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Collaborative skill instructions for promoting positive interactions between mentally handicapped and nonhandicapped children.

ABSTRACT: Structuring cooperative learning activities has been shown to be an effective technique for integrating handicapped and nonhandicapped students. Previous research in this area has focused on the relative effects of cooperative versus competitive and individualistic learning situations upon peer relations and academic achievement. Few investigations have examined the various elements within the cooperative learning model that appear to promote positive peer interactions among handicapped and nonhandicapped students. The present study evaluated the influence of collaborative skill instruction versus no collaborative skill instruction on the social interaction behaviors of moderately/severely handicapped and nonhandicapped students participating in group science activities. These data reveal that students receiving collaborative skill instruction interacted more positively with one another than those who did not receive the instruction.

Structuring interaction activities that involve nonhandicapped students with their handicapped peers is widely recognized as an important aspect of successful social integration and mainstreaming (Ballard, Corman, Gottlieb, & Kaufman, 1977; Bricker, 1978; Fredericks, Baldwin, Grove, Moore, Riggs, & Lyons, 1978; Gottlieb, 1978; Johnson & Johnson, 1980; Madden & Slavin, 1983; Rynders, Johnson, Johnson, & Schmidt, 1980). One technique that has helped teachers to successfully instruct students in the mainstream and promote constructive peer relationships among nonhandicapped and handicapped students is cooperative learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1980; Slavin, 1984). A cooperative goal structure is one in which individuals are able to reach their goals only if all members in the group work together to achieve their goal (Deutsch, 1949), as opposed to situations in which an individual's goal attainment is either not interrelated with group goal attainment (individualistic) or is negatively correlated with others' goal attainments (competitive).

As conceptualized by Johnson and Johnson (1984), cooperative learning is a teaching strategy that consists of four basic elements. The first element is "positive interdependence" which requires that group members work together to accomplish a goal. Methods for promoting positive interdependence are mutual goals (goal interdependence); divisions of labor (task interdependence); dividing materials, resources, or information among group members (resource interdependence); assigning students differing roles (role interdependence); and giving joint rewards (reward interdependence). Second, face-to-face interaction with verbal interaction (or another form of communication) must occur. Third, students are held individually accountable for mastering the assigned material and contributing to the group's efforts. The "hitchhiking" phenomenon, where one student does most of the work and the others get a "free ride" is minimized in properly structured cooperative activities. Finally, students are expected to use appropriate interpersonal and small-group skills. Teachers provide specific instructions on how to collaborate in groups.

Considerable research has been conducted on the relative effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning experiences on peer relations (see reviews by Johnson, Johnson, & Maruyama, 1983; Michaels, 1977; Pepitone, 1980; Slavin, 1977). Results of a meta-analysis of more than 50 studies comparing the effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning situations on peer relations showed that cooperative situations generally produced more instances of positive heterogeneous relationships (Johnson, et al., 1983).

Does instruction in collaborative skills aid in producing positive interactions among handicapped and nonhandicapped students engaged in cooperative learning activities? In many classrooms it is likely that group instruction involves assigning students to groups and informing them about the task requirements, after which students are expected to work together to complete the assignment. Little time or attention is devoted to directly teaching students the interpersonal behaviors that foster collaboration. Various cooperative learning methods used in schools and studied extensively by researchers, such as the jigsaw approach, student teams achievement divisions, or teams--games--tournament, do not incorporate systematic instruction in collaborative skills (Slavin, 1985). In their conceptualization of cooperative goal structuring, Johnson & Johnson (1975) stressed the importance of the teacher's role in directly teaching collaborative skills to make groups function effectively.

Numerous interpersonal skills influence the success of cooperative group efforts. Johnson and Johnson (1984, p. 174) have identified the following four levels of collaborative skills to be taught: 1. Forming: management skills directed toward

organizing the group and establishing minimum

norms for appropriate behavior. 2. Functioning: management skills needed to complete

the task and maintain effective working

relationships among members. 3. Formulating: skills needed to build deeper level

understanding of the material being studied, to

stimulate the use of higher quality reasoning

strategies, and to maximize mastery and retention

of the assigned material. 4. Fermenting: skills needed to stimulate reconceptualization

of the material being studied, the search

for more information, and the communication of

the rationale behind one's conclusions. (See

Johnson and Johnson [1984] for examples of

specific skills in the four categories.) Teachers must determine the specific skills students need to master and they must translate collaborative skills into language that their students can understand and identify with.

