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)....