Jeanie M. Dotson
(Kagan Online Magazine, Winter 2001)
This study compares achievement
scores of sixth-grade social studies students who participated in classes using
Spencer Kagan's Structures of Cooperative Learning with students who did not.
Heterogeneous grouping of students is essential to the use of cooperative learning
structures and the groupings involved consisted of students with varying abilities,
from mentally impaired to gifted. The measures were curriculum-based assessments
and the mean scores of each class were compared.
Measures of Assessment Instruments
Results - Tables/Charts
Cooperative Learning is
a teaching arrangement that refers to small, heterogeneous groups of students
working together to achieve a common goal (Kagan, 1994). Students work together
to learn and are responsible for their teammates' learning as well as their
own. The basic elements are:
1. Positive Interdependence - occurs when gains of individuals or teams are
2. Individual Accountability - occurs when all students in a group are held
accountable for doing a share of the work and for mastery of the material to
3. Equal Participation - occurs when each member of the group is afforded equal
shares of responsibility and input.
4. Simultaneous Interaction - occurs when class time is designed to allow many
student interactions during the period.
Hundreds of studies have been undertaken to measure the success of cooperative
learning as an instructional method regarding social skills, student learning,
and achievement across all levels from primary grades through college. The general
consensus is that cooperative learning can and usually does result in positive
student outcomes in all domains (Johnson & Johnson, 1999). However, very few
studies have been published that specifically target the use of Spencer Kagan's
Structures of Cooperative Learning (Kagan, 1994) as teaching methods to increase
Therefore, the purpose of
this study is to test the hypothesis: Sixth-grade Social Studies students at
Dunbar Middle School who participate in Kagan's cooperative learning structures
will gain higher curriculum-based assessment scores than students who do not
use this method of learning.
Cooperative learning is
generally defined as a teaching arrangement in which small, heterogeneous groups
of students work together to achieve a common goal. Students encourage and support
each other, assume responsibility for their own and each other's learning, employ
group related social skills, and evaluate the group's progress. The basic elements
are positive interdependence, equal opportunities, and individual accountability.
Human beings are social creatures by nature and cooperation has been used throughout
history in all aspects of our lives. Therefore, it follows that cooperative
learning groups in schools would be used as a logical teaching method.
For decades cooperative learning has been implemented in classrooms with diverse
populations primarily as a means of fostering positive student interactions.
In the United States, cooperative learning was first viewed as an approach to
facilitate racial integration.
During the 1960s specific cooperative learning methods began to be developed
and evaluated in a wide variety of teaching contexts. In an historic overview
(Johnson & Johnson, 1999) nine methods of cooperative learning are listed. Johnson
and Johnson developed Learning Together and Alone and Constructive Controversy,
DeVries & Edwards created Teams-Games-Tournaments (TGT), Sharan & Sharan developed
Group Investigation, Aronson developed the Jigsaw Procedure, Slavin created
Student Teams Achievement Divisions (STAD), Team Accelerated Instruction (TAI)
and Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC), and Kagan developed
Cooperative Learning Structures.
A synthesis of research about cooperative learning finds that cooperative learning
strategies improve the achievement of students and their interpersonal relationships.
In 67 studies of the achievement effects of cooperative learning 61% found significantly
greater achievement in cooperative than in traditionally taught control groups.
Positive effects were found in all major subjects, all grade levels, in urban,
rural, and suburban schools, and for high, average, and low achievers (Slavin,
Johnson, Johnson, & Stanne (2000) summarize that cooperative learning strategies
are widely used because they are based on theory, validated by research, and
almost any teacher can find a way to use cooperative learning methods that are
consistent with personal philosophies. In a meta-analysis of 158 studies, Johnson
& Johnson report that current research findings present evidence that cooperative
learning methods are likely to produce positive achievement results. The studies
included eight methods of cooperative learning: Learning Together and Alone,
Constructive Controversy, Jigsaw Procedure, Student teams Achievement Divisions
(STAD), Team Accelerated Instruction (TAI), Cooperative Integrated Reading &
Composition (CIRC), Teams-Games-Tournaments (TGT), and Group Investigation.
No studies were found that specifically investigate Kagan's Cooperative Learning
Structures. In each case, the achievement levels were significantly higher when
cooperative learning methods were used as compared to individualistic or competitive
methods of learning.
