You are on page 1of 22

ALI EBRAHIM

THE EFFECT OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES


ON ELEMENTARY STUDENTS’ SCIENCE ACHIEVEMENT
AND SOCIAL SKILLS IN KUWAIT
Received: 7 April 2009; Accepted: 4 October 2010

ABSTRACT. This study compares the effects of two methods of teaching—teacher-


centered and cooperative learning—on students’ science achievement and use of social
skills. The sample consists of 163 female elementary science students in 8 intact grade 5
classes who were assigned to 2 instructional methods and were taught an identical science
unit by 4 classroom teachers. The students’ science achievement was measured by a
researcher-designed achievement test given to students as a pretest and a posttest.
Students’ social skills were determined by a researcher-designed survey administered
as a pretest and posttest. Analysis of the achievement test scores and the social skills
survey responses revealed that cooperative learning strategies have significantly
(p 9 0.05) more positive effects on both students’ achievement and social skills than
teacher-centered strategies. These results provide an evidential base to inform policy
decisions and encourage and persuade teachers to implement cooperative learning
methods in Kuwaiti classrooms.

KEY WORDS: cooperative learning strategies, elementary science, science achievement,


social skills, teacher-centered strategies

INTRODUCTION

Since the 1960s, science has become a main instructional focus in


schools worldwide, but especially in the developing world in an
attempt to close the scientific and technological gap that exists
between developed and developing countries. Kuwait is among the
nations that are working to match the standards of the developed world
and has placed increasing emphasis upon science in its schools.
Kuwaiti educators have realized the necessity of challenging students’
thinking in order for them to face and cope with the ever-changing
world of science. This will require the implementation of instructional
approaches that enrich the ability of students to offer reasoned
judgments and creative solutions. These changes will need to take

International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education (2012) 10: 293Y314


# National Science Council, Taiwan 2011
294 ALI EBRAHIM

place in the unique context of a wealthy, oil-producing country having


specific traditions, expectations, and structures.

BACKGROUND

Since 1911, the Ministry of Education in Kuwait has been highly


centralized, directly controlling the schools and educational units. The
system of education and teaching was designed to employ traditional
(teacher-centered or individualistic) teaching approaches in which lecture
is the primary means of delivering information to the students.
Many Kuwaiti educators adhere to this traditional system of teaching
due to these specific mandates and its apparent positive effects on
students’ academic achievement. This method is considered positive
because some educators believe that student achievement should be
predictable and manageable (Al-Kandari, 2006). These educators prefer to
let students sit alone and try to solve academic problems because they
think that individuality helps the students work independently and
achieve academic success. Although Kuwaiti educators aspire to improve
students’ scientific knowledge and for them to be current with the most
recent scientific and technology developments, they believe that a
teacher-centered, traditional lecture-and-recitation approach in science
classrooms has solid theoretical and empirical roots. Teacher-centered
methodology places a strong emphasis on the maximization of time spent
studying a subject (time on task). Many teachers believe that students’
achievement is more valuable than critical thinking, understanding, and
science literacy. Al-Kandari (2006) found that 93% of the science
objectives written in Kuwaiti teachers' lesson plans involved recall of
knowledge.
Some powerful educators in Kuwait recognize the importance of being
globally competitive by using contemporary teaching methods. Therefore,
changes are now becoming slightly more evident, with a few schools
utilizing new methods of instruction such as cooperative learning
strategies (CLS). The need to improve instruction that promotes higher
levels of achievement and the use of social skills are primary goals in
education today. However, it is important to evaluate these methods of
teaching and to provide teachers with an evidential base on which to
select and use effective methods.
Some research comparisons between teaching strategies have evaluated
the effects of instructional strategies (cooperative, inquiry, competitive,
individualistic, etc.) on students’ academic achievement. The current study
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 295

seeks to examine the effects of utilizing the cooperative learning method in


comparison with the teacher-centered method in elementary schools.
Cooperative learning strategies are a new method of teaching in
Kuwait, while teacher-centered strategies fall into the traditional realm.
Some educators have begun to support the use of cooperative learning
because it fulfills two essential outcomes: the use of social skills and the
improvement of academic achievement. Other educators are eager to
continue applying teacher-centered strategies due to their purported
positive effects on students and their appropriateness for the educational
mandates, school environment, and classroom structures.

Cooperative Learning Strategies


Cooperative learning is a social method that is fun and engages students
in active rather than passive learning; therefore, it is logical to expect that it
would have positive effects on social, motivational, and attitudinal outcomes
as well as on achievement. Cooperative learning represents a shift in
educational approach from completive-based to collaborative-based instruc-
tion in order to address diversity in the classroom (Slavin, 1990).
Cooperative learning approaches create excellent opportunities for students
to engage in problem solving with the help of other group members
(Effandi & Zanaton, 2007). Reys, Suydam, Lindquist, & Smith (1998)
described how cooperative learning settings promote student-centered
instruction and advance the learning environment in the classroom.
Slavin (1990) stated:
The lesson might begin with the teacher meeting with the whole class to provide an
overall perspective, present new material, pose problems or questions for investigation,
and clarify directions for the group activity. The class then divides into small groups,
usually with four members each. Students work together cooperatively in each group,
discussing the problem or question, making and testing conjectures, verifying that each
student is satisfied that the group answer is reasonable. This communication of ideas with
one another is especially valuable in the learning process: The students help each other
learn science ideas. The teacher moves from group to group, providing assistance by
asking thought-provoking questions as needed. Cooperative learning represents a variety
of approaches (jigsaw, student team, learning together, group investigation, etc.). (p. 10)

