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Effective group work in the classroom - the roles children play

Jane Maloney
 
Institute of Education, University of London, email: j.maloney@ioe.ac.uk

Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, University of Exeter, England, 12-14 September 2002

ABSTRACT This paper describes the roles children, aged 10-11, adopt in decision-making activities in science lessons. The activities involve the children in using evidence to come to a decision. Observations of the groups indicate that children take on different roles in the discussions and that these roles have an important influence on how the evidence is used to make decisions. A taxonomy of roles has been devised for the children drawing upon roles defined by management theorists in the study of successful business teams; the taxonomy includes five roles that have a positive influence on the way the group uses the evidence and four negative roles. The paper explores the links between the roles and the most effective use of evidence; results suggest that a team where a child takes on the role of 'Chair' works particularly well and explores a wide range of evidence. As much of the work in science, both in primary and secondary schools, is carried out in groups, this research has important implications for teachers when selecting the composition of class groups.

Introduction

The study was designed to explore how young children, age 10-11 years old, use evidence in decision-making activities in science. The idea for the research project emerged from a belief that although the skills of evaluating and interpreting evidence are important scientific skills there is insufficient emphasis devoted to the development of these skills in science education. It is argued that the way the science curriculum is being interpreted at present means that an opportunity for school science to contribute to developing children's interpretative and evaluative skills is sadly being missed. Yet, these are skills children will need as future citizens when, as adults they will be faced with conflicting arguments about contentious and important issues, many of which will be scientific in nature e.g. whether to use mobile telephones, eat GM food or have their children vaccinated.

The Role of Science Education

Science education, it might be argued, already does contribute to preparing young children to cope with some of these choices by giving them scientific subject knowledge. However, this alone is not enough because some issues are too complex for most people to understand. Norris argues that non-scientists cannot analyse scientific knowledge and claims that they are 'epistemically dependent' on the scientists. For example, do you need to know how a mobile telephone works to understand what might be the dangers of using one? The answer may be not necessarily but you do need to have some understanding of how to evaluate the different claims being made about the possible harmful effects. As most of our future citizens would be classed as non-scientists they will have to be able to judge whose evidence they trust and to be able to make valid judgements they will need to be able to think critically about the evidence available.

It is important then that children are prepared to make such judgements and this paper argues that a key role of education is to develop young people's skills so they take part in debate and can make reasoned judgements about potentially complex topics. Fuller (1997) believes that most of what the non-scientists need to know in order to make informed decisions about science "...fall under the rubric of history, philosophy, and sociology of science, rather than the technical content of scientific subjects." (1997:10). Fuller may be right but it does not mean that science education does not have a role in preparing people to make decisions about science. What is important is that the science curriculum should not just be about content. The curriculum needs to involve pupils in decision-making activities where they have to base their decisions on available evidence and where the answers may be inconclusive.

Osborne (2000) suggests that young people should have the opportunity to study aspects of science-in-the-making so that they can appreciate the uncertainties of scientific work. It is also important that science education encourages pupils to consider once contentious issues that are now clearly accepted in science, for example, Harvey's research on the circulation of blood published in 1628. At the time it was believed that blood was consumed in the tissues but Harvey's observations led him to a contentious conclusion that blood circulated round the body. However, as he did not have the opportunity to directly observe the connections between arteries and veins (capillaries were first observed by Malpighi 1628-94) he had no way of proving his theory. Studies of how some scientific theories that have since been refuted can also help children appreciate the way that scientific knowledge develops with an increase in, and accuracy of, evidence. Indeed some of today's issues have no immediate answer and children will need to understand that they will have to determine quality of evidence and appreciate the element of risk involved with such decisions. Some choices, for example, taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), are about weighing up the risks involved; taking HRT may increase the risk of developing breast cancer but decreases the risk of developing osteoporosis. As scientific knowledge increases people will need to know how to handle large amounts of information and how to disentangle opinions and interpretations from fact (Duggan and Gott .