Grouping is essential to cooperative learning. The most widely used team formation
is that of heterogeneous teams, containing a high, two middle, and a low achieving
student and having a mix of gender and ethnic diversity that reflect the classroom
population. The rationale for heterogeneous groups argues that this produces
the greatest opportunities for peer tutoring and support as well as improving
cross-race and cross-sex relations and integration. Occasionally, random or
special interest teams could be formed to maximize student talents or meet a
specific student need (Kagan, 1994).
While many cooperative learning training packages exist, one study found that
most teachers who use these methods have been self-taught (Sparapani, Abel,
Easton, Edwards, & Herbster, 1997) and that teachers are likely to use a combination
of methods. This resulted in very few activities that involved higher-level
thinking skills and most of the observations were of drill and review or routine
activities. The reason for lack of teacher training is given as lack of funding
and/or administrative support. Another study (Nath & Ross 1996) of teachers
using Student Teams-Achievement Divisions (STAD) found that if teachers did
not strictly adhere to the framework of cooperative learning, the method was
unsuccessful and students spent more time on disagreements or conflict management
than they did on academic tasks. Sapon-Shevin and Schniedewind (1989/1990) assert
that teacher buy-in is an essential factor for success and that cooperative
learning needs to be embraced as a teaching philosophy and a set of principles
rather than as a teaching gimmick if it is to reach its full potential.
Factors contributing to achievement effects of cooperative learning are group
goals and individual accountability. Providing students with an incentive to
help each other and encourage each other to put forth maximum efforts increases
the likelihood that all group members will learn. As well as individual grades
and evaluations there is strong evidence that group grades and team rewards
are most successful for motivation (Slavin, 1995). Others argue that the group
grades and team rewards allow for the free rider effect of students who do not
participate to the fullest extent of their abilities (Joyce, 1999 and Cohen,
1998). Also, it is argued that group grading de-emphasizes the importance of
hard-work, personal ability, and perseverance (Kagan, 1995).
Cooperative learning enhances social interaction, which is essential to meet
the needs of at-risk students (Slavin, Karweit, & Madden, 1989; Johnson, 1998).
Within the framework of cooperative learning groups, students learn how to interact
with their peers and increase involvement with the school community. Positive
interactions do not always occur naturally and social skills instruction must
precede and concur with the cooperative learning strategies. Social skills encompass
communicating, building and maintaining trust, providing leadership, and managing
conflicts (Goodwin 1999).
In two studies (Nelson & Johnson, 1996; Prater, Bruhl, & Serna, 1998) researchers
found that students with behavior disorders who did not receive social skills
instruction performed better with direct instruction methods rather than cooperative
group methods and that students who did receive social skills instruction performed
better with cooperative group methods.
Cooperative learning has been found to be a successful teaching strategy at
all levels, from pre-school to post secondary. The developmental characteristics
of middle school students make cooperative learning a good fit of teaching strategy
for the needs of the students. Young adolescents need to socialize, be a part
of a group, share feelings, receive emotional support, and learn to see things
from other perspectives. Cooperative learning groups do not separate students
on the basis of class, race, or gender and the goals of middle schools are consistent
with the goals of cooperative learning theories. It is a peer-centered pedagogy
that promotes academic achievement and builds positive social relationships
Social Studies classes lend themselves to cooperative learning methods due to
the skills and values within the curriculum. Students may use their thinking,
communication, and information-sharing skills to increase their content knowledge
as well as their interpersonal skills. Several suggestions were given by Karnes
and Collins (1997) to implement cooperative learning structures within the social
The amount of research suggests that many have studied the effects of cooperative
learning and found positive results. In a search for studies that specifically
explored Kagan's Structures of Cooperative Learning and/or the use of cooperative
learning in social studies classes only a few were located. One study (Maheady,
Mallette, Harper, & Sacca, 1991) compared the effects of Numbered Heads Together
to a whole-group questioning strategy on social studies tests scores with third
graders. Students always performed better when Numbered Heads Together was used
and on-task rates were approximately twice as high using this structure. The
purpose of this study is to investigate the effects of Kagan's cooperative learning
structures as a teaching method to increase student achievement in social studies
classes with sixth graders.
The study is of a quasi-experimental design, due to the fact
that the participants were chosen as a convenience, cluster sample. Non-Equivalent
Groups, Posttest Only is the design style of the study with one group receiving
treatment (cooperative learning instructional method) and the other (control)
group receiving more traditional lecture/discussion teaching method.
