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Challenges experienced by teachers in implementing cooperative learning activities after brief in-service training

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Educational research has for many years demonstrated that cooperative learning fosters the development of social and cognitive skills in students. In the Italian classroom, however, largely transmissive methods still prevail and teachers are faced with numerous challenges when trying to put into practice what they have learned in dedicated training courses. This research intends to explore the difficulties experienced in the classroom one year after a short (10-25 hours) experiential training course, through a quantitative survey that involved 102 elementary and middle school teachers, investigating their beliefs and perceived self-efficacy and discussing the main challenges that emerged at the relational and organizational levels. Keywords: In-service teacher education; Cooperative Learning; Training transfer; self-efficacy; beliefs; elementary and middle school Sebbene la ricerca educativa evidenzi da tempo i vantaggi dell’apprendimento cooperativo nel facilitare lo sviluppo di abilità sociali e cognitive negli studenti, nella scuola italiana prevalgono ancora modalità prevalentemente trasmissive e gli insegnanti sono posti davanti a numerose sfide quando cercano di riproporre in classe quanto appreso in corsi di formazione dedicati. Questa ricerca intende esplorare le difficoltà incontrate in classe un anno dopo una breve formazione esperienziale (10-25 ore), attraverso uno studio quantitativo che ha coinvolto 102 insegnanti della scuola primaria e secondaria di primo grado, indagando le loro credenze e l'autoefficacia percepita e discutendo le principali sfide emergenti a livello relazionale e organizzativo. Parole chiave: formazione insegnanti in servizio; apprendimento cooperativo; transfer formativo; auto-efficacia; credenze; scuola primaria e secondaria di primo grado
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“ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL”
CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS
International Association for Intercultural
Education (IAIE)
June 2020
Amsterdam
11-15 November 2019
Conference Proceedings
International Association for Intercultural Education
1
ISBN: 9789090333755
About Proceedings
This document contains 20 articles submitted from participants of the IAIE
conference “Another Brick in the Wall” in Amsterdam, 11-15 November 2019.
In total, the Conference content was divided into 8 strands. However, not all
strands submitted papers for the Proceedings. Below are represented the
following:
Strand 1. Intercultural Competence
Strand 2. Bilingualism and Multilingual Education
Strand 3. Cooperative Learning and other interactive learning approaches
Strand 6: Education relating to migrants and refugees
Strand 7. (Global) Citizenship Education
Strand 8. Miscellaneous
The Proceedings are organized as it follows:
First, all abstracts are displayed per strand. Consequently, the whole article,
including abstract, main text and graphs, as well as notes and references, are
included. All abstracts and articles can be found in the Content table below.
The Conference Proceedings were prepared by Ivona Hristova and Hana Alhadi.
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2
Introduction by The IAIE President
As President of the International Association for Intercultural Education, I would like to once
again thank everybody who helped contribute to these Proceedings. A large amount of work
went into this publication. But special thanks go to Hana Alhadi and first and foremost Ivona
Hristova.
These Proceedings are the final outcome of the IAIE Conference ‘Another Brick in the Wall?’
that took place in Amsterdam from November 11- November 15, 2019. The conference itself
represented a blend of inspiring field trips (e.g. Black Heritage tour in Amsterdam, a VIP visit
to the Anne Frank House and a visit to the International Criminal Court), some 40 workshops
and more than 150 presentations and panel discussions. Close to 400 educators participated
from some 25 countries.
The conference allowed teachers, students and academics to share insights and experiences, and
to be exposed to the state-of-the-art research on issues relating to diversity and education.
The Conference was a true collaborative effort between the IAIE and a number of other
organizations active in the fields of Intercultural Education, human rights education, education
about sexual diversity, democratic education, active citizenship education, global education,
bilingual and multilingual education, and related fields. These organizations include the Denise
School, the Hellenic Association for Intercultural Education, International Association for the
Study of Cooperation in Education (IASCE), the Rutu Foundation, Learn to Change: Change
to Learn, the Korean Association for Multicultural Education (KAME), the National
Association for Multicultural Education (NAME), Euroclio, and human-ed. We once again
thank our partners and look forward to collaboration once more in our future conferences.
Recent events continue to highlight the importance of the work that everybody in this field is
doing. The papers published in these proceeds will certainly provide clues and guidelines as to
how we be better prepared for the challenges facing us in the coming years.