The majority of recent research studies encourage teachers to use CLS


because they positively impact students’ abilities to deal with the needs,
diversity, and interpersonal demands of the twenty-first century and help
them deal with science problems successfully. Therefore, cooperative
learning approaches may have a positive influence on conceptual
achievement as well as socioemotional factors.
296 ALI EBRAHIM

Effects on Achievement. Cooperative learning is grounded in the belief


that learning is most effective when students are actively involved in
sharing ideas and working cooperatively to complete academic tasks
(Effandi & Zanaton, 2007). Many research studies have indicated that the
use of cooperative learning strategies in the classroom can improve
student performance. Slavin (1991) found over 70 high-quality studies
that assessed CLS over a period of at least 4 weeks at elementary and
secondary school levels. All of these studies compared the effects of
cooperative learning and teacher-centered methods on student achieve-
ment in various content areas. He concluded that in “67 studies of the
achievement effects of cooperative learning, 41 (61%) found significantly
greater achievement in cooperative than in control classes. Twenty-five
(37%) found no differences, and in only one study (4%) did the control
group outperform the experimental group” (p. 76).
Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson (1990) noted that more than 320
studies had been conducted over the previous 90??? years comparing the
effects of cooperative, competitive, and teacher-centered situations on
students’ achievement in different content areas. The fundamental
findings of those studies indicated that students’ productivity in
cooperative learning settings is higher than in teacher-centered situations.
However, Jones (1990) explored the influence of cooperative learning
versus teacher-centered learning for grades 3, 4, and 5 in two rural
elementary schools. The pretest–posttest design had students participate in
a cognitive conflict activity and documented the changes in their under-
standing of temperature. The results indicated that the cooperative learning
approach was no more effective than the traditional approach. Gassem
(2003) investigated the effectiveness of CLS in teaching science using
pretest and posttest for achievement and scientific thinking among
intermediate school students. The 240 grade 4 students were randomly but
equally assigned to the experimental and control groups. The achievement
test and scientific thinking test scores for the two groups were analyzed to
determine any differences. Statistically significant differences were found
between the experimental group and the control group in favor of the
experimental group for both scientific achievement and thinking.

Effects on Social Skills. There has been a growing realization that schools
should not just educate students to become good pupils in a given academic
area but also should socialize them to become good future citizens. Many
different approaches have been suggested to achieve the desired state of
citizenship education that promotes being an educated citizen and productive
member of society. CLS are distinguished from other teaching strategies in
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 297

providing the classroom environment in which meaningful social skills are


the central focus (Slavin, 1990). Many researchers support the positive
effects of cooperative learning on students’ friendships and interpersonal
skills, such as their social interactions, engagement, self-esteem, and
motivation (Cohen, 1994; Cohen, Lotan & Catanzarite, 1990; Johnson &
Johnson, 1990; Kennedy & Tipps, 1994; Lazarowitz & Karsenty, 1990,
Sharan, 1996; Slavin, 1990).
In conclusion, CLS have real impacts on both students’ achievement
and use of social skills. The power of these strategies comes from placing
the learners in the center of the learning process and as the essential
element in it. Everything in the teaching process should serve students in
order to promote their learning.

Criticism of Cooperative Learning Strategies. Currently, educators and


researchers show enthusiasm regarding the application of the wide variety
of approaches under the cooperative learning umbrella in schools;
however, this support does not necessarily ensure that all of these
methods are the most effective at improving students’ cognitive abilities
and social skills. As Sharan (1990) pointed out, “It is more than apparent
to the research community that the ‘face validity’ and widespread appeal
that cooperative learning holds for educators do not necessarily constitute
confirmation that this approach actually results in the effects ascribed to
it, appearances notwithstanding” (p. 288).
Johnson, Johnson & Stanne (2000) argued that cooperative learning
can significantly increase student achievement (compared with teacher-
centered methods) when properly implemented; however, this does not
mean that all operationalizations of cooperative learning will be equally
effective. They suggested that many of the studies conducted have
methodological shortcomings and, therefore, any differences found could
be the result of methodological flaws rather than the instructional
approach itself. In the future, researchers should concentrate on conduct-
ing highly controlled studies that add to the confidence with which their
conclusions will be received. Furthermore, the specific classroom
contexts, procedures, and strategies involved in the cooperative approach
need to be clearly defined and illustrated.
Researchers suggest that teachers should view the cooperative learning
approach as being flexible and change teaching strategies depending on
students’ needs and interests. Matthews (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 1993)
stated, “Not all students like working with classmates, not all students want to
be part of a learning community, and not everything that is called cooperative
learning is in fact cooperative learning” (p. 60). The cooperative learning
298 ALI EBRAHIM

method can be difficult to implement effectively in the classroom. Adams &


Hamm (1996) cautioned that the following elements must exist for
cooperative learning methods to work effectively: positive interdependence,
face-to-face interaction, individual accountability, personal responsibility for
reaching group goals, frequent practice with small group interpersonal skills,
and regular group processing and reflection. Another drawback is that
cooperative learning approaches generally cost more money in comparison
with teacher-centered approaches.

