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I have chosen a research article which is Children's Friendships and Learning in School: Cognitive Enhancement through Social Interaction? This article was written by Peter Kutnick from Education Research Centre, University of Brighton and Alison Kington from School of Education, University of Nottingham.
The main theme of this research article is cognitive development. Both of the writers did the research because they wanted to investigate about children's social relations, whether it can develop their mental and thinking process or not. Besides, they also wanted to identify the effectiveness of the cognitive tasks on children's cognitive level.
According to Kutnick and Kington, the important idea of this research is to review the issues of classroom-based friendship pairings; the students will improve their performance progressively on a cognitive task than acquaintance pairing. For this issue, it also considers some factors or reasons such as gender, age and children's level of ability. Besides, it is also to identify the effectiveness of the classroom-based friendship pairings among the students. In addition, it is also to investigate the features of school-based friendship expressed by young children.
The study was undertaken in the summer term of the school year. For the Science Reasoning Tasks (SRTs), there were 72 children from a primary school in west London carried out the tasks. The school was obtaining from a mixed working and middle-class community, and catagorised as coeducational school. Also, the participants were selected sociometrically, mainly with respect to friendship and year in school which is Year 1, 3 and 5. In this task, the children were given chances to have their own pairings based on their age class in school as well as based on their experience in collaborating. Pairings are represented friendship (versus acquaintance), sex which are male and female pairings and their age; children in Years 1, 3 and 5 in the primary school. It also represented their ability which each pair representing a high, middle and low- confirmed by the teacher assessment and based on national curriculum English and Mathematics standards.
In this article, the positive effects of friendship on cognitive development are presented by two theoretical approaches. First is from Piagetian perspective. Doise & Mugny (1971) and Perret-Clermont (1984), stated that "the mutuality of peers working together on a common problem allows them to resolve differences between their perspectives, which enhances the cognitive understanding of each child (whether through cognitive conflict, marking or other social processes)." In addition, Piaget, 1932 asserted that "mutuality is assumed to take place in cooperative relationships." In short, based on above, we can conclude that different students have different ideas and opinions, so when this happened, they will discuss it together among themselves. For example, they may ask questions like "why you state the idea?" and "how this idea is related to the task?" Thus, this conflict will help them to improve their cognitive level.
The second theory is from Vygotsky. According to Kutnick (2005), Vygotsky accepted that "interpersonal relationships are necessary for the development of new knowledge and skills, and that it is quality relationships (that integrate perspectives with trust and support) that provide the 'scaffold' for cognitive enhancement". Briefly, quality relationship is the main support for cognitive enhancement.
Qualitative and quantitative methods were used by Kutnick and Kington in this research. For quantitative method, it involved quasi-experimental design. The purposes of the design are to assess paired performance on SRTs as well as to compare their performance based on friendship and acquaintance, gender and ability. Besides that, cognitive task was involved in this research. To encourage students' participation, the task has to be difficult to analyse, understand or solve. It also must allow the partners to take a variety of point of view and present the tasks as a problem. Furthermore, the tasks must upon science tasks because as said by Howe & Tolmic (2003), "they involve reasoning in a number of cognitive areas (e.g. substance, quantity, proportionality)". NFER (1979) also stated that "Age appropriate tasks were selected and piloted from the banks of SRTs for the three Years levels". Actual tasks used in this study included SRT1 (prediction of water level in a tilted jar; perspective-based drawing and prediction of direction of a plumb line in a container when tilted); and SRT2 (volume and heaviness, conservation of matter, and floating and sinking).
For qualitative method, it involved interview which had done after students completed the tasks individually. The interview was focused on activities the students involved with friends and examples of the activities that they shared inside and outside school. During the interview, there were some questions that had been asked to them. The questions included the qualities of best friends, classroom and school activities undertaken with friends and activities undertaken with friends outside the school.
The findings or the results of the study consider the paired and individual levels. So, for the paired result, it was found that the highest SRTs level was performed by girl's friendship pairings. Boys friendship pairing performed at the lowest level, while mid-SRTs levels are shown by both boy and girl acquaintance pairings. These findings were consistent across Year levels and ability levels. For the interviews, it revealed that male and female friendship pairs were likely to participate in different types of activity, with girls being school-inclusive and boys being school-exclusive.
However, there was some argument on recent literature regarding to children's performance on cognitive tasks. According to Galton et al (2003), performance in this activity will require quality relationships between pupils. This also leading some researches to argue that friendship grouping (pairing children) should be used more frequently within classrooms. In contrast, reviews of the friendship literature also identify that friendship is not a unitary concept; that there are developmental and relational variations of friendship, and that the expression of friendship activities may be modified through culture- especially gendered activity within cultures.
