Learning science in a cooperative setting: Academic achievement and affective outcomes

Reuven Lazarowitz, Rachel Hertz‐Lazarowitz, J. Hugh Baird

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    A learning unit in earth science was taught to high school students, using a jigsaw‐group mastery learning approach. The sample consisted of 73 students in the experimental group and 47 students who learned the topic in an individualized mastery learning approach. The study lasted 5 weeks. Pretests and posttests on academic achievement and affective outcomes were administered. Data were treated with an analysis of covariance. The results show that students of the experimental group achieved significantly higher on academic outcomes, both normative and objective scores. On the creative essay test, the differences in number of ideas and total essay score were not significant between the groups, although the mean scores for number of words were higher for the individualized mastery learning group. On the affective domain, jigsaw‐group mastery learning students scored significantly higher on self‐esteem, number of friends, and involvement in the classroom. No differences were found in cohesiveness, cooperation, competition, and attitudes toward the subject learned. The results are discussed through the evaluation and comparison of the two methods of instruction used in this study. The cooperative learning movement began in junior high schools as part of the desegregation process, aiming at facilitating positive ethnic relations and increasing academic achievement and social skills among diverse students (Aronson, Stephan, Sikes, Blaney, & Snapp, 1978; Sharan & Hertz‐Lazarowitz, 1980; Slavin, 1980). However, elementary teachers quickly recognized the potential of cooperative methods, and such methods were adopted freely in elementary schools before becoming widespread on the junior and senior high level. It has only been during the past few years that application of cooperative learning has been studied extensively with these older students. Cooperative learning methods generally involve heterogeneous groups working together on tasks that are deliberately structured to provide specific assignments and individual contributions from each group member. Cognitive as well as social benefits are expected, as students clarify their own understanding and share their insights and ideas with each other as they interact within the group (Deutsch, 1949). Experiments in the science laboratory have always required students to work in groups of two to four, due to the constraints of experimental processes and limited equipment and sup‐ plies. Thus, science courses are a natural curriculum area for examining cooperative learning practices. Now that cooperative methods are being refined to develop particular capabilities in the students, science teachers need to examine ways of structuring specific tasks to achieve the academic, affective, and socialization goals for their students. Although most of the studies of cooperative learning in the high school science classroom have centered around the cognitive outcomes of achievement testing and process skills, affective and social outcomes are also significant with students of this age. But few studies in science classes have attempted to assess such aspects of students' progress. As part of a previous revision, the science faculty at the high school where this study was conducted developed an exemplary individualized mastery learning (1ML) program for teaching science. This program seemed to alleviate the severe motivational problems and the extreme individual differences among the students in this rural/bhe‐collar community. Students learned to work independently on their science studies. They had almost no lectures and few large group activities. As they worked through their assignments, however, they were free to interdct with other students. Looking in on a typical class, one would see several clusters of two or three students working together, sometimes tutoring each other, sometimes just talking through an assignment. Yet at least half of the class members would be working all alone. The importance of the overall social setting in the classroom as it relates to learning (Bruner, 1986, p. 86) and the central function of social interaction as learning occurs (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 106) seemed to have been ignored. Therefore, group mastery learning (GML), a cooperative learning tech‐ nique, was suggested as an antithesis to IML for teaching science over short periods. The cooperative mode of instruction considers learning as a cognitive as well as a social process, where students interact with each other as well as the teacher. To bring the social dimension back to science classrooms, the researchers chose to imple‐ ment GML in Grades 1 I and 12. The goal of the study was to investigate the GML's impact of the method on the individual student's academic achievement, creativity, self‐esteem, and number of friends and on the overall learning environment of the classrooms. The researchers were also concerned with the students' attitudes toward earth science, the course being taught at the time of the experiment. Both cognitive and affective outcomes for students who participated in the cooperative GML approach were compared with outcomes for students who studied the same topic in an IML approach. The study addressed a number of questions related to academic and nonacademic outcomes of the two methods of study. First, it sought to determine whether academic achievement of the students taught in the cooperative GML mode would be different from the achievement of students who learned in an individualized method. Second, it sought to determine whether gains or losses would be seen in nonacademic outcomes, such as classroom learning environment, social relations, and students' self‐esteem experienced by the students. The results of this study may support more use of cooperative learning in high school science.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1121-1131
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
    Issue number10
    StatePublished - Dec 1994

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education


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