Teacher-Centered Strategies
Teacher-centered strategies represent the traditional method of teaching
used in most schools for many years. Traditional approaches assume that
the main source of the information in a classroom is the teacher; therefore,
students should deal mainly with the teacher to acquire knowledge.
Learning involves a passive reception of information from the teacher by
the students who then organize and store these ideas without substantive
modification in long-term memory, to be retrieved when needed. The
teacher needs to partition and sequence the information so it is presented
in a logical manner in order to facilitate and reinforce the students’ rote
memorization and storage of ideas.
In a traditional teacher-centered approach, the dominance of the teacher
takes center stage. The students rely on their teachers to decide what,
when, and how to learn. The majority of teacher learning work involves
listening to a teacher talk, using either a lecture technique or a Socratic
method (simple question and answer) which demands basic recall of
knowledge from the learners. Lecture-based instruction dominates class-
room activities, with the teacher delivering well over 80% of the talk in
most classrooms (Effandi & Zanaton, 2007).
Martin, Mullis, Gonzalez & Chrostowski (2004) found that in science
classrooms, 25% of the time is spent in a lecture, 19% in practice, 13% on
homework review, and 11% on students’ individual problem solving.
This means that in traditional classrooms, students discuss and interact
with their teachers in a question–response–evaluation pattern to gain
knowledge rather than with each other in discussions and negotiations.
Sharan (1996) described such classrooms as follows:

In traditional arrangements, each student worked at his or her own pace and was expected
to be left alone by other students. It was sometimes possible for children to self-select
appropriate material and pace themselves to complete a work assignment. With this
approach the individual took on the responsibility for completing the task, sometimes
evaluating progress and the quality of the effort. (p. 11)
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 299

Traditional one-size-fits-all-students methods focus on the transfer of


knowledge between an active teacher and passive students. Students in
today’s schools have ever-increasing differences in thinking abilities,
social skills, prior knowledge, and achievement; educators should be
aware of this diversity. Using one strategy of teaching at all times is not
suitable for those students who do not like to work in groups or those who
do not enjoy learning individually. Therefore, teacher-directed instruction
should not be neglected completely even when it does not work
appropriately in some cases. In some situations, on an as-needed basis,
teachers can provide direct instruction to promote students’ achievement
and use of social skills in the classroom.

Effect on Achievement. Teacher-centered learning strategies can promote


student performance in various subjects. Michael (1997) pointed out that
“Individualistic competition has been shown to strengthen performance
on high level skills” (p. 87). Sometimes, educators prefer to let a student
sit alone and struggle with solving academic problems; this solitary effort
is thought to help students identify and understand the pieces of the
problem when they think deeply about the issues. Therefore, during this
private time, they will discover what they need in order to accurately
solve the problem and achieve understanding.

Effect on Social Skills. Developing social skills is not a central focus of


teacher-directed instruction since most of the learning activities are based
on individual effort, which deemphasizes interpersonal efforts and
collaboration. A survey of the literature did not reveal any studies that
supported the use of teacher-centered strategies to empower student use of
social skills.

Criticism of Teacher-Centered Strategies. There are criticisms of


traditional teacher-centered strategies (TCS). First, students may find
difficulty adjusting to life outside school because they may not be
familiar with socialization skills or how to work cooperatively with
others in real-life situations. Next, students subjected to TCS may not
find opportunities to freely choose the strategies they are interested in
to solve problems since the teacher decides the most appropriate
problem-solving strategy.
Moreover, students, especially in the primary grades, may become
bored with the one-way communication found in teacher-centered
instruction. Early grade students who may be hyperactive should be
provided classroom environments that utilize a mixture of activities,
300 ALI EBRAHIM

groupings, and settings. Furthermore, early grade students are motivated


by teachers who respect their identities as individuals by giving them the
freedom to ask questions, discuss ideas and experiences, and make
decisions.

Comparison of Cooperative and Teacher-Directed Approaches


This study seeks to assess and compare the effectiveness of cooperative
learning strategies and teacher-centered strategies as they relate to students’
academic achievement and the use of social skills. Science achievement is
taken to be the resultant outcome of the learning process as it relates to
scientific course content and is measured by the score attained on the science
achievement tests. Social skills are, “the ability of the students to interact
with each other in a classroom setting in specific ways that are societally
acceptable or valued and, at the same time, personally beneficial, mutually
beneficial, or beneficial primarily to others” (Combs & Slaby, as cited in
Michelson, Sugai, Wood & Kazdin, 1983). The present study focused on the
social skills that are important for elementary students to acquire, such as
helping each other, individual accountability toward group members or
classmates, discussion with one another, making decisions, positive
interdependence, and cooperation.
CLS in this study are structured strategies that give students
opportunities to work in small groups in order to solve problems, answer
questions, and complete projects. Furthermore, CLS allow students to
support each other in order to improve their own learning and that of
others (Johnson & Johnson, 2001; Jolliffe, 2007). The TCS in this study
are associated chiefly with the direct transmission of knowledge between
teacher and students, which depends upon the abilities, skills, and efforts
of the students (McDonald, 2003). Student achievement is at the forefront
of teacher-centered approaches where teachers are driven to meet
accountability standards and are often forced to sacrifice the needs of
the students to ensure content coverage and exposure to such standards.
Johnson, Johnson & Holubec (1993) compared cooperative learning and
teacher-centered strategies in the classroom. Their comparison is summar-
ized in Table 1, which provides insight into the differences in methods. The
comparison between cooperative learning and teacher-centered strategies
clearly indicates the differences in teaching and goals. Teacher-centered
approaches purport to focus on content understanding, while cooperative
learning approaches purport to focus on social development.
Students’ achievement and use of their social skills are essential
outcomes that need to be improved in Kuwaiti schools if the next
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 301