Warmest wishes to all,
Barry van Driel
President IAIE
www.iaie.org
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Giovanna Malusà. Challenges experienced by teachers
in implementing cooperative learning activities after
brief in-service training
ABSTRACT
Educational research has for many years demonstrated that cooperative learning fosters the
development of social and cognitive skills in students. In the Italian classroom, however, largely
transmissive methods still prevail and teachers are faced with numerous challenges when trying
to put into practice what they have learned in dedicated training courses. This research intends
to explore the difficulties experienced in the classroom one year after a short (10-25 hours)
experiential training course, through a quantitative survey that involved 102 elementary and
middle school teachers, investigating their beliefs and perceived self-efficacy and discussing the
main challenges that emerged at the relational and organizational levels.
Keywords: In-service teacher education; Cooperative Learning; Training transfer; self-
efficacy; beliefs; elementary and middle school
Sebbene la ricerca educativa evidenzi da tempo i vantaggi dell’apprendimento cooperativo nel
facilitare lo sviluppo di abilità sociali e cognitive negli studenti, nella scuola italiana prevalgono
ancora modalità prevalentemente trasmissive e gli insegnanti sono posti davanti a numerose
sfide quando cercano di riproporre in classe quanto appreso in corsi di formazione dedicati.
Questa ricerca intende esplorare le difficoltà incontrate in classe un anno dopo una breve
formazione esperienziale (10-25 ore), attraverso uno studio quantitativo che ha coinvolto 102
insegnanti della scuola primaria e secondaria di primo grado, indagando le loro credenze e
l'autoefficacia percepita e discutendo le principali sfide emergenti a livello relazionale e
organizzativo.
Parole chiave: formazione insegnanti in servizio; apprendimento cooperativo; transfer
formativo; auto-efficacia; credenze; scuola primaria e secondaria di primo grado
Introduction
Educational systems are increasingly being called upon to prepare students to become
democratic, committed, tolerant citizens, and to develop the social skills that are indispensable
for life in our ever more complex societies (Kankaraš & Suarez-Alvarez, 2019; OECD, 2010,
2015). In its Agenda for Sustainable Development (2017), UNESCO also stresses the absolute
strategic importance of eduction, which it calls a powerful agent of change”, declaring that
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teachers must adopt a “transformative pedagogy that engages learners in participative,
systemic, creative and innovative thinking and acting processes in the context of local
communities and learners’ daily lives(ibidem, p. 52)
Research on education (Buchs & Butera, 2015; D. W. Johnson & Johnson, 2009; Mendo-
Lázaro, León-del-Barco, Felipe-Castaño, Polo-del-Río, & Iglesias-Gallego, 2018; Sharan,
2017; Slavin, 2014) has for some time emphasised the contribution of cooperative learning not
only to the development of cognitive skills, but also to the building of positive relations between
the members of a group: planning cooperative learning paths enables the valorisation of
difference (education for otherness) (Briançon, 2019), giving plenty of space to a plurality of
skills; it places the group itself at the centre of the educational activity, encouraging mutually
beneficial relations between the participants (win-win); facilitating a sense of social belonging,
the cultivation of self-awareness and the sense of an “us”, building up knowledge and
collaboration around a defined objective and fostering the social and intercultural skills
(Ferguson-Patrick & Jolliffe, 2018; Malusà, 2014, 2017; Milani, 2019) needed in today’s
societies.
Teachers, however, struggle to implement cooperative learning methods
22
(Gillies & Boyle,
2010; Moges, 2019; Mukuka, Mutarutinya, & Balimuttajjo, 2019; Salim, Abdullah, Haron,
Hussain, & Ishak, 2019; Sharan, 2010) and mainly transmissive methods still prevail
23
in Italian
classrooms (Cavalli & Argentin, 2010; Novara, 2017).
Some authors (Sharan, 2010; Tarozzi & Torres, 2016) attest the need for experiential pathways
that enable teachers to really master the active strategies that are indispensable in the 21st
century’s increasingly complex environments (Portera & Grant, 2017). In Italy, a few years
ago, in-service training was made obligatory (in Law 107/2015) and a three-year plan was
mapped out subsequently also underlined in the next triennium which valorises non-frontal
initiatives connected with active methodologies for inclusive, collaborative teaching (MIUR,
2016), and reaffirms the state’s recognition of the strategic importance of training for the
development of schools’ human and professional capital.
22
Cooperative learning activities have to entail: cooperative skills, face-to-face interaction, group
processing, positive interdependence, individual and team responsibility.
23
An Italian survey conducted by the IARD Institute (Research Network on conditions and youth
policies) on over 3,000 teachers underlines that over 70% primary school teachers often teach
frontal lessons, while only 30% introduce cooperative learning methods into their classroom; this
percentage increases considerably in secondary schools (Cavalli & Argentin, 2010).