Gresham (1981) and Strain and Shores (1983) have postulated that deficits in social skills of students with handicaps are a major factor in the poor success of mainstreaming and social integration efforts, and that social skills should be systematically taught to students with handicaps. The collaborative skills identified by Johnson and Johnson (1984) are at least a subset of the social skills students with handicaps are likely to need to succeed in regular classes. Furthermore, it is likely that many nonhandicapped students also lack some of the social behaviors which facilitate working collaboratively and getting along with others (Johnson, Johnson, Holubec, & Roy, 1984). The question addressed in this study is whether or not collaborative skill instruction enhances interpersonal interactions among students. Currently, we know of no cooperative learning study which has focused specifically on the influence of collaborative skill instruction on interpersonal interactions.

Most studies on mainstreaming and cooperative learning have involved students with mild handicapping conditions. Because students with moderate and severe mental handicaps have been neglected in previous investigations, they became the core of subjects in this study. The cooperative learning activity selected was in the academic area of science. METHOD Sample Participating children included 16 (3 boys and 13 girls, CA range 9-14) with IQs ranging from less than 35 to 52 who were classified as mentally retarded. These children were drawn from three self-contained trainable mentally handicapped classrooms in the elementary school and had no prior experience in mainstream classrooms. Five of these students had Down syndrome and two were classified as autistic; the rest had nonspecified forms of mental retardation. The 32 (15 boys and 17 girls, CA range 10-12) nonhandicapped students were drawn from two fifth-grade regular education classrooms. None of the students had participated in cooperative learning activities in the past. Treatment Conditions Nonhandicapped students were stratified by ability level and sex and assigned randomly to groups. Regarding ability level, teachers of nonhandicapped students were asked to rate each student in terms of high, medium, and low relative ability levels. Mentally handicapped students were stratified by ability level according to their scores on The Topeka Kansas Association for Retarded Citizens Assessment Inventory for Severely Handicapped Children (Sailor & Mix, 1975). After random assignment, there was no significant difference between mentally handicapped students in the two treatment conditions on TARC scores or IQ scores.

Each condition was implemented in a different classroom at a suburban elementary school. Conditions were structured similarly, in that students were informed of the task requirements and success criteria for the particular assignment, after which they worked on the assigned task for about 25 minutes, while the teacher monitored behaviors. Teachers were asked not to intervene within any group more than three times per session.

In Condition 1, uninstructed in collaborative skills, instruction and feedback were related to the task. In Condition 2, instructed in collaborative skills, the teacher provided collaborative skill instruction using the following approach. First, the teacher identified a skill (or skills) to be practiced and provided a verbal description and example of the skill (e.g., describing a situation and the appropriate response). The teacher would check for understanding by asking one or two students for brief examples of the skill. Then, students were asked to perform the skill during the academic activity. Cooperative lessons were scripted for the investigation with three to four collaborative skills introduced at the beginning of each lesson (scripts are available from the first author). For example, on one day the following collaborative skills were identified: (a) sharing materials and ideas; (b) encouraging everyone to participate; (c) saying at least one nice thing to everyone in your group; and (d) checking to see if everyone understands and agrees with the answers. Students were told that the teacher would be watching to see if these particular behaviors occurred in the groups and would record such instances on an observation sheet. Teacher monitoring involved observing and recording instances of cooperative behaviors exhibited during the group activities (a checklist was devised for this purpose); feedback given at the end of the session pertained to cooperation. A 5-minute processing session took place at the end of the activity, in which students were encouraged to discuss matters relating to cooperation. (In Condition 1, the teacher discussed a topic unrelated to cooperation in order to compensate for the increased amount of teacher instruction in cooperation in Condition 4.)