A science curriculum that presents children with a view of science as a body of knowledge and disregards the notions of scientific uncertainty, probability and risk will encourage them to expect conclusive answers from the scientists. Yet, just as we are today, they are likely to be faced with a range of opinions on a range of scientific issues and they should be better prepared to cope with such conflicts in opinions. One point seems clear, a science curriculum needs to balance the need for pupils to know and understand scientific facts alongside the skills to enable them to consider the benefits and drawbacks of the application of science in everyday life.

The Science Curriculum

The introduction of the National Curriculum in 1989 (in England & Wales) ensured that science was taught in all state primary schools. However, the curriculum portrays science as knowledge, which is uncontested, unquestioned and unequivocal . In contrast contemporary science is controversial and contested. Although developments in the curriculum included an emphasis on scientific enquiry skills (DfES & QCA) research suggests that little attention is given to children's critical evaluation of evidence. Clearly there is a missed opportunity here for making the curriculum relevant for the adults of the future. Carré (1998) suggests that it would be more realistic to relate school science to the thinking that is needed to prepare children for an ever-changing world. What people need to be able to do is think critically and if we want to develop children's thinking skills in science then one way is through argumentation. Siegel writes that, 'Argumentation - whatever else it may be - is aimed at the rational resolution of questions, issues and disputes' (1995 p. 162). Science education can provide the opportunities for children to argue, to use evidence and assess its value; yet, the science taught in schools has paid little attention to the development of the pupils' skills of argument . Since the consideration and evaluation of evidence is core to the practice and learning of science, then it seems clear that it provides an excellent vehicle for promoting such skills in children. Although there is now an increasing interest being shown in argumentation in schools within science and other subjects in the curriculum , little work has been carried out in the primary schools. concludes from her research that argumentative reasoning skills develop early and this would indicate that it is in the primary school that we need to begin. This research project was designed to see how children do argue and use evidence when making decisions in science.

Research Design and Method

Activities were designed that provide an opportunity for children to use evidence in making decisions in a scientific context. The activities were also designed enable the groups to have an opportunity to explore their reasoning and expose their thinking. As children discussed the issues they made their thinking visible and therefore some judgements can be made about the quality of this thinking. Making thinking visible is, as suggests, far more easily advocated than accomplished! She acknowledges that time limits in the normal classroom motivate teachers to simplify the thinking process and lead the discussion to a conclusion. In this research the children were encouraged to think more widely about their ideas and no time limits were given for the activities in which they engaged. Also the children managed their discussions autonomously so that there was no teacher directing them towards a conclusion.

The tasks for this research had to be realistic for children aged 10-11 and so were set in a context familiar to them. The activities provided legitimate alternatives because if the decisions were very obvious to the children, there would be no reason for them to explore all (or any) of the evidence. The evidence was presented in a form that was accessible to the children in terms of language, presentation and amount of evidence provided.

Activity 1

This activity was adapted from a task in Unit 1 Home for Gerbils , where the children were asked to evaluate and select a home suitable for some gerbils. The children were given pictures and descriptions of three homes that they could use as evidence to guide their decisions. For ethical reasons, the choice of home was discussed with the children at the end of the activity. One of the homes is recommended by the RSPCA as it is most like the natural environment of the gerbil, and this information was given to the children. Should the children be faced with such a choice in the future when looking after a gerbil, it is important that they understand the full implications of their choice.

Activity 2

In this activity the children were provided with data from an investigation about the properties of materials. For this investigation, Which cup to take on a picnic, the children were given three cups, one made of glass, one of thin plastic and one of thick plastic. The data provided information concerning the stability, the insulating properties, the mass (given as weight) and the strength of each cup. This information was presented in a tabular form familiar to the children. Using this evidence the children were asked to decide which cup they would take on a picnic.