TABLE 1
Summary comparison of cooperative learning and teacher-centered approaches

Cooperative learning approach Teacher-centered approach

Positive interdependence No interdependence


Individual accountability No individual accountability
Heterogeneous Homogeneous
Shared leadership One appointed leader
Shared responsibility for each other Responsibility for self only
Task and maintenance emphasized Task emphasized
Social skills directly taught Social skills assumed and ignored
Teacher observes and intervenes Teacher ignores group functioning
Groups process their effectiveness No group processing

generation of students is to be academically and socially prepared to


address their missions and tasks in life. The improvement of these
outcomes can occur when teachers utilize effective and appropriate
teaching strategies to motivate students’ learning and thinking.
Thus, the current study seeks to detect the differences between
implementing cooperative learning and teacher-centered methods for
students’ science achievement and the use of social skills in elementary
science classes. The study sought to address the following questions:
1. Are there significant differences among fifth grade students’ science
achievement based on using two different types of instruction:
cooperative learning strategies and teacher-centered strategies?
2. Are there significant differences among fifth grade students’ use of social
skills in science classes based on using two different types of instruction:
cooperative learning strategies and teacher-centered strategies?

The significance of this study is that it addresses an important problem in


Kuwait: improved science achievement and enhanced social skills. The
research findings will provide evidence to the Ministry of Education that can
be used to inform decisions about the current pressing problems regarding
science curriculum and instruction in elementary school classrooms.

METHOD

A two-group pretest–posttest design involving random assignment of


eight intact fifth grade classes to instructional treatments was used to
302 ALI EBRAHIM

investigate the research questions. The independent variables are the


instructional treatments: teacher-centered and cooperative learning strat-
egies. The dependent variables are students’ science achievement and use
of social skills.

Participants
The researcher asked the Ministry of Education to randomly propose two
representative schools having multiple classes at each grade level, with a
common teacher for science. Each identified school randomly assigned
four different classrooms with two common science teachers for the
purpose of this study. The resulting effects were two public elementary
schools with four classroom teachers teaching two classes in the same
science unit (earth, soil, and agriculture) to female students. Teachers
were asked to utilize both teaching strategies; one randomly selected class
received teacher-centered instruction and the other class received
cooperative learning instruction.
The eight intact single-gender grade 5 science classes from two
separate elementary schools consisted of 163 female students. The
students were between the ages of 9 and 11. The number of students in
each classroom was on average 21. It is important to remember that the
aim of this study was not to compare achievement on the basis of gender
but rather to test the effectiveness of a relatively new method of teaching
in the elementary schools in Kuwait.

Instructional Procedure
The researcher gave an orientation to the four teachers involved. None of
the teachers had previously utilized cooperative strategies, but all believed
they were proficient with the TCS. The main purpose of the orientation
was to plan and discuss the best ways of using CLS in teaching the earth,
soil, and agriculture unit. The orientation session included discussions on
how the teachers could motivate and encourage students to ask more
questions, depend on themselves during the learning process, and
encourage student involvement in essential scientific experiences:
observations, measurements, experimentation, interpretation of data, and
predictions. This orientation helped the teachers to understand the nature
of CLS through the activities of the students; it also assisted them in
designing and conducting cooperative learning-centered lessons applica-
ble to students’ varying intellectual levels. The researcher used a video
tape of a cooperative learning setting in the USA to illustrate classroom
practices, which the Kuwaiti teachers found extremely useful.
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 303

The science unit took 6 weeks to teach. The science classes met
3 days per week for 45-min lessons. Each science teacher taught one
teacher-centered group and one cooperative learning group, emphasiz-
ing the specified teaching and learning attributes characteristic of the
specific approach (Table 1) for 6 weeks to ensure each class received
consistent and equal time for instruction. Furthermore, in the begin-
ning, the researcher attended all science classes to observe students’
behavior and teachers’ teaching methods to ensure avoidance of
teacher bias and the appropriate and consistent use of the two
prescribed methods. He continued to attend science classes until he
felt confident that the teachers were following instructions and research
procedures. In the traditional or TCS setting, students remained in
rows, especially when taking notes or reviewing homework assign-
ments. When the experimental groups met in the regular science
classroom, students were organized in CLS groups of four to five
students. Students in both settings were taught the same material in the
academic unit and the same science concepts or skills.