Dunbar Middle School is located in Fairmont, West Virginia. While West Virginia
is mostly rural, the school is considered to have some characteristics of an
inner city population. The students in the study, chosen as a convenience, cluster
sample, are fifty 6th graders, eleven or twelve years old. There are a wide
range of SES levels, from homeless children to children of professional, upper-class
parents. The students are a mix of abilities, gender, and race, with 12% minority
population, who were randomly placed in two (out of seven) Social Studies class
periods. Each class period has five to eight students who currently receive
special education services. The teacher in the study is an experienced veteran
of twenty-five years, who has taught 6th grade at Dunbar Middle School for nine
years. This is her seventh year of Social Studies instruction.
Measures of Assessment Instruments
Curriculum Based Assessments are teacher made or textbook published
instruments specifically designed to measure mastery of material presented.
Mastery is considered to mean that students will score at least 80% on each
assessment. Various formats have been used such as multiple choice, matching,
short answer, essay, and map completion. The textbook used was World: Adventures
in Time and Place, published by Macmillan/McGraw-Hill in 1997. The assessment
instruments are considered to be field-tested, have face validity, and were
peer-reviewed by other social studies teachers. All assessments were based on
100%; scores indicating the percentage of correctly answered items. Sample assessment
instruments are included in the appendix.
Each class received the same material and the same assessments. Achievement
was measured by the percentage of correct responses on teacher made and textbook
published assessments and the mean score for the group of students in each class
period was computed. Comparisons were made between classes that received instruction
using cooperative learning strategies and classes that did not use this method.
The study took place during the first nine weeks grading period
of the school year. The students received instruction about working in cooperative
groups and practiced before the study began. For each block of material, one
class used the cooperative learning structures and the other did not receive
instructions in this manner. The group not receiving cooperative learning structures
as a teaching method was involved in the traditional lecture/demonstration method
with individual assignments. Student achievement was measured through curriculum
based assessment instruments designed by the teacher. The assessments were quantitatively
Cooperative Learning Structures are methods of organizing the interaction of
individuals in a classroom. Step-by-step procedures are used to present, practice,
and review material. Some regulate interaction between pairs, some are best
for teamwork, and others involve the entire class. The following examples illustrate
a few of these instructional methods used. Sample lesson plans for selected
structures are included in the appendix.
Think-Pair-Share - The teacher poses a question
to the class and the students think about their response. Then students pair
with a partner to talk over their ideas. Finally, students share their ideas
with the class.
Rallytable - Students are working in pairs, within
their teams. Students will take turns writing on one piece of paper or completing
Numbered Heads Together - Students within the team
number off from 1-4. The teacher poses a question and the students put their
heads together to discuss the answer. The teacher randomly calls a number and
from each team the student with that number writes the answer on the team response
Showdown - Each student writes his answer on his
individual response board. When everyone in the group is ready, the leader says
"Showdown" and team members compare and discuss their answers.
Teammates Consult - Students all have their own
copy of the same worksheet or assignment questions. A large cup is placed in
the center of each team, and students begin by placing their pencils in the
cup. With pencils still in the cup, they discuss their answers to the first
question. When all team members are ready, they remove their pencils from the
cup and write their answers without talking. They repeat this process with the
4S Brainstorming - Students in the group have roles:
Speed Captain (prompts more ideas), Super Supporter (encourages/recognizes all
ideas), Synergy Guru (encourages members to build upon one another's ideas),
and Recorder (writes ideas). Members carry out their respective roles while
the team generates a variety of possible responses.
The mean for each group's (control and treatment) scores was calculated to find
the standard mean deviation effect size and compared using the t-Test for Independent
Samples. An effect size was derived to provide an estimate of the magnitude
of the results independent of sample size. This gives an indication of practical,
rather than statistical, significance.
The purpose of the study was to determine if sixth-grade Social Studies students
at Dunbar Middle School who participated in cooperative learning structures
would gain higher curriculum-based assessment scores than students who did not
use this method of learning.
Student scores from each assessment were recorded and a class period mean was
calculated. Table 1 shows the mean percent correct on each assessment for the
control and treatment groups. Figure 1 shows this information in graph form
and Figure 2 shows the overall group averages of the control and treatment groups.
Assessment mean scores
A one-tailed, unpaired t test was calculated using the computer
software Stat View on the difference between the two class periods. The results
are statistically significant at .04 probability level.
A standardized mean difference effect size was calculated by
dividing the difference between the mean of the treatment group (period 2) and
the control group (period one) to provide an estimate of the magnitude of difference,
which is an indicator of practical significance. The result is a moderate to
large effect size in educational research.