Activity 3

This activity was adapted from, Book 3, Unit 5 Bats in Conflict . The children were presented with the problem 'What to do about bats in the library roof?' for which they first suggest individual solutions. The children recorded their ideas about what to do about the bats as individuals to ensure that they all had something to contribute to the discussion. They were then presented with 'evidence' in a form of the Bat Facts? cards. As the children read the facts and ascertained whether the fact were true or false, issues were raised that required them to reconsider their plans. For example, if the plan involved killing the bats they soon found out from the Bat Facts? cards that they would be fined £2000 should they harm any bats. The children then produced a new or revised group plan; this new plan reveals which pieces of evidence influenced the children decisions. For ethical reasons, the action plan was discussed with the children at the end of the activity. Bats are protected by law and the children should recognise whether their proposed actions are feasible or not

Activity 4

This activity involved the children reading three different accounts of a scientific investigation carried out by four fictitious Year 6 pupils called Katie, Winston, Rebecca and Hari. They were also given data these pupils had recorded when investigating the time taken for a marble to roll down two tubes covered in two different surfaces; one tube has ridges of glue down its length and the other is covered with bubble wrap. Models of the tubes with the appropriate covering were also given to the children.

The children were asked to read the accounts and decide what had happened during the investigation. The accounts given to the children showed that Katie and Winston's results and conclusions were in agreement i.e. Katie and Winston's data showed that the marble rolled down the glue ridged tube faster than the bubble wrap tube and their conclusion reflected these results. However, Rebecca and Hari's were not in agreement; they had the same results as each other but they had different conclusions; although their results showed that the marble rolled faster down the bubble wrap tube, Rebecca had concluded that the marble rolled down the glue-ridged tube faster. The activity involved the children reading the reports and deciding down which tube they think the marble would roll down faster.

The Schools

The research took place in three different schools, two state schools from two Inner London and a private school in Surrey and the children came from a range of ethnic and cultural origins. Each group was selected by the class teachers using two criteria. One criterion was that the children should be of similar abilities and the other was that the children were likely to co-operate and work well together as a group. A summary of the groups is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: The schools and children involved in the study

 

St Anne's

Primary School

St Anne's

Primary School

Castle Hill

Private School

Woodstreet

Junior School

Woodstreet

Junior School

Group 1 (6O)

Group 2 (6L)

Scholars Class

Group 1 (6D)

Group 2 (6M)

Luke

Naveed

Osei

Sheerah

Alicia

Daniel

Heidi

Junior

Alex

Cicely

Joanne

Simon

Amy

Che

Jillese

Patrick

Chantal

Elijah

Jason

Sharon

Data Collection

The children were video and audio-taped when taking part in the activities and the conversations were fully transcribed. There are 20 transcripts of the groups' discussions, one for each of the 4 activities from 5 different groups of children.

Analysis of data

The key aim of the analysis was to compare how the five groups of children used the evidence in the discussion and to identify some possible reasons to account for the different ways they work together in coming to their decisions i.e. the argumentation process. More specifically, criteria for characterising good argumentation drawn from Mitchell's (2001) list of parameters, were identified. These criteria indicate what young children could be expected to demonstrate in the research activities in which they took part. i.e. the children should

a. discuss most or all of the evidence made available,
b. provide claims supported by evidence,
c. test alternative choices and consider both positive and negative issues of the possible options and
d. engage in sustained dialogue by making claims, reviewing evidence and discussing arguments as an iterative process.

In order to make the comparisons of the different argumentation skills demonstrated by the children, coding schemes were devised to analyse the data in terms of these four criteria.

a) The evidence used by each group

The children are provided with evidence in the form of written evidence (and pictures in the Home for Gerbils activity) but they also draw on other sources such as personal experiences and the comments of other people. The evidence is identified using the codes E1 and E2; E1 is evidence taken from the written text or the pictures of the homes and E2 is evidence that the children cite which is not provided. It is possible to quantify how many pieces of E1 evidence each group uses and so identify the E1 evidence that is not used by the children . In the four activities there is a total of 60 pieces of E1 evidence.

b) Using evidence to support and claims- the arguments

For the purposes of this research, when the claim was supported by a reference to evidence it was identified as an 'argument'. These arguments were identified using an analytical scheme based on the work of Stephen Toulmin . His model for identifying the pattern of an argument, Toulmin's Argument Patterns (TAP), consists, in its simplest form, of a claim supported by an appeal to data (evidence). Identifying an 'appeal to data' will indicate that a claim has been justified in some way.

