Partners in problem solving children collaborating in pairs
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/15314
The extent to which children’s collaborations with their peers affects their learning is an area which merits scrutiny due to the complexities of such collaborations, the nature of the tasks children focus on, and the dynamics of peer discourse. This study focuses specifically upon pairs of children of similar ability during problem solving in mathematics. Current research on collaborative peer dyads (children working in pairs) indicates that these small groups are relatively non-threatening and provide the opportunity for a child to elaborate his or her ideas with a peer. Debate surrounds the quality of collaborations within dyads and the extent to which these interactions influence children’s learning. This qualitative study closely examined the processes of collaboration between children in peer dyads as they engaged in problem solving. The 16 children in the study ranged in age from seven to 10 years. The problems they investigated varied in type from closed (with one “correct” solution) to ill-defined (with a range of possible solutions and strategies). The methodology draws upon grounded theory and incorporates a number of central grounded theory methods. These methods were used to analyse the data and build a conceptual basis for this analysis, rather than to build a grounded theory. Methods of data collection included observation, interviews, video-recording, audio-recording, children’s work samples, recourse to relevant documents and discussions with teachers. The findings suggest that the notion of a problem “type” in enhancing collaboration is less relevant than the cognitive demand of the problem. The cognitive demand of problems was crucial for encouraging children's engagement with each other. The presence of a partner appeared to maintain persistence with problems which were challenging. This persistence was quite subtle, yet effective, in that one child did not overtly encourage another to stay on task but merely continued with a line of reasoning or exploration. Often, this was all that was required to re-engage a reluctant or discouraged child. Collaboration was not a constant feature of any dyad during any one problem. The children often moved from individual musing to peer collaboration in an iterative fashion. The roles that the children assumed within a dyad did not remain static. This appeared to be a corollary of similar ability dyads wherein the power relationship is relatively mutual and reciprocal. There was evidence to suggest that children would often borrow each other’s strategies, language and ideas to pursue the problem solving. While the children’s talk was utilised as the prime focus for analysing the data it is acknowledged that any study which examines talk is limited by the imperfect and incomplete way that spoken language represents thought. A further limitation is determining the extent to which children learnt from each other and the residue that any learning may have left for children’s future problem solving. The implications of this study include the potential of collaborative peer dyads for developing children’s persistence in problem solving. Such persistence can encourage children to persevere when experiencing difficulty and consult with a peer rather than abandon a problem or rely upon a teacher’s intervention. Such a finding does not assume that teachers should relinquish their role as challengers, facilitators and supporters of children’s learning. Children’s misinterpretations should not be left unchallenged and dyads are not always sufficient for clarifying such confusions. Teachers’ decisions about curriculum and pedagogy could, however, consider the potential for collaborative peer dyads in developing persistence in problem solving when a problem is sufficiently challenging and engaging for children.
The University of Waikato
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