Data Collection Procedure


Students’ science achievement in both teaching methods was measured by a
researcher-designed achievement test given to students as a pretest and a
posttest (see Appendix 1). In addition, students’ social skills were
determined by a researcher-designed survey given as a pretest and posttest
to measure the influence of both teaching methods in encouraging students
to use their social skills in the science classroom (see Appendix 2). The
researcher examined the validity and reliability of both instruments.

Validity and Reliability of the Instruments


Determining validity and reliability involves an inquiry to document the
rigorous development and evaluation of the measurement instrument.
“Validity refers to the appropriateness, meaningfulness and usefulness of
the inferences a researcher makes. Reliability refers to the consistency of
scores of answers from one administration of an instrument to another,
and from one set of items to another” (Freankel & Wallen, 1993, p. 138).

Validity
The social skills survey consisted of 12 yes/no items, derived from the
literature to fulfill the rationale and rigorous development procedure
304 ALI EBRAHIM

behind constructing the items. The following literature and conditions


were used to develop the specific items indicated:

 Students helping one another is mentioned in the literature as an


essential skill in order that they should improve and develop in
classrooms. Slavin (1990) stated, “Students and teachers should feel
that the idea that students can help one another learn is not just
applied on occasion, but is a fundamental principle of classroom
organization” (p. 278). This skill is reflected in item 1
 Students cooperating with one another was frequently found in the
literature. The cooperation skill is represented in items 2 and 7
 Students making decisions was based on Gustafson & Meagher
(1993): “Students are encouraged to explore differing perspectives
that have shaped our country’s history by discussing the question, ‘How
should we decide?’ rather than ‘What is the answer?’” (p. 217). This
skill represented in item 3
 Students discussing in class was identified as a critical skill in
negotiating meaning and constructing understanding. “As students
are encouraged to jointly interpret and negotiate meaning, learning
comes alive. Constructing meaningful explanations means giving
students regular opportunities to talk, read, write, and solve problems
together” (Adams & Hamm, 1996, p. 10). This skill is documented in
item 4
 Students caring about or accepting responsibility for each other in
learning is an important outcome that educators should help facilitate
in the classroom. “Students should see one another as resources for
learning, and there should be a school-wide norm that every
student’s learning is everyone’s responsibility, that every student’s
success is everyone’s success” (Slavin, 1990, p. 278). This skill is
represented in item 5
 Making friends is a necessary skill that students should develop both
inside as well as outside the classroom. Baloche (1998) advocated,
“Constructive peer relationships—described by one fourth grader as
simply, ‘We learned to like each other’—are critical to the develop-
ment and socialization of children and adolescents. Children with
poor peer relationships are at risk, dropping out of school and for
criminality” (Parker & Asher, 1993, p. 7). The improvement of
student friendships as a result of the classroom instructional method
is documented in item 6
The achievement test was constructed by the researcher to attain the
purpose of the study. The composition and focus of the items directly
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 305

reflect the content learning outcomes of the earth, soil, and agriculture
unit. Next, the researcher examined the validity and reliability of the two
instruments. The social skills survey was reviewed by three professors at
Kuwait University to establish face and construct validity. They
suggested minor modifications to some items, and revisions were
performed accordingly.
Then, six fifth grade students not in the sample of this study were
selected to go over the test questions and survey items. The researcher
posed the following questions to them:
 Did you have any difficulty answering this survey and test?
 Did you understand what you should do in both the survey and the
test?
 Did you understand all the statements of the survey and questions of
the test?
 Which statements or questions were not clear to you?

All six students gave the researcher their responses, indicating that they
were able to clearly read the instrument questions and statements. Also,
they pointed out that the instructions for the test questions and the survey
items were clear and understandable.

Reliability
Reliability is an indication of the consistency of an instrument. A test is
considered reliable when the same results occur regardless of when the
test occurs or who does the scoring (Charles, 1995). Before conducting
this study, the researcher did a pilot study by distributing the two
instruments among 60 female students in a fifth grade science class in
Kuwait. None of these students were involved in the instructional
groups and they were selected randomly from other available fifth
grade classes.
The students were selected based on their completion of the target
science unit for this study. The science achievement test and social
skills survey were administered to the 60 students. The reliability of
these instruments was explored based on their responses using a
Cronbach’s alpha procedure for determining internal consistency. The
results for the achievement test revealed an acceptable coefficient of
internal consistency (α = 0.87). The exploration of the reliability of
the social skills survey revealed an acceptable reliability coefficient
of α = 0.73). Hence, both the achievement test and social skills
survey can be considered sufficiently valid and reliable instruments to
306 ALI EBRAHIM

measure Kuwaiti students’ science achievement and use of social skills in


fifth grade science classes.

DATA ANALYSIS

The effects of the two teaching methods (CLS and TCS) on students’
science achievement and use of social skills were explored with separate
one-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA). Students’ posttest scores on
the achievement tests and responses to the social skills survey were used
as the dependent variables, teaching approaches were used as the
independent variable, and pretest scores were used as the covariant.

