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Cooperative Learning: Levels Of Teacher Use And Training Related To Levels Of Student Achievement On
Standardized Tests
 
 

Bobbette M. Morgan

The University of Texas at Arlington


 
 
 
Abstract

The purpose of the study was to compare students’ level of achievement of teachers who had received at least 30 hours of training in cooperative learning with students of teachers who had received up to 15 hours of training. The questions to be answered as a result of the study included: 1. To what extent does the amount of training in cooperative learning a teacher receives affect the amount of time the teacher structures cooperative learning in the classroom? 2. What is the relationship between teacher use of cooperative learning to student achievement? 3. Which grade levels benefit most from cooperative learning strategies? One hundred and thirty eight teachers and 1,138 students were studied using an instrument based on the work of David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson, co-directors of the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota and standardized test scores. Standardized test scores of students of both teacher groups were compared from spring of one year to spring of the next. Scores were adjusted to a normal curve equivalent. The two-tailed probability results for students in high-use classrooms vs. low-use classrooms ranged from .002 to .023. Results indicated that teachers highly trained in the use of cooperative learning strategies use the strategies more often and students in the classrooms of highly trained teachers score higher on standardized tests for all grade levels studied (2-10).

At first glance, the classroom is in an uproar. Small groups of intent students listen carefully to one another. One student records each comment on chart paper. Laughter ripples across the groups. Students congratulate one another on the quality of each one’s contributions. The excitement mounts as the final touches are put on each group’s final presentation. In the far corner, a poem is put on a large piece of chart paper while each member adds decorative flourishes with felt tip markers. The sounds of a rap tune rise and fall as another group verbalizes their conclusions. Yet another group presents their learning through a "Jeopardy" model. At the root of all this enthusiastic activity is cooperative learning–thus a purposeful uproar.

Cooperative learning may be the most research-based instructional strategy available to educators. Lynda Baloche, in The Cooperative Classroom: Empowering Learning (1998), concisely summarizes research on cooperative learning and increased student achievement:

Well structured, learning goals that are designed to emphasize cooperation tend to promote higher achievement than learning goals that are designed to emphasize either individualism or competition. This is true in every subject, at all grade levels, and particularly when higher-level thinking skills are required (Johnson, Johnson, Maruyama, Nelson, & Skon, 1981). Cooperative efforts result in better performance in problem solving than competitive efforts do. This is true at all grade levels, for both linguistic and non linguistic problems, and regardless of whether a problem has a clearly defined operation and solution or operations and solutions that are less clear or are ill defined (Qin, Johnson, & Johnson, 1995). Learning that is structured cooperatively tends to increase achievement for all students, and achievement results are particularly potent for some groups who are more cooperative in their cultural and social orientation (Baloche, 1998; Kagan, 1994). Johnson et al. (1981) conducted a meta-analyses on 122 achievement related studies and Slavin (1983) analyzed 46 controlled research studies that were conducted for an extended time in regular elementary and secondary classrooms. Johnson and Johnson (1989) also completed a meta-analyses that reviewed the work of 502 cooperative learning studies. With one of the strongest research bases available the question to be considered is what requirements are necessary in order to tap into the benefits of using cooperative learning to raise student achievement: specifically, what level of teacher training and what degree of implementation in the classroom.

The purpose of the study was to compare the relationship of trained teachers (those with more than 30 documented hours of training in cooperative learning) with achievement levels of students in high-use and low-use classrooms. In this study, high-use classrooms were those in which cooperative learning was structured at least 30% of the time. The basis of the study was data from 138 teachers and 1,138 students in grades 2 through 10.

The questions to be answered as a result of the study included:

1. To what extent does the amount of training in cooperative learning a teacher receives affect the amount of time the teacher structures cooperative learning in the classroom (high-use and low-use teachers)?

2. What is the relationship between level of teacher use of cooperative learning and student achievement?

3. Which grade levels benefit most from cooperative learning strategies?

Definitions

Cooperative Learning: Defined in Cooperation in the Classroom (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1993). A research-based instructional strategy that meets all of the following conditions:

High-Use Teachers: Teachers who indicated on the Educators Assessment instrument that they structured cooperative learning strategies into their classrooms at least 30% of the class time.

Low-Use Teachers: Teachers who indicated on the Educators Assessment instrument that they structured cooperative learning strategies into their classrooms less than 30% of the class time.

Student Achievement: Student achievement levels were determined using the ITBS and TAP scores from spring of one academic year and compared to performance on these tests during spring of the next academic year.