All students worked in heterogeneous triads on science units that were designed to promote "natural" interdependence and facilitate participation of group members. Triad assignments were also randomized. The ratio of girls to boys in most of the triads was 2: 1; however, in one treatment condition, one triad consisted of two boys and one girl, and in the other condition, two triads were composed similarly. (For a more complete description of this study, see Putnam, 1983). Procedure The science units (based on the Sink or Float unit by Elementary Science Study [ 1971 1) were offered over a 3-week time period, for a total of 10 daily 45-minute sessions; the latter consisted of about 35 minutes of group activities and 10 minutes of free play. During instructional sessions, three students, one handicapped and two nonhandicapped, were seated at adjacent desks or at a small table.

In both treatments, students worked on activities designed to promote interdependence and encourage participation of all group members. Each group, for example, usually received only one set of curriculum materials. If students were working on making a group picture, they had one piece of art paper and one box of crayons; if they were weighing objects, they had only one scale. Paper-and-pencil tasks as well as manipulative tasks were used in activities aimed at teaching an understanding of bouyancy and displacement through inquiry-oriented activities. For example, students experimented with objects of different shapes, sizes, and densities to determine whether or not, and why, some objects floated. They also discovered how to make a ball of clay float. During free play, students had access to a variety of materials (e.g., table games, manipulatives, balls), and they were encouraged to move around the classroom and interact with other students.

In both treatment conditions, instructors graded group products on the basis of task completion and accuracy. However, grades were not emphasized (i.e., not posted or shared with other groups) in order to avoid the possibility that students would cooperate only for grades, overshadowing the effects of the variables of interest (i.e., teacher instruction in collaborative skills). Fifth-grade students were informed that they each would be given a final objective test that would be recorded in the grade book to assess their understanding of the material covered in the unit.

Instructional personnel included a fifth-grade science teacher, two special education teachers, and a teaching assistant. They were trained for 6 hours in the use of cooperative learning procedures and in implementing the scripted science lessons. Two adults were paired on a randomized basis and assigned to each classroom. One member of the team was designated as "instructor" for the class (e.g., explained the task, monitored behavior, provided group feedback), and the other served as an "instructional aide" (e.g., organized and handed out materials). In each condition, at least one of the adults was well-known to the handicapped students. To control for possible instructor personality effects, instructor teams were rotated across the two treatment conditions midway through the study. Dependent Variables and Data Collection The primary dependent variables were the interactive behaviors of the two groups of children while participating in science activities.

Social interactions during group science activities were measured by direct observation of a predetermined set of interactive behaviors using a modified version of the Social Interaction Observation System (SIOS) developed by Voeltz, Kishi, and Brennan (I 98 1). Designed for use with dyads of nonhandicapped and severely handicapped children, the SIOS monitors seven major behavioral categories.

The SIOS was modified to fit the particular characteristics and circumstances of the study. Because the majority of the students with handicaps were moderately rather than severely handicapped, and activities had more of an academic emphasis, it was felt that the "nonhandicapped" portion of the coding system was more appropriate for measuring interpersonal interactions. In addition, a number of behavior categories were deleted because they were not considered to be pertinent to the purposes of the study (e.g., "position" or "touch person"). Thirty-two behaviors from five major categories were used from the "nonhandicapped" portion of the coding system: "orientation ..... affect," "objects," play," and vocalizations." Precise definitions of each category were provided (Voeltz et. al., 1981). Because students worked in heterogeneous triads, the directionality of social bids was of interest. Therefore, whether the behavior was directed toward a handicapped (H) or nonhandicapped (N) student was recorded for some behavioral categories.

Order of triad observation and students to be observed within each triad were prerandomized, and observers were rotated across conditions daily. Observers spent 5 minutes at each triad, observing one student for I 0 seconds, and so on; after 5 minutes they moved to another triad. Reliability checks on the major SIOS behavioral categories were made on 3 days prior to intervention, using videotapes and a simulated situation, and on a daily basis throughout the study.

Percentage of agreement on the SIOS (calculated as the number of agreements divided by the number of agreements plus disagreements x 100) on the average scores of observer pairs ranged from 80% to 100% on the behavioral categories. (The lower percentage agreement outcome can be attributed to an observer failing to record one of the orientation categories during a 5-minute observation on one day.) RESULTS Social Interactions During Tasks (SIOS) There were three effects to be tested; instructed in collaborative skills versus uninstructed in collaborative skills; handicapped students versus nonhandicapped students main effects; and the interaction of these two variables.

