Study Finds a Cooperative Classroom Beneficial to Students
> 3/28/2008 1:03:19 PM

Students vying for resources and prestige in the classroom fare worse than students encouraged to cooperate with their peers, according to a meta-analysis appearing in this month's Psychological Bulletin. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota, examined the social and academic outcomes of students from three different types of classroom environments: competitive (students competed with each other), individualistic (students worked alone), and cooperative (students worked together). Their results indicate that students achieve greater academic success and form more positive peer relationships when in a cooperative setting.

The researchers analyzed 148 studies, both published and unpublished, of students aged 12 through 15. Overall, they examined the effect of a classroom's social environment on more than 17,000 students from 11 countries. In cooperative classrooms, students worked together on projects, shared goals, and received joint rewards, while students in competitive classrooms worked alone and competed with one another for rewards, often with only one "winner." In individualistic classrooms, on the other hand, students worked alone and were not compared with others. Through analysis, the researchers found no difference between the effects of individualistic and competitive classrooms on students' social interactions and academic accomplishments. However, they determined that students from cooperative classrooms achieved a greater number of positive outcomes in terms of schoolwork and peer relationships. They earned higher test scores, developed more healthy friendships, got along better with others, and scored higher on measures of problem-solving, reasoning, and critical thinking.

When looking at how peer relationships and academic performance affected each other, the researchers also found that students with more positive peer relationships were more likely to do well in school. They viewed this as further evidence of the benefits of classrooms that stress cooperation and shared goals. Working with others may allow students to form healthy relationships, and, because cooperation provides students with support from their peers, it can also help them to move forward academically. Additionally, they suggested that classroom environments that separate social interactions from schoolwork create a situation where friendships can become a distraction from work. Competitive environments may be especially harmful, as they can encourage students to oppose one another and might interfere with peer relationships, which could negatively impact their academic performance.

Their results carry important implications for both researchers and educators, and continued study using different age groups may allow for a clearer understanding of how different social environments can enhance, or disrupt, a student's academic and social development. The timing of students' experiences with these environments may be important, for instance, and exposing students to a cooperative setting early on may be an effective way of promoting positive relationships while at the same time helping them develop their academic potential.

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