In reviewing the literature related to cooperative learning on teacher use and student achievement a limited amount dealt with teacher use, but much was available documenting increased student achievement. A summary of the most pertinent conclusions by researchers follows.

Teacher Use

Teachers may structure lessons so students compete with each other to see who is best. They can assign students to work alone at their own speed or they can have students work together in small groups to help each other learn. These goal structures–competitive, individual, and cooperative–are essential instructional skills for teachers to know when and how to use. An effective teacher will use all three in the planning and delivery of lessons.

For a lesson to be defined as a cooperative, all elements of cooperative learning must be present. In the revised, Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom (Johnson et al., 1993), five basic elements were identified for small group teaming to be cooperative: positive interdependence, face-to-face interaction, individual accountability, interpersonal and small group skills, and processing. Teachers who structure cooperative lessons include each of these elements.

Learning to implement cooperative learning is not a simple process. It can take years to master. Two years may be the average amount of time required to become a skilled user of cooperative learning procedures (Johnson et al., 1993). Circles of Learning states:

Learning how to structure learning situations cooperatively is much like peeling an onion. The teacher learns how to structure productive learning activities layer after layer until the heart is reached. Over a period of years of using cooperation the learning experiences become richer and richer . . . There is nothing simple in such a process. But the results are worth it. (Johnson et al., 1993, p. 115) According to Baloche (1998), at its best, learning cooperatively is not simple and it is not straightforward; students and teachers alike need to be both patient and persistent as they explore ways to use the power of cooperation. Persistence does not mean using cooperative learning once every week or two; neither teachers nor students will gain in expertise with such infrequent use.

Student Achievement

Research provides exceptionally strong evidence that [the effectiveness of] cooperation results in greater effort to achieve, more positive interpersonal relationships, and greater psychological health than competitive or individualistic learning efforts (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1994).

One measure of the effectiveness of using cooperative learning strategies is to determine if it makes a difference in student test scores on standardized achievement tests. There is considerable evidence that cooperative learning experiences promote higher achievement. In meta-analyses of all the studies that had been completed in the area of social interdependence and achievement (Johnson et al., 1981), researchers reviewed 122 studies conducted between 1924 and 1981 that yielded 286 findings. The three methods of meta-analyses used were voting method, effect-size method, and z-score method.

The results indicated that cooperative learning experiences tended to promote higher achievement than did competitive and individualistic learning experiences. The average person working within a cooperative situation achieved at about the 80th percentile of the students working within a competitive or individualistic situation. These results held for all age levels, for all subject areas, and for all tasks involving concept attainment, verbal problem-solving, categorizing, spatial problem solving, retention and memory, motor performance, and guessing-judging-predicting. For rote decoding and connecting tasks, cooperation seemed to be equally effective as competitive and individualistic learning procedures.

In Circles of Learning, Johnson et al., (1993) stated that simply knowing that cooperative learning situations tends to promote higher achievement than does competitive, individualistic, or "traditional" learning situations. Why is cooperation more effective in promoting achievement? Johnson, Johnson, and Maruyama (1983) conducted an extensive research program aimed at identifying the factors that contribute to the effectiveness of cooperative learning. Overall they found that:

1. The type of learning task assigned does not seem to matter a great deal.

2. The one who talks learns.

3. Involved participation in cooperative learning groups produces conflicts among the ideas, opinions, conclusions, theories, and information of members, but when managed skillfully, such controversies promote increased motivation to achieve, higher achievement and retention of the learned material, and greater depth of understanding.

4. Discussion among students within cooperative learning situations promotes more oral repetition of information. Such oral rehearsal of information is necessary for the storage of information into the memory; it promotes long-term retention of the information; and it generally increases achievement.

5. Within cooperative learning groups, there tends to be considerable peer regulation, feedback, support, and encouragement of learning.

6. Cooperative learning groups seem to be nourished by heterogeneity among group members as students accommodate themselves to each other’s perspective. The exchange of ideas among students from high, medium, and low achievement levels, handicapped or not, and different ethnic backgrounds enriches their learning experiences.

Procedures and Methods

Teacher use was determined by teacher response on the Educators Assessment instrument (Appendix A). This instrument was designed from the Teacher Use Questionnaire developed by David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson, co-directors of the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis with modifications by the researcher and the Assessment and Evaluation Department of the school district in which the study was conducted. Student achievement of the student groups identified was based on district records of standardized test results.