Joanne: This one (Home 3) I don't think is very good because it's got little mountains

Joanne made the claim that she does not think Home 3 is very good and the data she appealed to justify her claim was that the home has 'little mountains' (home 3 has layers of sand and gravel for the gerbils to burrow in). A claim may be supported by a warrant that explains the link between the claim being made and the data. The warrant , in this example, explains why the little mountains make Home 3 not a good choice; Joanne considered that the gerbils would not 'like' the little mountains. For the purposes of this research, a definition of an argument is when there is at least a claim with reference to data.

c) Testing alternative choices

In both the Gerbils and the Cups activities the children had 3 possible choices from which to select. To facilitate comparisons between the number of options explored by the groups a numerical code was given by calculating how many options were explored (3 points for each home/ 3 points for each cup) and whether both advantages and disadvantages of the options were considered (1 for each option). Therefore, when a group explored both the advantages and disadvantages of all the possible choices in the Gerbils and Cups activities they achieved the maximum score of 12 points. In the Bats and the Marble activities the children did not have specific options to consider. Although in the Bats activity the children made plans as to how to deal with the bats before they read the evidence the transcripts show that some groups discussed these original plans and used the evidence to justify the effectiveness of the plan or they made a new plan. In the Marble activity they had to draw from the evidence to make possible explanations to account for the differences in the children's interpretation of the data. Some groups debated several different explanations triggered by reading the data presented to them while one group offered no explanation

d) Engaging in sustained dialogue

A framework was devised which identified the pattern of the discussion and indicated the way the children engaged in the discussion. This framework is termed a 'Discussion Map'. To develop this framework, the transcripts were studied and four categories of 'talk' were identified. These categories were termed Review, Discussion, Argument and Clarification. The characteristics used to define these episodes of the children's discussions are shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Episodes of the discussion

 

 

 

Characteristics of the sequence

Example

 

 

Review

Children read out sections from the information sheets or state evidence without constructing an argument

 

In this extract the children are reading the Bat Fact? Cards but making no comments on what they are reading.

Luke and Sheerah: Bats droppings can be a nuisance.

Sheerah: They can make a mess on cars

Naveed: yes sometimes there are problems

Luke:... windows and things stored in lofts. But the droppings are only made of insect skeletons and crumble into a powder

Naveed: oh look they can ...their urine can damage polished wooden surfaces. This is sometimes...

Tr 32 Bats Activity lines 280-287

 

Discussion

Children confirm, elaborate ideas, make comments, oppositions and counter-oppositions. They may make incomplete arguments e.g. arguments which have claim but without an appeal to data.

In this extract Amy is talking about Home 1 for the gerbils. Jillese and Che elaborate on her idea that Home 3 is not a good choice for the gerbil. Che introduces Home 2 into the discussion but does not make a claim for choosing this home. Jillese considers Home 1 and makes a claim but with no appeal to data.

Amy: this one is really small, really small...(Home 3)

Jillese: it hasn't got a wheel

Amy: it's not big enough

Che: yes, and it ain't got nothing to run around in

Jillese: that's what I was going to say

Che: and it needs, it needs space that's why it can run up and down on this one as well (Home 2)

Amy: yeah

Che: it's got space

Jillese: but this one is okay (home 1)

Che: it's okay

Jillese: it's a bit small though

Tr 25 Gerbils Activity lines 17-27

Argument

Children make a claim that is justified with reference to data. This is sometimes, but not often, supported with a warrant and backings. These are identified in the TAP analysis.

In this extract Junior claims that it is unfair that someone should be fined for killing or injuring a bat. The data to which appeals is that people might not have the money to pay the fine.