Science Achievement Results


Originally, the sample of 86 students chosen for the TCS group was equal
in number to the CLS group. However, the researcher could not get all the
required information for nine students in the CLS group; thus, only the
data for 78 students were used in the final analyses. All students were
given a pretest; after a period of 6 weeks of the specific instruction, the
students were given the posttest.
The descriptive statistics (sample sizes, means, standard deviations) for
the pretest and posttest results science achievement (Table 2) show that
the pretest mean scores of the CLS group and TCS group are equal.
However, the standard deviations are slightly different, and the posttest
scores for the CLS group are higher than the mean score of the TCS
group. ANCOVA results indicate that the adjusted posttest mean score of
the CLS group is significantly (p = 0.026) higher than the adjusted
posttest mean score of the TCS group (Table 3).

TABLE 2
Descriptive statistics (sample sizes, means, and standard deviations) of the CLS and TCS
groups’ science achievement

Pretest Posttest

Teaching method N M SD N M SD

TCS 86 5.41 0.23 86 10.37 4.22


CLS 78 5.41 0.28 78 11.53 3.76
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 307

TABLE 3
Result of the ANCOVA for the difference between the control and the experimental
groups’ posttest for science achievement

Source Sum of squares df Mean square F p

Corrected model 997.59 2 498.79 48.53 0.001


Intercept 663.02 1 663.02 64.51 0.001
Pretest (covariate) 942.95 1 942.95 91.74 0.001
Teaching method 52.12 1 52.12 5.07 0.026
Error 1644.59 160 10.28
Total 22,058.38 163

Social Skills Results


The descriptive statistics (sample sizes, means, and standard deviations)
for the pretest and posttest results for using social skills (Table 4) show
that the social skills pretest mean score of the TCS group is higher than
the CLS group, while the social skills posttest mean score of the CLS
group is higher than the TCS group. The ANCOVA is designed to correct
for unequal pretest results. Therefore, the posttest results were adjusted
using the pretest scores as covariants. The ANCOVA results indicate that
the CLS group’s adjusted social skills posttest result was significantly
(p = 0.001) higher than the TCS group’s posttest (Table 5).

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS

The relative impact of CLS and TCS on student achievement revealed that the
cooperative learning approach has more positive effects on student achieve-
ment than the teacher-centered approach. This result is consistent with the
results of previous studies of Johnson & Johnson (1990) who reported that

TABLE 4
Descriptive statistics (sample sizes, means, and standard deviations) of the CLS and TCS
groups’ for use of social skills

Pretest Posttest

Teaching method N M SD N M SD

TCS 86 7.78 2.06 86 7.95 2.08


CLS 78 7.62 2.28 78 9.52 2.06
308 ALI EBRAHIM

TABLE 5
Result of the ANCOVA for the difference between the control and the experimental
groups’ posttest for use of social skills

Source Sum of squares df Mean square F p

Corrected model 381.38 2 190.69 74.55 0.001


Intercept 191.85 1 191.85 74.99 0.001
Pretest (covariate) 281.75 1 281.75 110.14 0.001
Teaching method 111.95 1 111.95 43.77 0.001
Error 409.28 160 2.56
Total 13,109.00 163

over 323 studies have been conducted over the past 90 years comparing the
effects of cooperative, competitive, and teacher-centered learning situations on
students’ achievement. The fundamental findings of these studies indicated
that students’ productivity in cooperative learning settings is higher than in
teacher-centered situations.
This finding suggests that learning is more effective when students are
actively involved in sharing ideas and working cooperatively with other
students to complete academic tasks. Cooperative learning experiences
appear to promote higher achievement than more passive teacher-centered
experiences, at least for female students in elementary schools, and for
science, as indicated in the current study.
It may be that young females in cooperative learning settings have a more
positive role in the learning process than they have in teacher-centered
settings. Therefore, when students participate actively in productive learning
processes, they are able to negotiate shared meaning and construct meaningful
understanding, which is not always possible in a teacher-directed approach.
CLS place more emphasis on the students and their learning than on teacher
and teaching performance. The problem-solving methods and working in
small groups appear to promote a sense of individual responsibility and a love
of challenge in the student, thereby increasing motivation for learning. If
students are highly motivated to learn, their level of achievement will also be
high. Nor Azizah & Chong Poh (2000) suggested that cooperative learning
can inculcate values such as independence and love. This is what appears to
have happened in these cooperative learning groups.
Furthermore, cooperative learning experiences, unlike teacher-centered
experiences, are more similar to experiences of everyday life. Daily life
experienced by students outside the school, whether with their families or
friends, is based on cooperation and mutual relations between individuals and
helps them in their attitude development. Johnson et al. (1993) proposed
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 309