Two hundred and forty-three teachers were documented as having participated in cooperative learning training over two academic years. This represented 10% of the teacher population within the district. All 243 were sent the Educator Assessment (Appendix A). Teachers were asked to complete the assessment plus identify five high achieving, five middle, and five low students. A code sheet was completed so teachers and their students could be tracked (Appendix B). One hundred thirty-eight teachers responded with complete sets of surveys, and 1,138 students were identified.

Two groups of teachers were identified based on their responses to the Educators Assessment (Appendix A). One group was those who indicated they used cooperative learning strategies 30% or more of the time in their classrooms. These 43 were designated high-use teachers. The second group was made up of teachers who indicated they used cooperative learning strategies less than 30% of the time (these averaged 15 %). These 95 were designated the low-use group.

Based on their teacher’s designation of high-use or low-use of cooperative learning strategies, 1,138 students were grouped. Both groups contained cross-sections of grades two through 10 and all ability levels.

The factor of external validity that was of concern to the researcher was that of the differential selection of subjects. Were the teachers selected for the study typical or were they unusual in some way? A review of the teachers involved revealed a cross-section of grade levels from across the district. High-income areas and low-income areas of the district were proportionally represented. Teachers involved in the study were told that the research was part of the district’s overall evaluation of cooperative learning. Because all classrooms in the district had some involvement in instructional improvement programs and evaluation, this procedure was not unusual. In summary, the differential selection of subjects appeared to have been controlled in this study. Limitations of the study were the 56.7% survey return rate and the possible prior experience of students with cooperative learning. All data of the study were analyzed by the school district Assessment and Evaluation Department by means of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS-X).

Findings

The first question of the study sought to determine the relationship of the training level of teachers and the amount of time they structured cooperative learning activities into their classrooms. Table 1 presents the statistics relevant to this question. High-use and low-use teacher responses on the first seven items of the teacher survey dealing with experience in cooperative learning were analyzed using a two-tailed probability t-test. It can be seen that four of the seven items were statistically significant at the .04 level. The question pertaining to teacher use and training was answered affirmatively.

The three items that were not statistically significant were general statements dealing with having talked to other teachers about cooperative learning, read articles, or participated in an inservice on cooperative learning. All teachers surveyed had been documented as having participated in at least three hours of training, so it is assumed they would have talked to each other and read articles as part of the training.

Additional support for the first question dealing with the relationship of use of cooperative learning and training in the area of cooperative learning is shown in Table 2. An analysis of variance was conducted based on the high-use and low-use groups and documented participation in cooperative learning credit courses. It can be seen that the relationship was statistically significant at the .02 level. High-use teachers were likely to have participated in more training. This provides additional support for answering the first question of the study affirmatively.

The second question to be addressed in the study sought to determine if student achievement levels were different in high-use and low-use classrooms. Table 3 presents a summary of statistics relevant to the question. The two-tailed test of probability was used for all grade levels. Individual standardized test scores from spring of one year were compared with each student’s scores for spring of the next year. Students were divided based on whether they were in high-use or low-use classrooms. Because different standardized tests were used from grade 2 through grade 10 (ITBS and TAPS), all scores were adjusted to a normal curve equivalent (NCE) so comparisons could be made.
 
Table 1

Analysis of Teacher Use of Cooperative Learning and Responses About Training Based on Two-Tailed Probability t-Test

Question
Variable
Mean
Standard Deviation
Standard Error
t-Value
Degree of Freedom
Two-Tailed Probability
1
High Use

Low Use

0.9535

0.8737

0.213

0.334

0.032

0.034

1.69 120.67 0.940
2
High Use

Low Use

0.8605

0.7368

0.351

0.443

0.053

0.045

1.76 100.99 0.081
3
High Use

Low Use

0.9302

0.6737

0.258

0.471

0.039

0.048

4.12 131.13 0.000
4
High Use

Low Use

0.4186

0.2316

0.499

0.424

0.076

0.044

2.13 70.56 0.036
5
High Use

Low Use

0.4651

0.3579

0.505

0.482

0.077

0.049

1.17 77.89 0.245
6
High Use

Low Use

0.6977

0.4421

0.465

0.499

0.071

0.051

2.92 86.77 0.004
7
High Use

Low Use

0.9302

0.6105

0.258

0.490

0.039

0.050

5.01 132.91 0.000

 


  
Table 2

Analysis of Variance for High-Use, Low-Use Teacher Groups and Documented Participation in Credit Courses

