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Student Perceptions of Small-Group Learning


by Ida Rose Florez & Mary McCaslin — 2008

Background/Context: Elementary school teachers regularly arrange students in small groups for learning activities. A rich literature discusses various types of small-group learning formats and how those formats affect achievement. Few studies, however, have examined students’ perceptions of small-group learning experiences. Our work extends the small-group literature by studying stories written in response to a picture of children in a small group by students who attend Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) schools about learning in small groups.

Research Question: We examined students’ responses to pictures of small-group situations. Story analysis was guided by the following questions: How do student stories portray small-group experiences? Specifically, do students’ representations focus on achievement or affiliation? Are their representations positive and optimistic, or negative and pessimistic? What motivational systems are attributed to story characters? What are their challenges, behaviors, and goals? What do story characters feel, and how do they manage emotions?

Population: Students (N = 183) in Grades 3–5 who attended three CSR schools.

Research Design: Data collection consisted of student stories in response to a picture of three children working in a group in a classroom. Project instruments and procedures are an adaptation of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT).

Conclusions: Results suggest that students in these CSR schools held positive beliefs about their small-group learning experiences. The stories portrayed students as active, compliant participants who supported one another’s learning, sometimes found their experiences personally meaningful, and were concerned with both achievement and affiliation. Students rarely represented competitive themes and never described rejection, being ignored, or giving up. Students told stories about small-group learning in school that sound like a typical day in most schools: They portray students who work together, support one another, and get the job done.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 11, 2008, p. 2438-2451
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15283, Date Accessed: 12/14/2017 3:20:15 AM

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About the Author
  • Ida Florez
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    IDA ROSE FLOREZ is a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, where she teaches undergraduate child development and educational measurement courses in the Department of Educational Psychology. Her scholarship focuses on early childhood teacher preparation and early childhood assessment. Recent publications are “Early Childhood Education: The Developmentally Appropriate Practice Debate” in T. Good (Ed.), 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook (SAGE, in press); and Do the Assessments Meet the Standards? Developmentally Appropriate, Technically Sound Preschool Assessment, paper presented at the annual convention of the National Association of School Psychologists, New Orleans, LA (2008).
  • Mary McCaslin
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    MARY MCCASLIN is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Arizona. Her scholarship focuses on the relationships among cultural, social, and personal sources of influence that coregulate student adaptive learning, motivational dynamics, and emergent identity. Her recent publications are “Co-Regulation of Student Motivation and Emergent Identity” in Educational Psychologist (in press), and “Co-Regulation of Opportunity, Activity, and Identity in Student Motivation: Elaborations on Vygotskian Themes” in S. M. McInerney and S. Van Etten (Eds.), Big Theories Revisited: Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning(Information Age, 2004).
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