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Research & Rationale

A Teacher Fosters Social Competence With Cooperative Learning

What I Found

As my students became comfortable with the cooperative learning structures and began to see the importance of social skills, a new classroom climate began to emerge; my soapbox was beginning to collect dust from the lack of use. An analysis of the data suggests the Kagan cooperative learning structures had a positive influence on my students' social skills development. As shown in Figure 1, a comparison of the pre- and post-sociogram results indicates that the number of mid- and low-range students increased and the number of isolates (i.e., students who were not selected by anyone) decreased. This finding indicates that the social networks in my classroom were being re-routed and my students were interacting more positively with their peers. For one thing, I no longer heard the moans and groans that usually accompanied working in teams; instead, I had students begging and pleading to work with each other. For example, I heard, "Can we please work in groups, Ms. Mag? We'll use our social skills"—a far cry from the ducking and darting I witnessed at the beginning of my research. I also noticed that most students did not choose to work just with their best friends or someone of the same gender; frequently, they chose to work with several different classmates.

The ABCD Tally Chart showed a decrease in the frequency of disruptive behaviors (e.g., name calling, arguing, off-task behavior) observed from all students (see Figure 2). This made a powerful impact on my classroom. Not only were the students getting better at working together as the weeks went by, I was able to spend more time teaching and less time lecturing my students about being team players and working together.

The target students' tally charts demonstrated positive changes in their social interactions. As shown in Figure 3, all six students exhibited a steady increase in the number of positive interactions during the cooperative learning structures.

The Student Reflection Forms revealed that my students enjoyed working in the cooperative groups and were making efforts to improve their collaborative skills. At the beginning of the project, the student responses were short and vague (see Appendix C). By the end of the study, students were elaborating more in their answers (see Appendix D). Many responses expressed why their group was successful and what the group could do to improve their collaborative efforts, giving specific examples of methods or social skills on which to focus. These reflections provided me with a deeper understanding of my students' perceptions of themselves and what they thought about the cooperative learning structures, and also revealed my students' self-awareness levels.


Young children are full of innovative ideas, skills, and talents. My students were no exception. However, they lacked the ability to share these wonderful attributes with each other. Instead of continuing to teach my students in an individualistic, competitive way, I chose to embed cooperative learning structures into the regular curriculum. This enabled them to practice using social skills throughout the school day. As a result, their social skills improved considerably. They became more aware of the behaviors needed to complete a group task successfully. In addition, the structures helped them learn from one another. For example, one student reflected, "I like RallyCoach because as I was doing my problems if I got stuck my partner could help me and when she did her problems I got to see the way she worked and it gave me a new faster strategie" [sic]. Another shared, "I like RallyCoach because it really helps you on that subject your [sic] on. And because you get to know more classmates."

Next year, I plan to use cooperative learning structures and focus on social skills instruction during the first few weeks of school and continue these strategies throughout the year. "Early and often" will be my motto. Additionally, I am interested in conducting further research on cooperative learning. The scope of the present study was limited to social skills development. I now wonder what impact cooperative learning structures may have on my students' academic performance.

In sum, this inquiry project helped me learn the importance of my role in building a positive classroom community. My hope is that the results of this study and the strategies described in this article will encourage other novice, as well as experienced, teachers to use cooperative learning in their classrooms. The results are well worth the effort.


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