Published on March 9, 2014
High Schoolers’ Perceptions of Group Work in Class Megha Nagaswami Haverford Senior High School
Introduction My personal interest in studying this topic stems from my own experiences with group work and individual work in classes. I have encountered different instances where one method seems more useful than the other. I have also noticed factors that affect how efficiently a group works together, or how efficiently I work alone.
Introduction (continued) My goal in this project was to investigate the thoughts and attitudes of high school students who experience both group work and individual work in their classes. Many studies examine students’ test scores to compare the two methods, so I wanted to expand on this by analyzing students’ own actual perceptions and attitudes.
Prior Research Forsyth defined a group as “two or more individuals who are connected to one another by social relationships” (2006). In the past, studies have found that students’ test scores tend to improve when they work in groups. Webb (1993) found that students scored higher in groups than individually on tests. However, “many students used the resources of the group to get the right answer but not to learn the procedures for solving the problem.”
Prior Research Frykedal and Chiriac (2011) held three focus groups with teachers, and realized that group work is a tool for students to build socially. Shaw (1932) found that groups are more accurate than individuals, in terms of the proportion of correct answers on a test.
Research Questions 1. Do students’ perceptions and preferences vary by grade? 2. Do students’ perceptions and preferences vary by academic level? 3. Is there a certain class in which students feel they benefit the most from group work? 4. Is there a certain class in which students feel they benefit the least from group work?
Hypotheses 1. Younger (freshmen and sophomores) will have more positive perceptions of group work. 2. Students in lower academic levels will have more positive perceptions of group work. 3. Students will feel that they benefit the most in Math classes. 4. Students will feel that they benefit the least in History classes.
Demographics of Participating Schools School A: A public high school in suburban Philadelphia 87% white students; 6% Asian students; 5% black students Approximately 1,800 students total School B: A public high school in Philadelphia 35% black students; 24% white students; 22% Asian students Approximately 3,300 students total
Survey Design There were four main survey categories: Category 1: Demographics Grade, academic level of English/History/Science/Math Category 2: Impact of Group Work How students are affected in class Category 3: Experiences in Class How groups work together in class Category 4: Perceptions of Subjects Which classes benefit/do not benefit students 16 questions total
Survey Administration School A: The survey was administered to approximately 800 students in all grades, and 388 usable surveys were received. School B: The survey was administered via an online survey software as an email link to all students. 61 usable surveys were received. A total of 449 survey responses were received and analyzed.
Interpreting Survey Results The students were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed with certain statements. 1= Strongly Disagree, 2= Disagree, 3= Agree, 4= Strongly Agree Ex. A mean score of 3.5 on a question indicates that the majority of students agreed with the statement.
Survey Results Survey Question Group work has made my classes more enjoyable than if I were working individually. Working in groups has enhanced/supported my understanding of concepts Group tests or projects help me apply and understand concepts My group members have hindered my ability to learn material I feel that my scores on group tests or projects would increase if I took the same test individually The majority of my groups are able to help me when I am having trouble learning material The majority of my groups are cooperative when we are working The majority of my groups are focused when we are working on a task All of my group members play an equal role in the completion of a task N 438 439 434 421 424 430 430 426 428 Mean Score 3.04 2.94 2.89 1.71 1.62 2.90 2.94 2.73 2.45 Students were asked to rate the survey’s statements on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). This table shows the mean scores of all the participants’ responses.
Is there a relationship between grade and perceptions? Gr 9 SD Impact of Group Work 3.23 N=112 0.47 Experiences with Group Work 2.75 N=116 0.51 Gr 10 SD Gr 11 SD Gr 12 SD 3.14 N=88 0.45 3.26 N=110 0.55 3.29 N=93 0.55 2.71 N=91 0.51 2.75 N=110 0.54 2.79 N=97 0.51 This table shows the average of two scale categories, by grade, based on the corresponding survey questions in each category. There is little to no variation in the values between grade, suggesting that grade of student does not alter views of group work.