Another question was raised when examining the results: What
were the effects of cooperative learning structures on the achievement scores
of sixth-grade Social Studies students with disabilities or special needs at
Dunbar Middle School? No statistical analysis was calculated specifically on
the mean scores of students with special needs, due to the small number involved,
but the scores are reported in Table 3. In each case and for each exceptionality,
the students with special needs in the treatment group scored higher than the
students with special needs in the control group. Figures 3-6 illustrate this
information in graph form.
are mentally impaired
The primary goal of this study was to measure student achievement
for those using Kagan's cooperative learning structures as a method of instruction
and to compare that achievement with those using a traditional lecture/independent
style of instruction. For each assessment the assumption that using cooperative
learning structures would result in higher achievement was proven. The results
were consistent with those of earlier studies comparing other cooperative learning
methods against lecture/independent styles of instruction (Slavin, 1991; Johnson
& Johnson, 2000).
Although the intent did not focus on measuring achievement for students with
disabilities, the results indicate that cooperative learning structures can
be used successfully for students of diverse abilities. The students in the
study presented a wide variety of abilities and functioning levels; including
mildly mentally impaired (MMI), learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit
(ADD), obsessive compulsive (OCD), English as a second language (ESL), and gifted
(GT). All students with special needs in the treatment group were more successful
than those in the control group
A goal of placing students with disabilities in an inclusive setting is to foster
acceptance and increase social interaction. Kagan's structures and other methods
of cooperative learning address this issue due to the inherent nature of the
heterogeneous groupings (Kagan, 1994). While not measured, this goal was reached
according to the teacher's observations of social interactions within the groups.
One of the students in the treatment class was a non-English speaking student.
The social context of the group helped avoid the isolation that this student
could have felt beginning school in a new country. The students in his group
certainly aided in his acquisition of English, as well as social studies content.
Other students with disabilities reported that they felt more comfortable working
with classmates than working independently.
There were no students with behavior disorders included in the population of
this study. Other studies (Nelson & Johnson, 1996; Prater, Bruhl, & Serna, 1998)
have found that the social skills needed for cooperative learning should be
taught prior to beginning cooperative learning lessons. While social skills
are included in Kagan's structures, this pre-teaching of skills for students
with behavior disorders would enhance the success of the method.
These findings have relevance to the general classroom teacher faced with implementing
inclusion of students with special needs. Cooperative learning structures can
be easily used as a modification to instruction with no extra time or effort
required of the teacher. One lesson plan using cooperative learning structures
has built in peer tutoring and support within the heterogeneous class groupings,
which eliminates the requirement for several different plans to meet the needs
of all students. Because structures are content free, this method of cooperative
learning could be adapted to any curricular area and any level. In this study
the sixth grade social studies textbook was the foundation for instruction.
A limitation of the study could be the differences in students within each class
period. Although efforts were made to ensure that each class period contained
students of comparable abilities, the group make-up could have affected the
outcomes. The control group did score lower on each assessment. If the control
group would now receive instruction with cooperative learning structures, would
they increase their scores? Due to time restraints, this information is not
included in this report but is the focus of a follow-up study now being conducted.
The teacher involved in this study was an experienced teacher with an interest
and background in cooperative learning that received continual support and feedback
from trainers and other teachers using the cooperative learning structures.
Sapon-Shevin and Schniedewind (1989/1990) found that teacher buy-in is essential
to the success of cooperative learning which was evident during this study.
The results could be quite different if the teacher were inexperienced, not
committed to using structures, or did not receive support.
Implications for further study would be to explore the success of cooperative
learning structures in school wide versus isolated classrooms settings and long-term
usage of the methods. In this study the approach was a novel one for the students,
as this was their first exposure to using structures in their classes.
While this study focused on sixth-grade social studies students using cooperative
learning structures, others have found the method to be successful across all
levels. Positive effects were found in all major subjects, all grade levels,
in urban, rural, and suburban schools, and for high, average, and low achievers
(Slavin, 1991). Perhaps future studies will concur with these findings.
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Competitive, and Individualistic Learning (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
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program in an inner-city school. Journal of Experimental Education, 64, 117-137.
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learning, and independent learning practices on the classroom behavior of students
with behavioral disorders: A comparative analysis. Journal of Emotional & Behavioral
Disorders, 4, 53-63.
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cooperative learning and teacher-directed instruction. Remedial and Special
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Kagan is compiling data on the effectiveness of the Kagan methods.
If any of you have any action research from your own classrooms or any comments
you would like to share, we would very much appreciate hearing from you. Please
E-mail Kagan at: Research@KaganOnline.com