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Despite this, educational pathways often fail to give teachers the necessary tools for promoting
active methods in schools (Malusà, 2019b). While a lack of adequate training seems to be
among the principal causes of the ineffectiveness of their intervention (OECD, 2010; Sleeter &
Grant, 2009), it is also true that other variables (personal, organisational, systemic, socio-
cultural) can facilitate or hinder the promotion of active, innovative teaching methods in the
classroom.
Some authors have investigated the challenges experienced by teachers endeavouring to use
cooperative learning, through an in-depth analysis of their beliefs and values (Kohn, 1992). The
important part played by a teacher’s beliefs when s/he is implementing cooperative learning
activities also emerges from a recent intercultural study carried out by Pescarmona (2017),
which focuses on the barriers to equity that beliefs and habits can reinforce and suggests that
teachers have to develop a heightened sense of “agency” to facilitate innovation at school.
Jolliffe & Snaith (2017) collected attitudinal data at the beginning and end of a teacher
education programme, analysing the emerging structural challenges, which were time pressures
and curricular alignment; the same difficulties emerged from a study by Buchs, Filippou,
Pulfrey and Volpe (2017), who examined the beliefs of more than 200 elementary school
teachers in Switzerland who had implemented cooperative learning strategies in their classes
after a two day training workshop on this approach.
The present study was largely inspired by the above mentioned research (Buchs et al., 2017),
although its context (northern Italy) is different, and the phenomenon is examined taking into
account the effect of another variable, that of perceived self-efficacy understood as “a future-
oriented belief about the level of competence a person expects he or she will display in a given
situation(Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001, p. 787) the influence of which has also been
demonstrated in other studies (Aiello, Pace, Dimitrov, & Sibilio, 2017; Jolliffe & Snaith, 2017;
Miller, Ramirez, & Murdock, 2017).
Research question
This study explores the difficulties elementary and middle school teachers find in implementing
cooperative learning activities in their classrooms, one year after a short period (10-25 hours)
of experiential in-service training with Scintille.it, a private Italian teacher education enterprise
approved by the Italian Ministry of Universities and Research (MIUR). In particular:
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RQ1. About a year after a short experiential training course in the implementation of
cooperative learning methods, which of the methods explored are the teachers who
participated still using in their classes? And how frequently?
RQ2. What are the main difficulties experienced by teachers when engaging their classes
in cooperative activities? Are there differences between elementary and middle
schools?
RQ3. What are the links between their beliefs, their sense of self-efficacy, the difficulties
they experience and the activities they offer?
RQ4. What further training needs do the teachers express?
Method
First step: teacher training
In 2017 and 2018, 15 courses (involving 435 participants) were monitored. Each 10-25 hour
training course consisted of 4 sessions on:
Cooperative learning principles
Introduction to social skills
Introduction to the “Leaning together” model
Cooperative learning activities educational planning
Various experiential learning (Sharan & Sharan, 1987) activities were proposed: cooperative
games (Cohen & Lotan, 2014), five fingers, place map, gallery tour, numbered heads together,
inside-outside circle, think-pair-square-share (Kagan & Kagan, 1992), Learning together model
(D. W. Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1994), Jigsaw (Aronson & Goode, 1980), and general
discussion.
The courses were led by 9 different trainers.
Second step: evaluation of the training
At the end of the course, the participants completed an online satisfaction survey about the
training, which consisted of 10 simple items with open questions and a 10-point Likert scale.
Post-training results (Malusà, Matini, & Pavan, 2019) indicate high levels of satisfaction
(µ=8.82; Mo=10.00; SD=1.18), interest (µ=9.15; Mo=10.00; SD=1.04) and declared
participation by teachers in group work (µ=9.03; Mo=10.00; SD=1.12); the trainers were seen
as attentive to the needs of the participants (µ=9.35; Mo=10.00; SD= 0.89); there was a
significant correlation between satisfaction and perceived engagement (0.748 p<0.01-Two-
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Tailed), independent of the training schedule and whether the teachers came from elementary
or middle schools.
Third step after one year: implementation at school
Sample
12-18 months after the training courses, the participants were sent another, more detailed, online
questionnaire, to which 102 people (23.44%) responded: 29.4% middle school teachers and
70.6% elementary school teachers
24
, from 46 schools located in 5 different Italian regions
(Trentino Alto-Adige, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria and Umbria). Teaching experience
range: 1 to > 30 years (15.7% 1-10 years; 34.3% 11-20 years; 22.5% 21-30 years; 27.5% > 30
years), in different disciplines. 28.4% of the teachers have just one class; 46.1% have two;
14.4% 3 or 4; 10.8% have more than 4. Respondents were asked to focus on the experiences
they had had during the last 3 (teaching) years.