positive interdependence where the success of one learner is dependent on the


success of the other learners. People in real life do not live in isolation from
each other, especially females who highly value interpersonal relationships.
Educational experiences based on cooperative work become more meaningful
to them, leading to increased participation, which reflects positively on
academic achievement.
The relative influence of CLS and TCS on students’ use of social
skills revealed that there is a positive impact of cooperative learning
on social skills compared to the teacher-directed approach. This result
showed that the implementation of the cooperative learning method
was more supportive of students’ use of their social skills in the
science classrooms than in the case of the teacher-centered method.
This unsurprising result supports many previous researchers who
upheld the positive effect of cooperative learning on student friend-
ships, social interactions among engagement, self-esteem, and motivation
(Cohen, 1994; Cohen et al., 1990; Johnson & Johnson, 1990; Kennedy &
Tipps, 1994; Lazarowitz & Karsenty, 1990; Sharan, 1996; Slavin, 1990).
Results of this study have many implications for science teaching
methods used in Kuwaiti schools. The study emphasizes the value of
using CLS rather than TCS in teaching science due to their positive
influence on students’ achievement as well as the students’ social skills.
Many teachers freely accept that cooperative learning approaches can
effectively influence social skills, but fewer teachers would be so inclined
to accept that cooperative approaches can effectively influence science
achievement. However, more studies are likely to be needed to evaluate
the effect of CLS on students’ achievement, the use of the social skills,
and gender in different educational levels, different science topics, and
subject areas. Clearly, the results of this study and the massive amount of
research results from elsewhere establish the evidence base for cooper-
ative learning practices in Kuwait. Educational administrations need to
take note of the research surrounding these teaching methods and
formulate policy that empowers the use of cooperative learning strategies
and to fund professional development and implementation of these
practices in classrooms.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to express my appreciation to all of those who have helped


me throughout the course of this study. I would also like to offer my
sincere appreciation to the International Journal of Science and
310 ALI EBRAHIM

Mathematics Education for giving me this opportunity to publish my


study and also to Dr. Larry and Sharyl Yore who provided meaningful
advice and encouragement enabling me to complete my mission.
APPENDIX 1

Ministry of Education Grade 5 Science Test for 2008-2009

Student’s Name: __________________________________ Class: 5/--

Q1. Tick ( ) in front of the correct sentence and ( X ) in front of the incorrect sentence:

___ 1. Giraffe is a creature that consumes food.


___ 2. Yellow soil is called sand.
___ 3. Mud allows air to pass through it.
___ 4. Valleys are the parts of earth that are lower than the sea’s surface.
___ 5. Sand dunes are formed by running water.

Q2. Choose the correct answer by adding ( ) in front of your choice:

1. From the (vinegar + limestone) experiment, limestone is affected by acidic rain. Why do we
build the houses in Kuwait from limestone? The correct answer is:

___ 1. Kuwait’s rain is not polluted.


___ 2. Limestone resists rain.
___ 3. Kuwait has a small amount of rain.
___ 4. Kuwait has a lot of rain.

2. The phenomena that is formed as a result of the effect of wind which carries sand and soil
and hits:

3. Soa'ad took a sample from the soil in her garden. She added some water to it and she left it
to settle. After a while, the sample should look like which one of the following?:
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 311
Q3. Write the correct scientific term for each of the following sentences:
1. Medium at which plants grow, fix their roots, and get water. __________
2. The movement of desert sand over planted areas which leads to the burying of
plants and roads and causes traffic jams. __________
3. Parts of earth that are higher than the sea’s surface. __________

Q4. Look at the pictures then answer the questions:

1. Write the name of the method that is used to water the plants in
this picture. The plant is watered by____________________

2. You have three types of soil in front of you. The soil that
is best for planting is __________. Explain your answer
depending on the figures.

Q5. What would happen in the following situations:

1. Freezing of the water in the pipes?

2. Heating the fertilized soil?

Q6. Read the following story then answer the question:

Salwa went shopping. She entered a shop with wooden shelves that had wool, cotton,
and silk clothes on them. Salwa bought what she needed then she went home and ate a
meal that had vegetables which give her body fibers that she needs to grow.

From the story give two benefits of soil:

1. _______________________
2. _______________________

Q7. Write two benefits of green houses:

1.________________________
2.________________________

Q8. Look at the drawing then answer the following:

1. The arrow is pointing at ______________

2. What is the function of this part _________________

Q9. Match column (A) with column (B) by putting the correct number in front of the correct
term:

A B

1. Limestone is made up of ___ sand stones


2. Quartz metal are found in ___ granite
3. Remains of dead plants and animals ___ humus
___ calcite
312 ALI EBRAHIM

APPENDIX 2

Social Skills Survey


Think about your science classes for the past few weeks and respond to the
following statements as honestly as possible. The data collected by this
survey will remain confidential and will not be provided to the science teacher
or others, except in a summary fashion. Listen to the instructor as he reads
each numbered statement below and, using the scale provided below, record
your response by shading the face that represents your choice, as in the
following example: ☺ ☹

Yes No
I was able to help my friends who needed help during ☺ ☹
the science class.
I was able to work with my friends together to answer ☺ ☹
questions or to solve problems.
I learned how to choose freely the best choice to solve a problem. ☺ ☹
In science class, I could discuss science with my friends. ☺ ☹
In science class, I usually cared about my friends’ understanding. ☺ ☹
I learned in science class how to make friendships. ☺ ☹
I learned in science class how to work with others ☺ ☹
to solve problems or answer questions.
I did not like to work in groups because my friends in ☺ ☹
the group were slow to catch on.
I did not like to work in groups because my friends in the ☺ ☹
group were impatient with me.
I did not like to work in groups because my friends in the ☺ ☹
group were playing while I was working on answering questions.
I did not like to work in groups because it took too much ☺ ☹
time from me to teach my friends the correct answers.
I did not like to work in groups because my friends in ☺ ☹
the group would not allow me to talk when I had
a different way to solve a problem.