 

Junior: I think that's unfair, for some people might not have that amount of money

Tr 33 Bats Activity line 66

Clarification

Children ask questions of each other or of the researcher to clarify e.g. what had to be done, what was said or what was meant

In this extract Joanne asks the researcher if the home they need to choose is for more than one gerbil. The evidence she has says that Home 1 is only big enough for one hamster.

Joanne: It's big enough for one gerbil (Home 1), well one gerbil, gerbils. Is that right? It says gerbils?

Tr 24 Gerbils Activity line 160-161

Discussion Maps capture the overall pattern of the argumentation. They show, for example, whether the children discuss the evidence before putting forward their claims or if the arguments generate discussion and further review of evidence. An example of a Map is shown in Figure 1. This map shows that the children's discussion is characterised by a series of arguments being put forward. The Discussion Maps show that they have different levels engagement in the process of argumentation.

Using the maps, four different approaches have been identified of increasing levels of sophistication (See Fig.2). At the simplest level a group will discuss the available evidence but will not use this evidence to make arguments. The most sophisticated level shown by the children demonstrates them engaging in a more complex procedure. It is an iterative process as they review and discuss the available evidence; the discussion leads to an argument that in turn engenders further discussion.

Figure 1: Discussion Map for Cups Activity

Transcript 30 Woodstreet Junior Group 1

Time: 1minute

1
Lines

2
Episode

3
Notes

4
Children

 

Review

Children read sheets as I explain the how the results were obtained

 

10-11

Argument 1

C= I thought I'd take this one (thick plastic) D= because this one (thin) will get squashed + this one will (glass) smash

Che

12-13

Argument 2

C= I thought this one (thin plastic)

D= because after you have finished you can put it in the bin

Amy

14-15

Argument 3

D= this one (thin) can get squashed

C= you won't be able to use it (thin plastic) again

Che

16-17

Argument 4

C= I'd use this one (thick plastic)

D= because all you have to do ..to use it again is wash it; this one (thin) just gets thrown in the bin

Jillesse

18

Discussion

Thin is a waste of money

Che

19-22

Argument 5

C= I'd go for this one (thick plastic)

D= this one (thin) gets squashed, that one (glass) can get smashed; This one (thick) is strong + flexible, and it can't snap or nothing

Patrick

 

Finalising the activity

Silence

 

Figure 2: Levels of Argumentation

Level 1. Discussion with few or no arguments
Evidence is discussed but not used to make arguments

Level 2. Series of Arguments
When the children state their arguments one after the other. They take it in turns to say something. There is no discussion beforehand

Level 3. Arguments with Discussion
Type 3A:
Where the arguments are dispersed with irrelevant discussion
Type 3B:
Where the arguments are repeating the same point. The discussion is confirming points made not challenging the arguments put forward

Level 4. Discussion leading to Arguments
Type 4A:
Discussion leads to an argument but the following discussion is not related - it is just followed by a different argument
Type 4B:
Discussion leads to an argument that engenders relevant discussion. This leads to the reinforcement or refinement of the original argument or the development of a new argument
Type 4C: Sustained Argumentation
Discussion leads to an argument that engenders discussion and review of evidence. This leads to the reinforcement or refinement of the argument or the development of a new argument. The argument is sustained throughout the conversation

What factors impact upon engagement with the argumentation process?

There is no doubt that the performance of any group is influenced by a number of different constraints; the children's cognitive abilities, their ability to communicate and their understanding of how to work within as a team, all influence the way that the group engages with the decision-making process. This research reveals that one important factor that affects the way young children engage in this process is the way the group works together as a team. There has been much research on what makes a team work successfully together, particularly in the world of Management Theory.

Belbin in his seminal work, 'Management Teams', identified 'team roles' that he observed in successful teams. In his study of teams from different organisations around the world he identified eight types of people as useful to have in a team (see Table 3). Belbin has assigned 'typical features' to each role and also positive qualities and allowable weaknesses for each role. The research into management teams is based on studying the behaviour of adults so the role definitions developed by the management theorists need to be re-examined to see how they can be adapted or revised to be effective in analysing the behaviours observed in children.