Multivariate analyses of variance were performed on the SIOS using the SPSS MANOVA program. Because some of the 32 behaviors observed occurred very infrequently (sometimes not at all over the 10 days), only those behaviors which had a "reasonable" response rate were selected for analysis. To be included, the overall average count for each treatment condition had to be greater than .05 (for five I 0-second observation periods). This cutoff point is similar to that used in previous research of this nature (Voeltz, 1983). Based on this selection criterion, the behaviors listed in Table I were analyzed. Unfortunately, the SPSS MANOVA program would not permit the removal of nonresponses (coded as zeros) of moderately handicapped students for those three behaviors they could not exhibit: orient" (to special education student), cooperative participation" (with special education student), and comments" (to special education student). Handicapped students could only be compared on 10 variables. A two-way MANOVA on 10 variables that apply to both handicapped and nonhandicapped subjects showed no interaction of these two variables, F (10, 35) = 1.87, p < .084. This result suggested exploration of the two main effects. Significant differences were found between the uninstructed and instructed treatment conditions, F (10, 35) = 2.86, p < .01, and between handicapped and nonhandicapped students in the two groups F (10, 35) = 5.84, p < . 00.

The statistically significant difference between handicapped and nonhandicapped subjects in the two conditions suggested further testing to locate the differences by conducting separate MANOVAs for handicapped and nonhandicapped students. To test the hypothesis that there were no differences between the uninstructed and instructed treatment conditions as pertains to the handicapped students, two followup MANOVA tests on nonhandicapped students were performed; one for 10 and another for 13 SIOS variables. Both indicated significant differences between treatment conditions. When 10 variables were considered, the F (I 0, 2 1) was 3.06, p < 0 1 5; when 13 variables were considered the F (13, 18) was 3.45, p < .008. When observations, on mentally handicapped students only, were compared in the two groups, there were no overall differences between conditions, F (10, 5) = 4.74, p < .853.

In order to explore more fully the overall significant differences between treatments, t-tests were used to test the null hypothesis that there was no difference between treatments as they pertain to any of the 13 SIOS variables. As can be seen from Table 1, the two groups differed significantly on the following behavioral categories: "orient" (facing direction of and/or eyes focused on handicapped student for 3 seconds or more), "cooperative" (manipulating some objects or materials or engaging in activity with handicapped student), comments" (neutral vocalizations directed to handicapped student), and "intrusion" (teacher intervenes verbally or by manipulating objects or materials). DISCUSSION The practice of having teachers address cooperative skills in heterogeneous group learning activities is supported by the results of this investigation. Significant differences were found for the instructed in collaborative skills condition which indicate that when students are (a) introduced to specific cooperative skills through explanation and examples; (b) asked to demonstrate specific cooperative skills; (c) are observed by the teacher; and (d) are given feedback and an opportunity to discuss their performance, the nonhandicapped students will interact more with handicapped students by looking at them, talking with them, and working cooperatively with them.

Collaborative skill instruction appears to have had the greatest impact upon those behaviors directed towards handicapped students in the small groups. Conditions did not differ significantly with respect to frequencies of behaviors aimed at nonhandicapped students. Thus, it may be even more important to provide collaborative skill instruction when heterogeneous groups of handicapped and nonhandicapped students work together than when groups are composed of nonhandicapped students only.

Teacher intrusion was limited to three or less instances per session, and although very few instances occurred in either of the treatment conditions, there were significantly more in the instructed in collaborative skills condition. Specific factors accounting for this difference are uncertain. It is possible that a collaborative skills emphasis elicits more teacher monitoring and participation. Additional study is needed to determine specific effects of teacher intrusion on cross-handicap interactions between students with handicaps and their nonhandicapped peers.

