Effectiveness of Working Individually Versus Cooperative Groups: a Classroom-Based Research Project

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Effectiveness of Working Individually Versus Cooperative Groups: A Classroom-Based Research Project

Eilisha Joy Bryson, Research Practitioner University of Pennsylvania Masters in Science Education Program EDUC 545-631~Leadership for Middle School Science April 7, 2007

Research Practitioner’s Contact Information: ebryson@phila.k12.pa.us http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~jbryson/

Effectiveness of Cooperative Learning 2

Abstract This purpose of this mathematics classroom-based research study is to answer the following question: Will allowing students to work in groups improve their understanding, or will working individually lead to greater understanding? I have been at a crossroads trying to determine if and when to allow students to work together or to make them work alone because students do not always manage the social aspects of group work so that it will be advantageous to them. Half of the class was instructed that they would complete their work by working in groups; the other half of the class would complete their work by themselves. I compared students’ pretest results to their post-test results. In both categories there was not much change in understanding from the beginning of the unit to the end of the unit, making it difficult to conclude which student category showed better improvements in understanding. Finally, conclusions about further research are discussed.

Effectiveness of Cooperative Learning 3 Background This study investigates students’ understandings about mathematics. The purpose of the research is to answer the following question: Will allowing students to work in groups improve their understanding, or will working individually lead to greater understanding? This idea of group dynamics has been studied and researched, but in my experience, I have had mixed results. In some situations, students help each other, their time is spent on task and they benefit from peer interactions. At other times, students spend their time chatting about things that are not relevant to the topic at hand, and do not get much work done at all. When students in my class do their work independently, most students tend to complete their work, or they will come ask for help if they cannot continue. I have been at a crossroads trying to determine if and when to allow students to work together or to make them work alone because students do not always manage the social aspects of group work so that it will be advantageous to them. I know why group work is not always a positive experience in my classroom. A major element that must be considered is the difficulty of the work that students are expected to complete. Often times, it may be too difficult for students to complete without guidance from the teacher, leading to group and individual frustration. This is a realistic concern despite the fact this mathematics program is mandated by our district for all students at this grade level. Students are expected to complete the coursework with a certain level of independence and success, however, this issue is debatable, as many educators who teach this mathematics program readily express that they dislike it and/or that their students have difficulty doing the work alone. Another valid concern that can affect group work is management of student behavior. Making students stay focused can be better maintained in my classroom if there was more structure and guidelines about the norms and expectations of group work from the onset of the school year as well as continuous monitoring of group dynamics and progress. The participants in this study are from one of the 7th grade math class that I teach. The study was conducted during the 75-minute math periods. There are 28 students, and I am the only teacher in the class. The classroom has 5 large tables where up to six students can sit. Most often, there are usually four or five people at a table and the other students will sit at other places around the perimeter of the room. For...
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