cooperative Learning and Learner Control on Students’ Achievement, Option Selections, and Attitudes,” Educational Technology Research and Development, Volume 46, Number 2, 1998, pp. 17-33.

Published in ERN September 1998 Volume 11 Number 6

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