A case study – How and when does collaboration improve outcome?

This case study investigates how 21st Century effective teaching methods impact learning. The study is divided into sections considering theoretical perspectives alongside critical analyses of classroom practice before concluding findings. To illustrate the importance of effective practice, it is noted in research, alongside local and national policies, that various teaching and learning strategies need to be implemented to engage and enthuse learners (Cremin & Arthur, 2014 and DfE, 2015). Despite this, the focus of research presented here is to consider the benefits and limitations of learning in collaboration, by critically exploring and analysing observed practice in depth. In doing so, it enables reflection and explore how collaboration links to the notion of effective teaching and learning.

Theoretical Perspectives

Many authors have attempted to define what constitutes effective teaching and learning in the 21stCentury (Claxton, 2011; Perrott, 2014; Coe et al, 2014). A widely accepted notion, defined by Coe et al (2014), is that it leads to improve pupil achievement using outcomes that matter to their future successes. The limitation to this however, is that schools currently use a number of frameworks that describe core elements of effective teaching. This can lead to confusion surrounding these core attributes as they become so broadly defined and open to wide and different interpretations (Coe et al, 2014). For clarity, this study retains the definition of effective teaching and learning in the 21st Century as suggested by Coe et al (2014).

Several explanations have been proposed to define the concept of collaborative learning and how this shapes classroom practice (Claxton, 2011; Coe et al, 2014; Cremin & Arthur, 2014). Collaborative learning denotes the grouping or pairing of learners to achieve a learning goal. An instructional method, in which learners at various performance levels, work together towards a common goal. Gokhale (1995) goes further, identifying the relationship between collaborative learning and intrinsic values, in which the pupils’ are responsible for one another’s learning as well as their own. The success of one pupil helps others to succeed. The research presented here aims to build on this hypothesis, while identifying limitations to the research. In line with the previously stated scholars, collaborative learning is defined as an effective teaching and learning strategy used in the classroom, through pairing of pupils to reach a desired outcome.

Nationally, it is a widely accepted that collaboration is a promising strategy in education that has become a 21st century trend. The need for thinking and working together on critical issues has increased (Welch, 1998 and Austin, 2000), causing teachers to develop children’s skills from individual attempts to team work and from autonomy to community (Leonard & Leonard, 2001). Most studies have reported the positive effects of collaborative learning on low attainers (Dowker, 2004 and Slavin et al, 2010), however, research proposed here suggests a more complex picture.

Children are increasingly being identified as having Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) and much of the ADHD research literature focuses on diagnosis and treatment. At present, several authors have presented studies focusing on intervention strategies testing ADHD children within the classroom setting (see Dupaul, 1991 and Fiore, Becker & Nero, 1993), however, very little attention has been paid to the ADHD child’s collaborative learning on classroom tasks. Our understanding to date on this area is limited, therefore, consideration is needed on the impact of peer interactions and collaboration on an ADHD child’s ability to access learning. Based on a review of the research literature and through observations conducted during this study, it can be suggested that collaborative learning may have an undesirable effect on ADHD children.

Case Study

This study focuses on a group of 34 children within Year 2 during an English lesson on story-mountains. Six of the cohort have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan including Pupil A, who was diagnosed with ADHD. Critically, the question is not whether collaboration is beneficial to learning, but instead how and when collaboration improves outcomes as suggested previously by Coe et al (2014) to constitute effective teaching and learning.

Undoubtedly, collaborative efforts among pupils were shown to encourage a higher degree of accomplishment by all as opposed to individual, competitive systems in which many are left behind. Collaboration as an effective tool for teaching and learning is justified when examining peer to peer interactions, in that pupils’ help each other, which in turn builds a supportive community and raised performance levels. Encouragingly, in line with research proposed by Slavin et al (2010), were observations of higher self-esteem in pupils, including lower attainers. The intrinsic nature was enforced within the collaborative environment, self-evident in the higher levels of satisfaction displayed within activities that valued their abilities and included them in the learning process. There is compelling evidence during the lesson to support Gokhale (1995) hypothesis that collaborative learning establishes an individual ownership over the learning as pupils were encouraged to work together to reach the common outcome. It was found that this effective teaching strategy promoted pupils’ to become self-actualising individuals with improved inter-personal skills, therefore further agreeing with research suggested by Dowker (2004) and Slavin and Lake (2010).

During the lesson, which pairs were reading and discussing passages of text, it is worth noting the benefit of a collaborative environment for Pupil A. Initially, the environment encouraged Pupil A to identify and increase their positive, pro-social behaviours which are necessary for success in general educational settings. More specifically, Pupil A engaged fully within the learning objective and collaborative nature of the lesson by participating in meaningful discussions and sharing ideas. As initially defined by Coe et al (2014), it supports the claim that collaboration is an effective tool for teaching and learning as it improves achievement using a learning outcome that matters to their future success. In this case, social interactions with their peers and ability to access the learning.