Measures
This self-report questionnaire consisting of 70 items (Cronbach α >.70) with a 5 or 6-point
Likert scale and multiple choice questions was selected to investigate beliefs (de Vries, Helms-
Lorenz, & van de Grift, 2014), perceived self-efficacy (Moè, Pazzaglia, & Friso, 2010),
frequency of cooperative vs traditional strategies (Buchs et al., 2017); difficulties experienced
(Buchs et al., 2017; Wafaa, 2011) and training needs (Malusà, 2019a) (Table 1). The questions
in each array followed a random order.
The questions on the above areas were preceded by a first section consisting of 10 questions
regarding participants’ personal data (educational qualifications, years of teaching, work place,
number of classes, materials, previous training).
The estimated time needed to fill out the questionnaire was 20-25 minutes.
Table 1- Dimension values of Cronbach alpha coefficient
Dimensions test
Cronbach α
No.
items
point Likert
scale
Beliefs
.763
8
6
Perceived self-efficacy
.887
9
6
Frequency of cooperative vs traditional
strategies
.752
12
5
Difficulties experienced
.936
23
5
24
In Italy elementary school is attended by children aged from 5/6 to 10/11; middle school by 11 to 13/14 year
olds.
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Training needs
.816
8
4
In particular:
(a) Pedagogical beliefs
8 items (translated and adapted to the Italian context) were selected from De Vries et al.’s
questionnaire (2014), 4 subject matter-oriented beliefs and 4 student-oriented beliefs (ibidem,
p. 357).
(b) Perceived self-efficacy
8 items in Italian from the array by Moè et al. (2010, pp. 90-91) were selected. This survey is a
validated translation of a similar questionnaire devised by Tschannen-Moran and Hoy (2001)
on student engagement and class-management. Another item was added to these, on the
respondent’s overall perception of their self-efficacy (in the work environment).
(c) Frequency of cooperative vs traditional strategies
Drawing on studies by Buchs et al. (2017) and Ghaith (2018), some questions were adapted to
the Italian context: on the content of the monitored training courses, they identified 12 teaching
strategies for use in class, divided between cooperative and traditional approaches.
(d) Difficulties experienced
The research cited by Buchs et al. (2017, pp. 300-301) and by Waafa (2011) were the reference
points for the identification of 23 items connected to this dimension, which consisted of one
question, with multiple suggested replies:What is the biggest challenge that you face when
using active methods at school?”, and 2 arrays of questions on a 5-point Likert scale:
In your experience, what level of difficulty do you encounter when introducing these
activities in the classroom (on a scale from very difficult to very easy)”. An I don’t
know” option was included, useful in cases where the teacher does not know a particular
teaching strategy. The question was followed by 6 items.
Indicate the level of difficulty you experience in… (choose from very difficult to very
easy. If you do not know this method, put ‘I don’t know’)”. 16 items followed, referring
to the difficulty of implementing principles of cooperative learning and peer interaction
(6), locus of authority (2), teacher as facilitator (2), alignment with the curriculum (2),
planning (3) and evaluation (1) (Table 2).
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(e) Training needs
Drawing on previous studies (Malusà et al., 2019), 8 possible educational methods for
improving teachers’ professional skills were identified.
Data Analysis
The data analysis includes reliability, descriptive and correlation analyses between the observed
variables. The statistical package SPSS v.21 was used for the analysis.
Table 2 Difficulties experienced by teachers in implementing cooperative activities
Dimensions
Items
Principles of CL and peer
interaction
giving feedback on the way in which the students work together
working directly on the social skills necessary for group work
giving each member of the class responsibility
establishing a sense of team responsibility
introducing complementary tasks in a small group (positive
interdependence)
assigning roles and tasks in the group
Locus of authority
allowing students to work autonomously without my direct
supervision
delegating some of the teaching to the students
Teacher as facilitator
observing the students while they work cooperatively
managing potential discipline problems
Alignment with
curriculum
using the books on the curriculum to engage the students in
cooperative tasks
finding activities that fit into the curriculum
Planning
finding time to plan cooperative structures and activities
finding time to introduce cooperative activities into the
classroom
team planning cooperative learning activities
Evaluation
assessing each student’s acquisition after group work
Results
Results related to question 1
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Figure 1 Traditional vs cooperative strategies described by teachers (5-point Likert scale) (N=102)
Although traditional teaching methods still persist, cooperative strategies are also being adopted
(Figure 1); teachers organise pair work (µ=3.91; Mo=4.00; Ds= .76); while activities in small
structured groups are less common (µ=3.38; Mo=3.00; Ds= .89): 14.7% of teachers organise
them rarely; 42.2% every so often; 32.4% often and only 10.8% very often (Table 3).