Wells define cognitive development as "the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood." Based on the research article, cognitive development of the students can be improved by social interaction. The findings are applicable and useful for the teachers to apply in the teaching and lesson in the classroom so that it will boost the students' interest in learning.
For friendship-based pairings and groupings, it gives many benefits to the students when doing tasks. Basically, students are more prefer to have pair work with friends that they are closed to. This is because they already know each other better and do not feel embarrass or shame to share their thoughts and ideas when interact with them. They also will participate more actively during the interaction and enjoy doing the tasks together. Teachers can obviously observe that they will have better products compared to the acquaintance pairings. However, teachers should not let students to just do the tasks based on friendship and with the same person all the time. Teachers may switch the pairings for every task. The purpose of doing this is actually to let the students get to know other students in the classroom better, besides to foster their relationships. So, when teachers do this frequently, they progressively will get used to each other and will be able to work with another person, even though they are not intimate.
Besides that, when conducting pair work, teachers should consider students' ability level; low, middle and high. Teachers should not place students with the same ability together when doing pair work task. For example, do not let low ability students working together because they are slow learners. Teachers may notice that they will feel demotivated, will be left behind and the product of the work is less quality when compared to the high ability pairings. Next, teachers may realise that the low ability pairings have lower performance when doing task. Conversely, if teachers put the students with different abilities together in a group, the high ability students will act as tutors which help the low ability students to understand the tasks given. So, when they explain and discuss the tasks together, the low ability students will feel comfortable to ask any questions together. Thus, teachers should identify students' ability, so that they can conduct effective teaching and learning in order to enhance students' cognitive development.
Teachers too should encourage their students to combine and mingle with different sex during the pairings and groupings. It is good to combine boys and girls for a task, since boys and girls have different level of thinking. Basically, girls are more hardworking and more serious in their studies compared to boys who are more playful and do not really focus in their studies. When teacher mix them, boys will be influenced by the girls' attributes and because of that, they are able to focus on their studies instead of playing games or doing unwanted things during the lessons. Furthermore, when they work together, they will gain each others' knowledge as boys are excel in Mathematics and Science subjects compared to girls who are better in reading and writing competency especially in language subjects. Hence, this will improve students' cognitive development.
Besides cooperative learning is other way of teaching approaches which helps to enhance students' cognitive development. It can be defined as approaches to learning (and teaching) which emphasise interaction between students and which foster cooperative values (John, 1995). There are some examples of cooperating learning activities like jigsaw, peer tutoring, brainstorming, role play and problem solving which requires the students to build up cooperation through group roles. Woolfolk (cited in Webb & Palinesar (1996)) stated that cooperative learning is "situations where elaboration, interpretation, explanation and argumentation are integral to the activity of the group and where learning is supported by other individuals." When teachers apply this, it will promote cooperative values and help students to improve their cognitive development. This also helps the students to develop their positive attitudes and improve their achievement in academic field. After finishing the activities, there must be a follow up activity which reflects on what students have learnt. Besides, teachers might set them tasks to be done in class or as homework. Capuzzi (2006), asserted that "This may help group members integrate learning and develop perspectives for the future" when completing homework given by teachers after the group ends.
As teachers, to ensure that both pair work and group work activities are effective to the students in the learning, teachers must play their role as facilitator. Teachers just give explicit instructions to them before starting their pairings or groupings. Teachers must not spoon-feed them too, but let them responsible for their own learning, so that they will become independent learner and practice student-centered learning style. Capuzzi (cited in Kelman (1963)) proposed that group work helping members to overcome feelings of isolation, develop hope for increased adjustment, learn to accept responsibility, develop new relationship skills and enhance commitment to change.
In addition, during the tasks or activities, teachers have to provide questions or tasks that can train students to respond correctly as well as which can facilitate students' cognitive development. The questions also must have different level of difficulty which can challenge their thinking. When students are instructed to find the answers, they will discuss the questions and interact by arguing their own ideas to find the correct answers. So, when students are actively participating in the tasks, they will share the pre-requisite knowledge among them and at the same time build up their knowledge. There will be collaborative learning and cooperative interactions between the students too.
As a conclusion, cognitive development engages the students in the process of gaining information. It also requires students to cooperate and interact each others to find solutions to problems. These cooperation and interaction will make the students to enjoy learning and they will look forward to learning the subject. Besides, they will progressively improve in their academic performance and they will become creative and critical students. For teachers, their teachings will be effective and this will create enthusiasm for teaching the students. In addition, it will boost teachers' self-esteem because effective teaching takes place in the classroom.