The Effects of Cooperative Learning Arrangements on the Social Skills of Pupils Identified as having Severe Learning Difficulties, who Attend Special Primary Schools
Socratous, Maria Eleni
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Cooperation among children in classrooms forms the basis of many interventions designed to improve, among others, pupils’ social relations in schools. Therefore, nowadays cooperative learning (CL) is used as a very popular teaching approach in mainstream settings. However, research and literature regarding CL focus mostly on pupils who attend mainstream settings. Research and literature are missing, or at best are very limited, as regards the use of CL with pupils identified as having severe learning difficulties (SLD), who attend special schools. This study aims to suggest ways for addressing this gap by investigating the effects of CL arrangements on the social skills of pupils with SLD, who attend special schools. This thesis is based on a multiple case study research design. It took place in two different special classes, one in England and the other in Cyprus, and was separated in two different phases. Phase one was an ethnographic study exploring the teaching approaches that were utilised in each class for promoting the social skills of the pupils, how the notion of social skills was perceived in the two settings and how group activities were implemented. For this phase qualitative methods were used, collecting data through semi structured interviews of the professionals’ views on cooperative learning, teaching approaches and about the notion of social skills. Naturalistic observations during the everyday classroom practices were also conducted. Based on the findings of phase one, some initial propositions regarding CL arrangements for children identified as having SLD were developed. Phase two aimed at exploring these initial propositions in both classes, in England and Cyprus, in order to investigate what happens when they are implemented with regard to the social skills of the pupils. The initial propositions were opened to amendments. By following an action research approach, the propositions were continuously evolved and re-developed on the basis of data interpretations along with discussions with the teachers. By planning, acting, observing, reflecting and then planning again, the effects of these propositions on the social skills of the children were investigated in both classes. In this phase, qualitative methods were used as well, collecting data through naturalistic observations during the 3 implementation of CL activities, and through semi structured interviews of the teachers’ views regarding these activities. The findings of this study suggest that CL arrangements for pupils identified as having SLD who attend special schools can be beneficial for the promotion of their social skills. CL arrangements in the two special classrooms promoted not merely pupils' communication skills that enabled them to express their opinions and choices on issues concerning their learning experiences, but those social skills that created a sense of interdependence among them. Although, current literature and research in the field of SLD mainly suggest ways for practitioners to promote the social skills of the pupils on an adult-pupil basis, the current study takes a step forward. It suggests that CL arrangements in special settings can encourage pupils to promote their social skills by communicating, assisting and expressing their opinions and choices to their peers, in addition to their communication with adults.
Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter
PhD in Education