Table 3 - Instructional strategies and their total frequency (absolute) and by school stage (5-point Likert scale) (N=102)
Instructional Strategies
Mean
Median
Mode
SD
Primary school
teachers
Middle school
Teachers
Mean
Median
Mean
Median
Cooperative games
3.19
sometimes
3
0.99
3.47
3.50
2.50
3.00
Competitive games
2.56
sometimes
3
0.95
2.60
3.00
2.47
2.00
Circle time
2.92
sometimes
3
1.13
3.18
3.00
2.30
2.00
Discussions with teacher
3.76
often
4
0.73
3.83
4.00
3.60
4.00
Jigsaw
2.50
seldom
3
1.12
2.49
2.50
2.53
2.50
Individual study
2.84
sometimes
3
1.01
2.88
3.00
2.77
3.00
Work in pairs
3.91
often
4
0.76
4.00
4.00
3.70
4.00
Individual work
3.36
often
4
0.89
3.47
4.00
3.10
3.00
Frontal lesson
3.43
often
4
0.69
3.44
3.50
3.40
4.00
Cooperative structures
2.82
sometimes
3
0.87
2.97
3.00
2.47
3.00
Learning together
3.38
sometimes
3
0.89
3.51
3.00
3.07
3.00
Informal team
3.16
sometimes
3
1.02
3.26
3.00
2.90
3.00
Results related to question 2
The teachers find it easiest to introduce pair work (µ=3.87; Mo=4.00), while the Jigsaw strategy
is perceived as the most difficult (µ=2.22; Mo=2.00) (Table 4).
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Table 4 Perceived difficulties (5-point Likert scale) (N=102)
INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES
MEAN
MEDIAN
SD
COOPERATIVE STRUCTURES
2.65
quite easy
1.16
COOPERATIVE GAMES
2.92
quite easy
1.11
CIRCLE TIME
2.93
quite easy
1.36
JIGSAW
2.22
difficult
1.32
LEARNING TOGETHER
3.00
quite easy
0.95
PAIR WORK
3.87
easy
0.79
They assign roles and tasks (µ=3.04) and monitor students’ work (µ=3.02) without difficulty;
but say (48%) it is difficult both to make time for cooperative activities in their own classrooms
(µ=2.28) and for working together (µ=1.92) to design tasks (2.23) with positive
interdependence (µ=2.05) (Table 5 and 6).
Table 5 - The greater challange (%) (N=102)
Table 6 Perceived difficulties in implementing cooperative learning activities (N=102)
Mean
Median
SD
Giving feedback
2.72
quite easy
.93
Working on social skills
2.49
difficult
.89
Considering individual responsibility
2.77
quite easy
.88
Assigning roles and tasks
3.04
quite easy
.87
Considering team responsibility
2.46
quite easy
1.07
Introducing positive interdependence
2.05
difficult
1.29
Not direct supervision
2.60
quite easy
.94
Delegating teaching
2.47
difficult
.98
Monitoring
3.02
quite easy
1.01
2.00%
5.90%
11.80%
15.70% 16.70%
22.50%
25.50%
0%
5%
10%
15%
20%
25%
30%
Alignment
with
curriculum
Group
management Evaluation in
CL Team
agreement CL teacher
competence Planning time Time to
propose
cooperative
activities
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Managing discipline problems
2.58
quite easy
.99
Using official didactic material and books
2.62
quite easy
1.22
Planning activities that fit into the curriculum
2.81
quite easy
.91
Time to plan CL activities
2.23
difficult
.94
Time to introduce CL activities into the
classroom
2.28
difficult
1.00
Team planning
1.92
difficult
1.11
Individual evalutation
2.39
difficult
.91
Differences between school stage (elementary v. middle)
At the two school stages the most frequently reported difficulties are similar: the exception
being the time variable and evaluation of activities, seen as more difficult by the middle school
teachers (Table 7).