Table 3: Useful people to have in teams

Type

Typical features

Positive qualities

Allowable weaknesses

Company Worker

Conservative, dutiful,

predictable

Organising ability, practical common

sense, hard-working, self-discipline

Lack of flexibility,

unresponsiveness to unproven

ideas

Chairman

Calm, controlled,

Self-confident

A capacity for treating and

welcoming all potential contributors

on their merits and without prejudice.

A strong sense of objectives

No more than ordinary in

terms of intellect or

creative ability

Shaper

Highly strung,

dynamic, outgoing

Drive and a readiness to challenge

inertia, ineffectiveness,

complacency or self-deception

Proneness to

provocation, irritation

and impatience

Plant

Individualistic,

serious-minded,

unorthodox

Genius, imagination, intellect,

knowledge

Up in the clouds, inclined to

disregard practical details or

protocol

Resource Investigator

Extroverted,

enthusiastic, curious, communicative

A capacity for contacting new people

and exploring any thing new. An

ability to respond to challenge

Liable to lose interest once the

initial fascination has passed

Monitor-

Evaluator

Sober, unemotional,

prudent

Judgement, discretion, hard-

headedness

Lacks inspiration or the

ability to motivate others

Team

Worker

Socially orientated,

rather mild, sensitive

An ability to respond to people and to

situations, and to promote

team spirit

Indecisiveness at moments

of crisis

Completer- Finisher

Painstaking, orderly,

conscientious, anxious

A capacity for follow-through.

perfectionism

A tendency to worry about

small things. A reluctance to

'let go'

Belbin (1981: 74)

The framework for analysing the children's roles

Although the role definitions used in this research owe some debt to the work of Belbin the categories he defined were based on adults performing in successful teams. As such, the roles did not capture the behaviours observed in all the children, particularly in the less successful groups. To define roles that would encompass all the behaviours observed in 10-11 year old children reference has been made to the work of and , as both of these studies are based in the classroom. Both studies worked with students who displayed characteristics that had positive and negative effects on the success of the group.

worked with groups of 15-16 years old students in different laboratory-based investigations. Richmond and Striley determined that the students' development of scientific understanding was influenced by the social roles the students adopted and they identified four roles as leader, helper and non-contributor (active and passive). Knowledge building, they suggested, depends on the abilities of the groups to work as part of a team.

Hogan (1999), in her research with 13-14 year old students working on a collaborative task in science, defined the effect of the child's behaviour on the reasoning process taking place. Hogan discerns eight social cognitive roles; four that promoted the groups' reasoning process and four that did not. Her work has been helpful in defining the more negative roles, for example, she used the term Reticent Participant, a role I also have observed.

The research studies of , and have all illuminated key issues when defining roles for the purpose of analysing teams. Drawing on these studies a framework has been devised that captures the behaviour of the children in this research.

The definitions of the roles

The definitions of the role taxonomy developed for this research are based on the behaviours observed of the twenty children involved in the research activities. The roles are organised into nine categories that include those that contribute positively to the group's discussions and those that seem to have little or a negative influence on a group's overall performance in the activities. Table 4 gives the details of the characteristics of each of the roles.

Table 4: The roles children adopt in the discussion

How the roles the children play influence the process of argumentation

One of the main aims of this research is to show how groups use evidence to support and justify their arguments; the other key aim is to identify the different roles children adopt in their discussions. Firstly, the ways the groups used the evidence are compared using the criteria identified on page 4. Secondly, the roles the children adopted were identified so that the relationship between the quality of the argumentation and the types of roles adopted can be examined. A summary of the findings of this study are given in Table 5 (see page 10).