While we cannot deny the benefits of collaborative learning, it is questionable whether this is always an effective approach as to its unlikeliness of being a complete substitute for adult intervention, particularly for those with more severe needs. Contrary to research by Coe et al (2014) and Cremin & Arthur (2014), there was observed instances where collaboration had an undesirable effect. Notable examples include considering further impacts of collaboration on Pupil A and those pupils who are currently performing above their age related expectation.

The research lends strong support that Pupil A has a limited threshold within a collaborative environment, the particular learning style of this child needs careful consideration when structuring situations in ways that can promote learning. Contrary to research in favour of collaborative learning (Dowker, 2004 and Slavin et al, 2010), the noisy environment became too overwhelming for Pupil A, resulting in opting out and becoming disengaged in the subject matter altogether. A likely explanation for this is that through observations, continuous assessments and interventions, Pupil A has social skill deficits in three main areas: poor emotional regulation, social cognitive biases and social communication. Therefore, these cognitive difficulties had implications on the learning during this lesson as Pupil A was unable to self-regulate their emotional behaviours. Although beyond the scope of this study, further consideration is needed to prevent misinterpretations of Pupil A’s behaviour and informing appropriate responses to ensure effective teaching. It is accepted that, although children with ADHD share difficulties described by a triad of impairments, these can manifest in widely different ways between individuals. It can be implied that, research here has shown that practitioners need to be flexible and resourcefulness in applying knowledge and understanding for particular pupils with ADHD in specific collaborative educational contexts.

Closer examination of the research also showed that those pupils currently achieving above age related expectation became overbearing and indeed, had an adverse effect on confidence and support of those with less developed skills. In opposition to research by Slavin et al (2010), this led to a partial breakdown in successful peer to peer interactions and achievement of desired learning outcome. On the other hand, due to the high level of pupil involvement required and large nature of the class, these children were unable to develop their critical thinking skills because of addressing the needs of their peers before their own. It was only until opportunities within mini plenary provided by the teacher, could this target group develop this particular skill set and consolidate understanding.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is substantial literature supporting collaboration as an effective 21st century teaching and learning tool. However, this case study did not aim to question whether collaboration is an effective tool, but instead how and when collaboration could improve outcomes. One of the most important contributions discovered, was the importance of identifying individual needs and tailoring collaborative learning environments so it is still effective while not becoming detrimental to individual’s access to learning. As with all such studies, there are limitations that offer opportunities for further research such as a need to explore the impact collaboration has on ADHD children and how collaboration could implicate the challenge set to stretch the needs of more able children. Finally, it is this author’s opinion, that current understanding of educational philosophy has had a noted impact on the view of what constitutes effective modern teaching and learning. This particular strategy was always held in favourable stead, however, upon evaluating the evidence, considerations are needed to develop future practice.

References:

Austin, J. E. 2000. Principles for Partnership. Journal of Leader to Leader. 18 (Fall), pp. 44-50.

Claxton, G. 2011. The learning powered school: pioneering 21st Century Education.

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S. and Elliot Major, L. 2014. What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research. Sutton Trust Research Paper.

Cremin and Arthur. 2014. Learning to teach in the Primary School. Third Edition. Routledge.

Department for Education (DfE). 2015. Personal, Social, health and economic (PSHE) education: a review of impact and effective practice. Accessed 28th July 2015.https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/412291/Personal_Social_Health_and_Economic__PSHE__Education_12_3.pdf

Dowker, A.D. 2004. What works for children with Mathematical difficulties? The effectiveness of intervention schemes. London : DCSF

DuPaul, G. J., Weyandt, L. L. & Janusis, G., M. 2011.  ADHD in the classroom : Effective intervention strategies. Theory into practice. Vol 50. Issue 1. pages 35-42.

Fiore, T. A., Becker, E. A., & Nero, R. C. 1993. Educational interventions for students with attention deficit disorder. Exceptional Children, 60(2), pages 163-173.

Gokhale, A.A. 1995. Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. Journal of Technology education. 7(1), Retrieved 28th July 2015, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTE/v7n1/gokhale.jte-v7n1.html.

Leonard, P. E., & Leonard, L.J. 2001. The collaborative prescription: Remedy or reverie? International Journal of Leadership in Education, 4(4); pp. 383–99.

Perrott, E. 2014. Effective teaching: A practical guide to improving your teaching. Routledge.

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