Table 7 Relation between difficulties and school stage (%) (N=102)
The greater challenge
Elementary school
teachers
Middle school
teachers
Difficulty in evaluating the cooperative activities
9.7%
16.7%
Incompatibility with the established programme
2.8%
Need for lengthy preparation
22.2%
23.3%
Little theoretical knowledge of active methods
1.4%
Little concrete experience of active methods
15.3%
16.7%
Little control over the relational dynamics that emerge
8.3%
Little agreement with colleagues
15.3%
16.7%
Limited time for introducing cooperative activities in classroom
25.0%
26.7%
Total
100.0%
100.0%
Results related to question 3
Post-training results indicate high levels of perceived self-efficacy, with pupil-oriented beliefs
greater than subjectoriented beliefs (Fig. 2), but significantly correlated to each other (r=.502
p <0.01) (Table 8).
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Figure 2 - Self-efficacy, belief orientation (subject oriented vs student oriented (6-point Likert scale) (N=102)
The correlation analysis (Table 8) clearly demonstrates the existence of a significant correlation
between belief in an activity and the frequency with which that activity is carried out,
confirming the results of Buchs et al. (2017) in an Italian context. In other words, the teachers
who believe in co-built (student-student-teacher) learning processes say that they use
cooperative games, Circle time, cooperative structures and the Learning together model more
frequently with their classes. A high self-efficacy score also enables a teacher to work more
frequently with the Jigsaw model, considered by teachers to be the most complex.
Unsurprisingly, cooperative activities are used most rarely by those who perceive them to be
difficult/very difficult.
Table 8 - Correlation between teachers’ beliefs, self-efficacy, perceptions of difficulty and frequency of educational strategies
(N=102)
Beliefs
Self-Efficacy
Difficulty
Subject
oriented
Student
oriented
Cooperative games
.131
.395**
.230*
.645**
Competitive games
.066
.174
.177
Circle time
.161
.411**
.294**
.763**
Discussions with teacher
.058
.249*
.271**
Jigsaw
.050
.136
.325**
.752**
Individual study
.083
.015
.122
Pair work
-.081
.137
.177
.607**
Individual work
.013
.028
.083
Cooperative structures
.115
.335**
.199*
.516**
Frontal lessons
.086
-.035
-.098
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Learning together
.029
.280**
.312**
.664**
Informal groups
.027
.280**
.024
Subject oriented
.502**
.502**
Student oriented
.502**
.499**
** P< 0.01 (Two-Tailed). * P< 0.05 (Two-Tailed)
The question arises as to which of the aspects connected to a teacher’s perceived self-efficacy
have a significant correlation with their perception of the applicability of cooperative learning
methods in their classes. Table 9 shows a correlation both with aspects of managing the class
group (i.e. with confidence in one’s ability to manage disruptive behaviour) and with
engagement with students, in particular in item 5 (helping students to think critically) and 8
(knowing how to stimulate unmotivated students).
Table 9 Correlation between teachers’ perceived self-efficacy and their perceptions of the applicability of cooperative
larning (N=102)
No.
item
How well do you think you can deal with the following situations?
CL applicability
Efficacy: classroom management
1
Get students to obey classroom rules
.098
2
Control disruptive behaviour
.293**
Efficacy: student engagement
3
Adapt lessons to the particular needs/profile of the class
.125
4
Provide challenges for the most able students
.105
5
Help students to think critically
.373**
6
Support and help the students in greatest difficulty
.179
7
Awaken and sustain students’ confidence in their own potential
.078
8
Stimulate unmotivated students
.325**
** P< 0.01 (Two-Tailed)
Table 10 focuses on the different aspects already flagged by Buchs et al. (Buchs et al., 2017) as
possible challenges faced by teachers endeavouring to implement Cooperative Learning
strategies. The present results reveal a significant correlation between these issues and teachers’
perceived self-efficacy and confirm that a lack of time for team planning, or the introduction
of cooperative activities in class (planning), or the subsequent evaluation of these activities is
perceived to be the biggest difficulty.
Table 10 Correlation between teachers’ perceived self-efficacy and potential challanges for implementing cooperative
larning
(5-point Likert scale, from 1=very difficult to 5= very easy) ((N=102)
Descriptive statistics
Correlation analysis
Mean
Median
SD
Self-efficacy
Principles of CL and peer
interaction
2.59
2.58
.76
.394**
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International Association for Intercultural Education
Locus of authority
2.53
2.50
.87
.250*
Teacher as facilitator
2.80
3.00
.86
.369**
Alignment with curricolum
2.72
2.50
.92
.288**
Planning
2.14
2.00
.83
.299**
Evaluation
2.39
2.00
.91
.295**
** P< 0.01 (Two-Tailed) * P< 0.05 (Two-Tailed)
Results related to question 4
The teachers involved favoured discussion groups with colleagues and/or an expert, and in-
class support from an expert as they experimented with cooperative learning. Online training
(µ=2.38), and purely theoretical training (µ=2.20,) appear to be of little interest (Table 10).
