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Research & Rationale

A Teacher Fosters Social Competence With Cooperative Learning

My Classroom

This inquiry project was conducted over a six-week period during the spring semester in my 4th-grade classroom at Kennedy Elementary (all names are pseudonyms). Kennedy is a kindergarten through 5th-grade campus with approximately 680 students. The school's population is 51.5% Hispanic, 41.5% white, 5.6% African American, and 1.4% other. Thirty-one percent of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

My classroom consisted of 20 students (12 boys and 8 girls); 11 were Hispanic, 6 were white, and 3 were African American. While I collected data on all of the students in my classroom, six students who consistently exhibited inappropriate social skills were observed more closely. This purposive sub-sample was based on teacher observations throughout the first 12 weeks of school.

What I Did

During the six-week study, I incorporated Kagan cooperative learning structures into the regular curriculum (Kagan & Kagan, 2009). Kagan and Kagan define structures as "content-free, repeatable instruction sequences that organize the interaction of students to implement the basic principles of cooperative learning" (p. 5.3). As those authors point out, cooperative learning can be achieved in "bite-size pieces—a structure at a time" (p. xii). Therefore, I purposely embedded two to three cooperative learning structures a day into my lesson plans for the six-week period. Three of the most frequently used structures were RoundRobin, RallyCoach, and Quiz-Quiz-Trade (Kagan & Kagan, 2009). A description of each of these structures follows.


Students take turns responding orally in their teams. The steps include:

1. Teacher poses a problem to which there are multiple possible responses or solutions, and provides think time.
2. Students take turns stating responses or solutions.


Partners take turns, one solving a problem while the other coaches. Each pair needs one set of high-consensus problems and one pencil. The steps include:

1. Partner A solves the first problem.
2. Partner B watches and listens, checks, coaches if necessary, and praises.
3. Partner B solves the next problem.
4. Partner A watches and listens, checks, coaches if necessary, and praises.
5. Partners repeat taking turns solving successive problems.


The teacher prepares a set of question cards for the class, or each student creates a question card. Students quiz a partner, get quizzed by a partner, and then trade cards to repeat the process with a new partner. The steps include:

1. The teacher tells students to "Stand up, put a hand up, and pair up."
2. Partner A quizzes B.
3. Partner B answers.
4. Partner A praises or coaches.
5. Partners switch roles.
6. Partners trade cards and thank each other.
7. Repeat steps 1-6 a number of times.

To introduce each structure, I first modeled the procedures with a student in the front of the class. Then, I had the students practice the structure, using non-content material (e.g., what are your favorite foods, etc.). Once I felt the students could do the structures successfully in pairs or teams, I incorporated them into the various subject areas.

In addition to embedding the structures into my daily lessons, I noted six specific social skills that my students were having trouble with and assigned one to be reinforced each week. These were: listening attentively, praising others, refraining from put-downs, respecting differences, staying on task, and taking turns.

Stars=chosen by 6-7 classmates
Low-range=chosen by1-2 classmates
Isolates=chosen by no classmates

While my students participated in the cooperative learning structures, my mentor (Terri Key) and I observed the students to determine how the structures were affecting their social skills development. I collected data through pre- and post-sociograms (Hubbard & Power, 1999), tally charts, and student reflections. These are described more fully in the following sections.

Sociogram. Before implementing the structures, I wanted to know more about the social networks in my classroom. Using a sociogram, I asked my students to write down, in order, the three classmates with whom they would like to work. This information was graphically plotted to identify social patterns in the classroom (e.g., isolates, stars, etc.). A post-sociogram, administered at the end of the study, was used to determine changes in interaction patterns over time.

Tally Charts. I used two different tally charts throughout the project to record specific social skills observed while my students were engaged in cooperative learning structures. To observe whole-class behaviors, my mentor and I used the ABCD Tally Chart (see Appendix A) developed by Kagan, Kyle, and Scott (2004). This chart categorizes discipline problems into four different types: 1) aggression (e.g., arguing, name calling); 2) breaking the rules (e.g., non-stop talking, inappropriate language); 3) confrontation (e.g., refusing to cooperate, talking back); and 4) disengagement (e.g., clowning around, off-task behavior). By collecting data each day, patterns of disruptive behavior began to emerge.

The individual tally charts, which were used for the six target students only, measured the frequency of these students' targeted social skills (see Appendix B). Both charts were important in order to record the occurrences of students using (and not using) the various social skills during cooperative learning structures.

Student Reflections. To determine their perceptions, I had the students complete an individual reflection form (see Appendices C and D) after each new cooperative learning structure was implemented. The reflection forms included questions to determine the following: 1) what the students believed they were contributing to the team, 2) how well their team worked together (on a scale of 1 to 5), 3) what their team could improve upon, and 4) how well the social skill of the week was used within the team. After completing the forms on their own, we discussed their reflections as a class. They then turned the forms in so that I could read them.