Interestingly, there was a strikingly low level of occurrence for a number of undesirable behaviors measured by the modified SIOS observation instrument. For example, there were no instances of negative comment" to handicapped students or "talks about" handicapped students observed in the instructed condition and very few in the uninstructed condition. Also, few instances of "negative affect" were recorded. The approach in sampling observational data may have been insufficient for capturing infrequent or momentary behaviors. Or it may be that these behaviors rarely occur in cooperative group activities of the type structured for this investigation. In any case, the fear that moderately and severely handicapped students will be openly ridiculed and rejected by nonhandicapped peers, a fear sometimes expressed by those who oppose social integration of mentally handicapped students, may not be well founded--specially for those situations in which integration procedures are structured properly, e.g., cooperatively. On the other hand, it would be unnatural if at least a few negative behaviors did not occur; if nonhandicapped students are too "nice" to their mentally handicapped peers, the behavior might actually be a form of preferential (perhaps even patronizing) treatment, reflecting a lack of genuine acceptance. And, a few negative behaviors did occur in the present study. For example, during the beginning of the study the first author observed two nonhandicapped students laughing at (not with) a student with Down syndrome when she appeared to be talking to herself.

In closing, one might ask, "why would teacher instruction in collaborative skills influence certain social interaction behaviors?" A number of important events take place in the instructed in collaborative skills process. First, the teacher is setting specific behavioral expectations for the students regarding appropriate interpersonal behaviors. Second, he or she issues rewards and sets contingencies for several types of classroom behaviors (e.g., academic performance, interpersonal behavior). It is quite natural for students to comply with specified expectations in order to obtain rewards (e.g., grades, social reinforcement). Moreover, when teachers observe and provide feedback on interpersonal interactions, students are being reminded continually of the behavioral expectations set forth. Students' awareness that their interactions are being monitored probably makes them feel more accountable for their behaviors. Possible separate contributions of teachers' explanation of the desired collaborative behaviors versus teacher monitoring and feedback to the effects of the teacher instructed condition have yet to be determined. In this investigation, they were treated as an interrelated part of the total instructional process. An interesting future research project would be to compare the effects of setting up cooperative groups with instruction on collaborative skills, after which the teacher virtually withdraws, versus the same procedure with ongoing monitoring and feedback.

Academic achievement was not a focus of this study, but is an important consideration in mainstreaming efforts (Johnson et al., 1983). There was no significant difference between nonhandicapped students' performance in the two treatment conditions on the science unit post test. In this study, instructional objectives for mentally handicapped students were individualized and related to development of nonacademic skills as well (e.g., following instructions, taking turns, getting the materials at the back of the room). Partial participation (Baumgart et al., 1980) of mentally handicapped students in science activities was encouraged. Illustrations of partial participation were (a) a moderately handicapped student printing the answers to the questions as other group members spelled the words and (b) a severely handicapped student pouring water into a container for an experiment on displacement. With a little creative thinking, teachers could identify numerous possibilities for partial participation in regular class activities. It is recommended that future studies systematically assess targeted achievement gains of mentally handicapped students.

Another important issue in the research on techniques for facilitating the social integration of handicapped students is the generalization of effects to other situations. it is suggested that future investigations monitor social interactions on a longitudinal basis in situations such as the cafeteria, school bus, or playground, that are removed from the instructional situation in terms of time and/or space and/or teacher influence. Work of this type is currently being undertaken by the authors.

The results of this study suggest that teaching nonhandicapped and moderately and severely handicapped students how to behave in small group activities may enhance some interactions. Simply placing students in groups to work on a joint assignment may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for successful mainstreaming. Many students are not equipped with the interpersonal skills necessary for collaboration. Thus, teachers may want to instill in students an awareness that particular behaviors are needed and an understanding of what the behaviors are in addition to feedback on how they are performing. And, most importantly, an integrated context within which to practice and refine collaborative skills should be provided.

Further research is needed to determine which educational situations (e.g., nonacademic activities such as physical education, helping in the school cafeteria, or academic activities) are most suited for cooperative learning activities involving moderately/ severely handicapped and nonhandicapped students. Slavin, Leavy, and Madden's (1982) approach, in which individualization within cooperative groups is advocated, could be a very promising technique for mainstreaming since it does not require all students to perform on the same level, and progress on individualized skill objectives is not sacrificed for any student.

While there are many aspects of the cooperative learning technique and its effects on peer relations which have yet to be explored, the results of the present study should provide encouragement to those who wish to see mainstreaming benefit both handicapped and nonhandicapped children in their psychosocial development and who are willing to structure mainsteaming conditions deliberately and judiciously.
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Author:Putnam, Joanne W.; Rynders, John E.; Johnson, Roger T.; Johnson, David W.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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