Table 11 Question: What would help you to be able to make greater use of cooperative learning?
(4-point Likert scale) (N=102)
Mean
Median
Mod
e
SD
More purely theoretical training/education
2.20
of little interest
2
.82
More experiential training (hands on+theory)
2.97
of considerable interest
3
.93
Support in the classroom from a
competent/skilled colleague
2.96
of considerable interest
3
.92
Support in the classroom from an external
expert
2.71
of considerable interest
3
.92
Materials for study and/or classroom use
3.24
of considerable interest
4
.82
Individual sessions/meetings with an expert
(coaching)
2.78
of considerable interest
3
.89
Periodic discussion group with colleagues
and/or an expert
3.02
of considerable interest
3
.83
Online training
2.38
of little interest
2
.98
Discussions and conclusion
From an initial reading of the results it emerges that the brief experiential training given only
partially succeeded in influencing the teaching methods of the participants. One year after the
training, the teachers said that they were (still) mainly using traditional methods (frontal
lessons, whole class discussions with teachers, pupils studying/working alone), and just
complementing these with certain interactive activities. Most popular routinely (often or very
often) organised by more than 80% of respondents is pair work, while over 40% said that they
used small structured groups; the more complex cooperative activities (Jigsaw, for example)
were only occasionally explored, in the primary schools Circle Time and cooperative games
were also more frequently introduced: the latter are often or very often used by half of the
primary teachers vs 16.7% of middle school teachers.
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The (relative) optimism of the first descriptive results can be partially explained as follows.
Above all, because of the experiental method at the heart of the training offered by Scintille.it,
a private organisation which has, over time, developed a learning path (Matini & Pavan, 2015)
which is very popular among participants, for just these elements workshops/labs and direct
involvement in role-play (Malusà et al., 2019). However, at the end of the course, the middle
school teachers were less confident than their primary colleagues about the transferability of
the teaching methods proposed
25
. Almost 40% of participants, moreover, has already done some
training in cooperative learning. And, too, the teachers who attended the course had chosen to
do so, reporting a high level of prior interest (µ=9.15 on a 10-point Likert scale) on the
satisfaction survey. And Italian teacher training (whether during the initial training or during
in-service sessions) rarely integrates such approaches paradoxically, active methodologies are
often taught to teachers using traditional teaching methods!
Even granted the above factors, the implementation of cooperative activities in class, however,
is still difficult. The analysis reveals that the teachers in the sample have experienced many
challenges, at a variety of interconnected levels (Doise, 1982).
a) The intrapersonal level
Teachers’ beliefs and their perceived self-efficacy demonstrate a significant correlation with
the sort of teaching methods that they use in class, confirming previous results (Buchs et al.,
2017) on the role of student oriented beliefs.
Furthermore, the teachers who reveal a high level of self-efficacy say that they use cooperative
methodologies more frequently: these methods require that a teacher be able to manage a group,
and anticipate disruptive behaviour. Indeed, monitoring, an essential part of this methodology
(D. W. Johnson et al., 1994), puts the teacher in the role of permanent “participant observer” in
the class group which taught to assume an active role through the progressive development
of distributed leadership becomes a crucial resourse not only in conflict situations but also in
groups with a range of different learning levels, more generally. The efficacy in relation to
student engagement or the knowing how to challenge the most able students cognitively, while
simultaneously including and supporting the weaker members of the class, presupposes a
capacity to use socio-cognitive conflict (Butera, Sommet, & Darnon, 2019) as a learning tool
in an inclusive, non-competitive climate in which process is more important than product (i.e.
25
Logistic regression models, even though the explained variance is limited (R2=.085), show that the teachers
perceived the primary school environment to be one of the key predictors of didactic applicability (Malusà et al.,
2019, p. 20).
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than results), although results are still expected. And the highly heterogeneous multicultural
classes in Italian schools today can only be managed by teachers who possess these skills.