REFERENCES

Adams, D. & Hamm, M. (1996). Cooperative learning, critical thinking and


collaboration across the curriculum (2nd ed.). Springfield: Charles Thomas.
Al-Kandari, A. (2006). To what extent science education objectives are presented in
science teachers’ lesson plans in Kuwait schools. Kuwait: Academic Publication
Council, University of Kuwait.
Baloche, L. (1998). The cooperative classroom: Empowering learning. Upper Saddle
River: Prentice Hall.
Charles, C. (1995). Introduction to educational research. New York: Longman.
COOPERATIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES IN KUWAIT 313

Cohen, E. G. (1994). Designing group work: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom.
New York: Teachers College Press.
Cohen, E. G., Lotan, R. & Catanzarite, L. (1990). Treating status problems in cooperative
classrooms. In S. Sharon (Ed.), Cooperative learning theory and research (pp. 203–230).
New York: Praeger.
Effandi, Z. & Zanaton, I. (2007). Promoting cooperative learning in science and
mathematics education: A Malaysian perspective. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics,
Science & Technology Education, 3(1), 35–39.
Freankel, J. & Wallen, N. (1993). How to design and evaluate research in education. New
York: McGraw-Hill.
Gassem, S. A. (2003). The effectiveness of using cooperative learning strategy in teaching
science on achievement and scientific thinking: An experimental study in the State of
Kuwait. A Series of Psychological and Educational Studies (Vol. 6). Muscat, Oman:
Sultan Qaboos University, Collage of Education.
Gustafson, M. H. & Meagher, L. Y. (1993). American’s youngest citizens: Close up for
grades 1–8. The Social Studies, 84(5), 213–217.
Johnson, D. W. & Johnson, R. T. (1990). Cooperative learning and achievement. In S.
Sharan (Ed.), Cooperative learning: Theory and research (pp. 23–37). New York:
Praeger.
Johnson, D. W. & Johnson, R. T. (1993). Cooperative learning and feedback in
technology-based interaction. In J. V. Demy & G. C. Sales (Eds.), Interactive
instruction and feedback (pp. 133–157). Englewood Cliffs: Educational Elementary
Publications.
Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T. & Holubec, E. J. (1993). Cooperation in the classroom
(6th ed.). Edina: Interaction Book Company.
Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Stanne, M. S. (2000). Cooperative learning methods:
A meta-analysis. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://
www.co-operation.org/pages/cl-methods.html.
Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, D. W. (2001). What is cooperative learning? Minneapolis,
MN: Cooperative Learning Center, University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://
www.co-operation.org/pages/cl.html.
Jolliffe, W. (2007). Cooperative learning in the classroom: Putting it into practice.
Thousand Oaks: Paul Chapman Publishing.
Jones, G. (1990). Cognitive conflict and cooperative learning. Paper presented at the
Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 319 598.
Kennedy, L. M. & Tipps, S. (1994). Guiding children’s learning of mathematics (7th ed.).
Belmont: Wadsworth.
Lazarowitz, R. & Karsenty, G. (1990). Cooperative learning and student’s academic
achievement, process skills, learning environment, and self-esteem in tenth-grade
biology classrooms. In S. Sharan (Ed.), Cooperative learning: Theory and research (pp.
143–149). New York: Praeger.
Martin, M. O., Mullis, I. V. S., Gonzalez, E. J. & Chrostowski, S. J. (2004). TIMSS 2003
international science report: Findings from IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics
and Science Study at the fourth and eighth grades. Boston: TIMSS & PIRLS
International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College.
McDonald, J. P. (2003). Teachers studying students work: Why and how? Phi Delta
Kappan, 84(2), 121–127.
314 ALI EBRAHIM

Michael, J. W. (1997). Classroom reward structures and academic performance. Review of


Educational Research, 47, 87–98.
Michelson, L., Sugai, D., Wood, R. & Kazdin, A. (1983). Social skills assessment and
training with children: An empirically based handbook. New York: Plenum.
Nor Azizah, M. S. & Chong Poh, W. (2000). A review of cooperative learning research
and its implication for teacher education. Proceedings of the International Conference
on Teaching and Learning, pp. 1266–1289.
Parker, J. G. & Asher, S. R. (1993). Beyond group acceptance: Friendship and friendship
quality as distinct dimensions of peer adjustment. In W. H. Jones & D. Perlman (Eds.),
Advances In Personal Relationships (Vol. 4). London: Kingley.
Reys, R. E., Suydam, M. N., Lindquist, M. M. & Smith, N. L. (1998). Helping children
learning mathematics (5th ed.). Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon.
Sharan, S. (1990). Cooperative learning: A perspective on research and practice. In S.
Sharan (Ed.), Cooperative learning: Theory and research (pp. 285–298). New York:
Praeger.
Sharan, S. (1996). Mutually assistant teams for implementing instructional innovations in
school. Lifelong Learning in Europe, 1(2), 104–122.
Slavin, R. E. (1990). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice. Upper Saddle
River: Prentice Hall.
Slavin, R. E. (1991). Student team learning: A practical guide to cooperative learning.
Washington: National Education Association.

Kuwait University
Kuwait, Kuwait
E-mail: aliebrahim@hotmail.com