Intellectual and social learning goals identified by Cohen

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This essay aims to discuss the intellectual and social learning goals identified by Cohen(1994) that can be facilitated by cooperative small group work in the primary school classroom. Within the backdrop of other studies in group skill training, the essay aims to illustrate why it is necessary to provide skill training for pupils to enable them work effectively in collaborative groups. In the process, key skills will be described and the skill-builders that could be used to train pupils in the skills identified.

Cohen(1994) has identified a number of intellectual and social learning goals that cooperative group work can facilitate in the primary classroom. The intellectual goals include conceptual learning, creative problem solving, higher order thinking skills, oral language proficiency, information retention and improvement of basic skills. She has also identified the following key social learning goals: positive intergroup relations, socializing students for adult roles, increasing time on task, and providing constructive ways of managing academic heterogeneity in the classroom.

Team or group skill, defined as the skill to work collaboratively together so that group-based activities enhance learning (Pritchard, Stratford and Bizo, 2006:256) is very important as already shown by some studies(Bowen 1998; Natasi & Clements 1991; Porter 1993; Urch Druskat & Kayes 2000). Furthermore Hertz-Lazarowitz (1989) had shown in several studies that in a classroom of untrained children, majority of them exhibit only uncooperative and distracting behavior. The relationship between training for group work and learning outcomes in school settings, has been shown by increases in children's individual learning( Yager Johnson, Johnson & Snider 1986) and group performances of the group tasks (Johnson, Johnson, Stanne & Garibaldi, 1989) among those groups that have received group skill training.

Subsequent work by Gilles and Ashman(1996) went further by looking at how training influenced levels of collaborative language and behavior, in addition to measuring the effect of training in academic outcomes. Results from the study indicated that pupils demonstrated higher levels of cooperative skills such as helpful behavior to others, and the use of more inclusive language compared to untrained pupils. There are generic and specific competencies( Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas and Volpe, 1995) that come into play when groups not only work together, but continue within those same groups. Generic competencies are those that are held by individual team members regardless of the teams that they working in and which could be transfered from one team to another, such as interpersonal skills and attitude towards group work. Specific competencies are those held by a team member that relate to a specific team such as knowledge of other team member's team interaction style, compensatory behavior and team cohesion.

The optimism that learning may be enhanced by group work has been shown by past and recent studies that looked at the roles of cohesion (Carles & De Paola 2000; Carron & Brawley 2000; Golembieski 1962; Guzzo & Dickson 1996), situational awareness ( Salas, Prince, Baker & Shestha 1995), familiarity ( Goodman & Leyden 1991; Guzzo & Dickson 1996; Watson, Michealson & Sharp 1991) and transactive memory ( Moreland, Argote & Krishman 1998; Moreland & Myaskovsky 2000) in group collaborative work.

In their recent study on the importance of group skill training among University students Pritchard et al (2004) targeted the following training objectives : problem solving, planning, decision-making, setting objectives, time-management, agreeing roles and creating group environment and cooperation. Evaluation of this training found that it led to an increase in participant's skills level across these components. These training objectives as may be seen, correspond to most of Cohen's(1994) intellectual and social learning objectives.

Paradoxically, 'Status ordering' is one of the dilemmas facing group learning (Cohen 1994) . Students may have status within a group based on academic ability, peer status or societal status based on social class, race, ethnic group or gender. Students expect their high status counterparts to be more competent, while those considered to be of low status hold back and do not contribute as much. In order to resolve this, and at the same time effectively address the intellectual and social learning objectives, Cohen (1994:132) had designed two skill builders. These may be described as multi-ability tasks, and what she referred to as 'Assignments of competence'. Multi-ability tasks are those group lessons and tasks that use a wide range of intellectual abilities. These tasks should not only have more than one answer , but should also be intrinsically interesting and rewarding. They should allow different students to make different contributions.

'Assignments of competence' are those tasks that are assigned to each student in a group as a way of engaging their active participation in group activity. 'Assignments of competence' have three features. First of all 'assignments of competence' must be made public so that other students recognize the contributions of low-status students. Secondly, they must be specific, that is, they must refer to a particular skill or ability that the student used and finally, the skill or ability must be relevant to the group task(Cohen 1994:132). If the skill or ability is not relevant to the group task it would be a waste of time to the group objectives.

Group activity are designed to promote constructive academic controversy. Constructive academic controversy is an instructional procedure that combines cooperative learning with structured intellectual conflict in which the students argue the positive and contrary positions on an issue in order to stimulate problem-solving and reasoned judgment( Johnson, Johnson and Smith 2000:30).

The structure of the academic controversy is such that two opposing views within a group is constructively thrashed-out but in the end they would reach an agreeable conclusion (Matusovich and Smith 2009). The fact that each group researches their task before presentation means that the key intellectual skill of problem solving is exercised. Critical argument between the two groups promotes creative problem solving, and higher order thinking skills. Engagement in constructive academic controversy enhances oral language proficiency, positive intergroup relations and constructive ways of managing academic heterogeneity in the classroom.