Source
Sum of Squares
DF
Mean Square
F
Significance
Between Groups
2.1935
1
2.1935
6.1987
.0140

 
Table 3

Analysis of Student Achievement on Standardized Tests, Composite Score Results Based on Two-Tailed Probability of t-Test 


Grade
(Difference) Mean
Standard Deviation
Standard Error
 

t-Value
Degree of Freedom
Two-Tailed Probability
2 -3.0543 12.308 1.283 -2.38 91 0.019
3,4,5,6 -1.1279 10.762 0.496 -2.27 470 0.023
7,8 -4.1101 12.074 1.266 -3.25 90 0.002
9,10 1.9942 7.313 0.682 3.92 114 0.004

 

It can be seen in Table 3 that the two-tailed probability results ranged from .002 to .023; .05 is considered statistically significant at this level. At all grade levels the composite standardized scores in high-use classrooms showed more growth than scores if students in low-use classrooms.

Since the results of the two-tailed probability tests were statistically significant for all grade levels, the second question for the study is answered affirmatively. The third question of the study sought to determine which grade level(s) benefited most from the high-use of cooperative learning. Based on the statistics presented for grades 2 through 10 in Table 3, all grades involved in the study consistently benefited from the high-use of cooperative learning.

Conclusions

The results of the study affirmatively supported the original questions researched:

1. To what extent does the amount of training in cooperative learning a teacher receives affect the amount of time the teacher structures cooperative learning in the classroom? There is a high correlation between highly trained teachers and high-use teachers. The more training the teacher had been involved in, the more likely they were to implement cooperative learning at least a third of the time in their classrooms.

Individuals interested in implementing cooperative learning need to seek out training opportunities and to recognize that it takes time to become comfortable with these strategies. Teachers surveyed had been learning to use cooperative learning strategies and implementing them for as much as 20 months experience prior to the study. This supports the review of the literature that it takes at least two years of using cooperative learning strategies to master its effectiveness.

2. What is the relationship of teacher use of cooperative learning to student achievement? Teachers interested in increased standardized test scores for their students should consider implementing cooperative learning strategies at least 30% of the class time. Teachers with the most training in cooperative learning were more likely to be the high-use teachers and the students in the high-use classrooms showed the greatest academic growth from one year to the next based on comparisons of their own standardized achievement scores. Comparisons were made by comparing students with their own scores and then class-to-class based on the teacher groups identified as high-use or low-use.

Teachers who structure cooperative learning at least one-third of the instructional time have classes that perform higher on achievement tests. High, middle, and low achieving students all do better on standardized achievement tests in classrooms where cooperative learning is used approximately 30% of the time.

3. Which grade levels benefit most from cooperative learning strategies? The study showed that the high use of cooperative learning strategies supports increased achievement levels for students in all grades and subjects. This mirrors the results reported in the meta-analyses of 122 studies that yielded 286 results by Johnson et al. (1981).

All classes identified in this study as having high-use teachers showed greater academic growth (gain-scores) from one year to the next. Only grades 2-10 were included in this study, but this represents all levels of education and major subject areas within a public school system (primary, intermediate, middle, and high school). In order for teachers to be designated as high-use teachers, they had to be documented by the staff development department to have completed at least 30 hours of training in cooperative learning.

Most inservice workshops are one-time activities lasting only three to six hours. Only an awareness level of any strategy can be accommodated in that amount of time. For true implementation to occur the training which should add up to 30 hours or more needs to be provided over a period of two years. Additionally, teachers need time for safe practice, time to observe other teachers who are successfully using cooperative learning, time for teacher-to-teacher interaction about what works and what doesn’t, and supportive administrators who are also knowledgeable of cooperative learning.

The classroom described in the opening paragraph of this article where students are actively involved in learning, showing respect for other people’s ideas, caring about each other, and helping each other learn does not just happen because students are put into groups. It happens in classrooms because the teachers have recognized the power of cooperative learning and personally have worked to master this complex research-based strategy. Increased achievement of students is a positive result of highly trained teachers using cooperative learning at least a third of the time in their classrooms.

References

Baloche, L. (1998). The cooperative classroom: Empowering learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1989). Cooperation and competition: Theory and research. Edina, MN: Interaction Books.

Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Holubec, E. (1994). Cooperation in the classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Holubec, E. (1993). Circles of learning: Cooperation in the classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Books.

Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Maruyama, G. (1983). Interdependence and interpersonal attraction among heterogeneous and homogeneous individuals: A theoretical formulation and meta-analyses of the research. Review of Educational Research, 53(l), 5-54.