Is there a relationship between academic level and perceptions? Academic Math SD AP Math SD Impact of Group Work 3.23 N=142 0.47 3.17 N=63 0.59 Experiences with Group Work 2.76 N=145 0.48 2.76 N=63 0.55 Academic Science SD AP Science SD Impact of Group Work 3.20 N=134 0.45 3.20 N=55 0.59 Experiences with Group Work 2.75 N=136 0.47 2.71 N=56 0.54 Note: In both schools, “academic” is the lowest achievement level, while AP (Advanced Placement) is the highest.
Relationship between academic level and perceptions (continued) Academic English SD AP English SD Impact of Group Work 3.23 N=158 0.42 3.23 N=64 0.66 Experiences with Group Work 2.81 N=164 0.43 2.74 N=65 0.63 Academic History SD AP History SD Impact of Group Work 3.25 N=153 0.42 3.24 N=91 0.63 Experiences with Group Work 2.82 N=160 0.44 2.74 N=93 0.63 When the mean values of each scale are compared, there is little to no variation between academic level.
In which class do students feel they benefit the most from group work? “In which core subject do you feel that you benefit the most from group work? Frequency Valid Percentage Math 178 43.2 Science 71 17.2 English 81 19.7 History 82 19.9 Total 412 100.0 This table shows the responses from all surveyed students. The highest percentage reported that they benefitted the most from group work in Math, which fits my hypothesis.
In which class do students feel they benefit the least from group work? “In which class do you feel that you benefit the least from group work?” Frequency Valid Percentage Math 113 27.4 Science 54 13.1 English 151 36.6 History 95 23.0 Total 413 100.0 This table shows the responses from all surveyed students. The highest percentage reported that they benefitted the least from group work in English, which was different from my hypothesis.
Interview Design The interviews consisted of 10 open-ended questions. Student volunteers in each grade were randomly selected to be interviewed by a third party member. Student responses were recorded, but were kept anonymous. Student responses were not connected to their survey responses. Total number of interviews conducted: 5
Example Interview Questions Why do you prefer to work in some classes individually/in groups? What factors have you noticed that make your groups work efficiently and effectively? Describe a time when group work worked well/did not work well for an assignment. How do you think group work or individual work affects your grades? How fair do you think group work or individual work is?
Interview Findings In 4 of the 5 interviews, students reported that they prefer to work individually in math classes. All participants felt that grades based on individual work are more accurate than grades based on group work. 4 of the 5 participants preferred to work in groups in science classes. The interviews contradicted the survey data, in that the interviewees preferred to work individually in math, and with groups in English.
Interview Findings (continued) All of the participants pointed out that in some groups, their team members have copied their answers without doing any work. All participants believed that individual work is more fair, as they can take all personal accountability for the results. The participants stressed the importance of communication when working in groups.
Conclusion Based on the results of my study, I concluded that the majority of students in my sample have a positive perception of group work. Students believe that group work helps them learn, understand, and apply the material, while also being enjoyable. These views do not change throughout different grades, or levels of academic achievement.
Significance of Findings Educational psychologists, teachers, parents, students, and policymakers are interested in finding the best way to learn and teach material. These findings may encourage schools and teachers to include more group work in their math classes. Educational policymakers may start designing curriculums that incorporate group work in all grades and academic levels.
Further Research I am interested in comparing the results of the surveys and interviews to the actual academic performance of students. The same test would be administered to students in groups, and students working individually. The scores from the two samples would be compared. It would be interesting to see if group tests yield a higher score, since group work is more preferred by students.
References Forsyth, D. R. (2006). Group dynamics (international student edition). Thomson/Wadsworth: Belmont, CA. Frykedal, K. F., & Chiriac, E. H. (2011). Assessment of students' learning when working in groups. Educational Research, 53(3), 331-345. Shaw, M. E. (1932). A comparison of individuals and small groups in the rational solution of complex problems. The American Journal of Psychology, 491-504. Webb, N. M. (1993). Collaborative group versus individual assessment in mathematics: Processes and outcomes. Educational Assessment, 1(2), 131-152.
Acknowledgements The administrators at Haverford Senior High School and Northeast High School, who allowed me to conduct my study in their schools. Dr. Janine Remillard, Dr. Angela Duckworth, Mr. David Meketon, and Ms. Claire Robertson-Kraft, from the University of Pennsylvania, in helping me to refine and develop my study.
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