It is clear that there is some important variation shown by the groups in the way they engaged in the argumentation process. For example, it can be seen that the Castle Hill group explored the most E1 evidence available to them (Row A). As a group they made the most claims supported by data (Row B), they explored all the possible options and evaluated both advantages and disadvantages of the choices they put forward (Row C). They considered the greatest number of alternative ideas in the Bats and Marble activities (Rows D & E).

If we examine the roles the children play in the groups we can see that the Castle Hill group had the greatest variety of roles (Row G) with the children adopting 6 different roles between them. However, the Woodstreet Junior group 2 adopted 5 different roles but the data suggest that this group demonstrated poor skills in argumentation and the use of evidence. Therefore, we must consider that it is not just a question of the number of roles adopted but which specific roles the children adopt.

Discussion

The results of this study indicate that there is a parallel to be drawn between the composition of the 'successful group' of children and the 'successful team' identified in management studies. Belbin (1981) found that among the most positive indicators of a successful team were the attributes of the 'Chairman', the existence of a good 'Plant' and a distribution of responsibilities within the team. Comparable roles have been identified by this research in the successful group of children from Castle Hill School.

Joanne adopts the role of 'Chair' and plays a key role in the success of the group. She links the team members together with her actions (Let's listen to each other), she helps keep them focused on the task (We haven't looked at this evidence yet) and she promotes the others to reason and articulate they ideas (Tell me why do you think that?). Simon's role, the 'Promoter of Ideas', bears a strong similarity to Belbin's 'Plant'. He puts forward ideas that are individualistic and somewhat unorthodox but his suggestions promote the others to examine their ideas and look to the evidence to support or refute Simon's suggestions.

The whole team works together and they take on different responsibilities. Cicely in her role of 'Information Manager' draws attention to the evidence and encourages the other members to examine the E1 evidence they have been given. Both Cicely and Joanne take on the role of controlling Simon's bursts of silly behaviour by asking him to sit down and stopping him hiding the information sheets. The group has a clear sense of working together and their discussions are littered with phrases such as "May I say something?", "Cicely wanted to say something" and "may I say my reasons?". These phrases indicate they have notion of procedure for working in a group. They ask each other who agrees with a particular choice, they call for votes to be taken and in all the activities they come to a consensus.

Implications for Teaching

In the world of business it is possible to select workers for a particular team. In the classroom the teacher has to work with the children whatever their aptitudes and abilities. The important messages coming out of this research is that children do appear to adopt roles that suit their own preferences and these roles have an influence on the way the group performs the tasks. Unless a teacher recognises these preferences when allocating children into groups then the groups may be ill matched. For example, in a group where the children have the same preferences they are likely to adopt similar roles. If a group has no 'Chair' then an opportunity for facilitating good team work may be lost. A group where children adopt too many negative roles will be at a disadvantage.

If the effectiveness of group work can be improved by careful planning of the composition of the groups then hopefully we can improve the way they argue and use evidence to make decisions.

Acknowledgement

This research was funded with help from the Rosalind Driver Studentship. Rosalind Driver (1941-1997) was Professor of Science Education at King's College London.

TABLE 5: Comparison of the groups

Row

 

St Anne's Group 1

St Anne's Group 2

Castle Hill

Woodstreet Junior Group 1

Woodstreet Junior Group 2

A

E1 evidence discussed in all activities (maximum 60)

26

19

45

19

9

B

Claims made supported by Data (total in all activities)

47

32

53

31

50

C

Options considered for Gerbil & Cups Activities (maximum number = 12)

10

11

12

11

9

D

Number of suggestions for dealing with Bats

3

2

5

3

1

E

Number of explanations in Marble Activity

3

1

5

1

0

F

Discussion patterns found in the four transcripts

3B

4B

4C

2

3B

4A

4B

4C

1

2

3A

3B

1

2

3A

3B

4B

G

Number of different roles within the group

4

DM; IC; RP; NIC

1

IC

6

IC; NIC; IM;

Ch; PI; Di

2

NIC; IC

5

NIC; Di; NRC; RP; IC

This document was added to the Education-line database on 20 February 2003