Johnson, D., Johnson, R., Maruyama, G., Nelson, D., & Skon, L. (1981). Effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goal structures on achievement: A meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 207-216.

Kagan, S. (1994). Cooperative learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Kagan Cooperative Learning.

Qin, Z., Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1995). Cooperative versus competitive efforts and problem solving. Review of Educational Research, 65(2), 129-143.

Slavin, R. (1983). When does cooperative learning increase student achievement? Psychological Bulletin, 94, 429-445.


Appendix A
Educators Assessment: Cooperative Learning

Directions:

Please answer each of the following questions. They will help us understand your experience with cooperative learning.

I. Experience with Cooperative Learning (Please check all that apply)

I have talked to other teachers about cooperative learning.

I have read articles about cooperative learning.

I have discussed cooperative learning with other teachers and tried some of their ideas in my classroom.

I have participated in an after-school inservice on cooperative learning.

I have participated in an inservice on cooperative learning as part of a district inservice day.

I have participated in a workshop on cooperative learning.

I have participated in a full-length university credit course on cooperative learning.

Other:

AREAS OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING USE II. (Please check all that apply.)

To what extent have you used cooperative learning groups in any of the following subject areas?

Number of Times Used
None
1-2
3-5
6-10
11+
A. Reading
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
B. Mathematics
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
C. Science
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
D. Social Studies
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
E. Health/P.E.
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
F. Music/Art
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
G. Special Education
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
H. Industrial Arts/ 
Vocational Education
 

_____
 

_____
 

_____
 

_____
 

_____
I. Foreign/Language
_____
_____
_____
_____
_____
III. Overall, how much class time in an average week is devoted to cooperative learning activities?

_____None _____% of the time

During the past week, how many cooperative learning lessons have you taught?

_____1 _____1-2 _____3-5 _____6-8 _____more than 8

What group size do you usually use in your classroom?

_____2-3 _____4-6 _____7+ _____depends on task

IV. When students work together in groups in your class, how often do you use the following to organize and encourage cooperative learning activity?

 
Never
Rarely
Occasionally
Usually
Provide the groups with limited materials to force students to share materials.  

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

Provide individual group members with special materials to force sharing if there is to be a successful completion of the group task.  
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

Assign special roles to certain group members to ensure that all must work together to produce a final product.  

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

Provide grades or rewards to individual group members based on the performance of the entire group.  

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

Monitor and intervene in-group activities to encourage balanced participation and to stimulate cooperation.  

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

Usually provide groups with feedback on observations of group behavior and use of cooperative skills.  

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

Designate one group member to observe group action and report on group activities.  

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

Provide groups time to summarize activities and hold debriefing sessions after group projects are completed.  

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

Are there other cooperative learning strategies that you commonly use?

_____yes _____no

V. Please indicate your agreement with each of the following statements.
 
Strongly
Agree
 

Agree
 

Neutral
 

Disagree
Strongly
Disagree
  1. I believe that cooperative learning is an effective instructional technique in most content areas.
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

  • I believe that cooperative learning increases student participation in learning activities.
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

  • I believe that cooperative learning improves student communication and decision-making skills.
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

  • I believe that cooperative learning encourages and improves the performance of high-ability students.
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

  • I believe that cooperative learning encourages and improves the performance of average-ability students.
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

  • I believe that cooperative learning encourages and improves the performance of low-ability students.
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

  • I believe that using cooperative learning is an efficient teaching technique.
 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

  • I plan to increase my use of cooperative learning in the classroom.
 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

 

_____

  • Rewarding individual performance based on group success is an equitable method of grading.
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

  • I plan to make use of future opportunities for additional training in cooperative learning. 
 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

 
 

_____

Number____________________

Appendix B
Directions for Teachers: Code Sheet

Please complete the following form so we can key students to their norm referenced test scores. This information is confidential.

Note: High, average, and low-achieving does not refer to student performance on norm referenced tests. Please make the selection of students based on your overall assessment of the student’s performance in your class.
 
 
High Achievers
 
 
Student Rank
Student Name
I.D. Number
 
  1.      
  2.      
  3.      
  4.      
  5.      
 

 
Average Achievers
 
 
Student Rank
Student Name
I.D. Number
 
  1.      
  2.      
  3.      
  4.      
  5.      
 
Low Achievers
 
 
Student Rank
Student Name
I.D. Number
 
  1.      
  2.      
  3.      
  4.      
  5.