The teachers with a strong sense of self-efficacy say that they also use the more complicated
cooperative structures (Leaning Together and Jigsaw), managing to introduce the fundamental
elements of cooperative learning (interdependence, peer interaction) into the activities they
implement and to situate themselves effectively as facilitators of a learning process that is co-
built with the students (student-oriented belief). The results, however, reveal a significant
correlation between subject- and student-oriented beliefs, often both present in the same
teacher, who finds her/himself having to justify (to themselves more than anyone else) the
values of some didactic choices, at times not shared by their colleagues (Assen, Meijers, Zwaal,
& Poell, 2019).
b) The interpersonal level
Insufficient time was, according to the teachers in the sample, the greatest challenge that they
faced (or was this an excuse?). There is not enough time either to plan cooperative activities
in collaboration with fellow teachers (team planning), or to introduce them into the classroom,
according to Buchs et al. (2017). These factors suggest both a deep-seated methodological
insecurity and problems in evaluating the cooperative activities that are implemented, above all
in middle schools, despite the fact that in Italian school “planning and evaluation for skills”
(D.Lgs. 62/17 and DM 183/19) are provided for (MIUR, 2012, 2019).
c) The organisational level
The rigidity of (particularly middle) school organisation is another underlying issue in observed
process. Italian primary schools have been recognised by various scholars (Capperucci &
Piccioli, 2015) in recent decades as unfortunately becoming more and more like middle, or
even high, schools (a sort of secondarization”) (Besozzi, 2014, p. 200). The flexible
organisation and relational appproach of the primary school shifting towards the more strict,
impersonal structure of the higher levels, with overly fragmented weekly time tables and up to
7 or 8 specializedteachers, who do not share teaching one class with consistent educational
micro-contracts (Carugati & Selleri, 2001). The planning of a cooperative activity, attentive
to and respectful of the rhythms of the children, undoubtedly requires more than the 50 minutes
typically allotted to each lesson in Italian schools: experiential learning that includes a
metacognition phase can only take place within flexible time and space frameworks that
encourage transversal skills.
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The lack of time to plan together and share strategies that the teachers have highlighted is
becoming an ever greater problem, as teaching teams get bigger and bigger, and the
bureaucratization” of schools continues apace (Spector, 2018).
Periodic discussion groups with colleagues and/or an expert to discuss and try to resolve
problems appears to be a training method that would suit the teachers’ need for simple, easily
organised, cooperative strategies (Ferguson-Patrick & Jolliffe, 2018).
In conclusion, the teachers say that the main challenges they experience regard
(intra/inter)personal relations, planning/design issues and organisational rigidity; in the light of
these findings, it would appear appropriate to extend the training courses to include simple
cooperative structures that teachers can use in the short-term. Above all, however, the urgency
of organising more flexible timetabling, which accommodates the nature of particular
tasks/activities, is highlighted. Only thus can learning experiences that feel coherent, and
involve active interdisciplinary modalities that help to develop students’ social and transversal
skills, be designed.
In their educational mission, schools are called upon to innovate, to find what Steven Johnson
(2010) called “the adjacent possible”. There are no easy answers to the problems that arise in
the complex educational and organisational dynamics of today’s schools. Analysing the large
body of educational research on the challenges faced by teachers implementing innovative
methodologies, Baloche and Brody point to the importance of
examining beliefs; identifying problems; utilising research as a foundation for innovation;
understanding context and thinking incrementally; building communities for inquiry,
experimentation, and support; being willing to fail; and recognising when something does not
work (Baloche & Brody, 2017, p. 281),
while reminding us, above all, of the commitment to cooperation, access, and equitythat
underpins all of the above (ibidem), dimensions which recall the educational mission of an
effective teacher (Korthagen, 2004), the inner core of an “onion model”, in the layers of which,
moving from inside out, are found first identity, then beliefs, then competences and, finally,
behaviour, that can be directly observed by others.
While teacher training still focuses primarily on methodologies, without including an
experiential path that explores the deeper levels of the beliefs, or better still, the values and the
educational mission (Malusà, 2019b; Tarozzi, 2014), the innovative impact will be limited and
short-term.
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Notes
Contact: malusa.giovanna@gmail.com
Giovanna Malusà, Ph.D. in Psychological Science and Education and school psychologist, has
been working for 30 years as a primary school teacher. Her research interests include social
justice education, intercultural education and active teaching methods.
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... The individual activities are carried out by the student alone, without the support of peers and includes the following: • metacognitive questionnaire on the class climate (Comoglio, 1998) and • questionnaire on student's experiences related to cooperative learning (Malusà, 2020), administered at the course's beginning and end, to increase reflections on personal beliefs about the cooperative approach (Malusà, 2021) and to verify the impact on the students' opinions. ...
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