• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 29th January, 2009

A lesson here in conflict resolution?

Theres increasingly compelling evidence that peer collaboration and pairing in the classroom help all students to do well, but so far rather less to suggest what might be a better or worse way to engineer adolescent teamwork.Research by the University of West Virginian duo Lisa Swenson and JoNell Strough published last month in Psychology in the Schools suggests that the friendship between teenage peer partners is not important and gender is only a marginally necessary consideration. What does seem to make a significant difference is whether or not teenagers feel that the interaction with their peer partner involved any degree of conflict. Where there is friction, the pair do not necessarily fail a task, but they fail to learn from the experience and cannot articulate why a particular answer might be correct. Swenson and Strough say that it probably happens because students at odds with one another lose concentration and dont use their time together effectively. Meager conclusion maybe, but they go on to argue that it may permit a useful link between investment in conflict resolution and cognitive development strategies. They investigated 132 West Virginia school students with an average age of 15. Previous research has tended to focus on the dynamics between much younger collaborative learners, for example those taking part in in proven programs such as Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS).In this study students were eligible to take part if they had at least one mutually nominated same-gender friend in the class. They were randomly assigned either to a friend or non-friend condition. Pairs spent five minutes discussing each of the two scientific reasoning problems and then separated to complete an answer sheet individually. In the plant problem" they had to identify the cause of death of several plants. They were offered six scenarios relating to the type of food given to the plant, the frequency and amount of watering, the quality of sunlight, the size of the plant pot and the type of music played to the plant. After working together to deduce a correct answer, they were asked questions about the relationship with their peer partners using a measure called Situation-Specific Relationship Quality (SSRQ). Students who perceived there to be higher levels of conflict during the collaboration earned lower justification scores, so indicating poorer scientific skills. Girl pairs did better than boys in terms of justification scores but the effect was small and the difference not significant. Teachers worry about pairing friends; the findings suggest that the difference between pairing friends or non-friends is small. Swenson and Strough propose that future research should investigate whether being in a same-gender or other-gender pair makes a difference to scores. The also argue that their findings have implications for school psychologists. Conflict-resolution interventions often are aimed at improving students social development and peer relationships, or reducing the incidence of violence in schools, they say. Our findings highlight the potential implications of such interventions for promoting cognitive development.See: Swenson L and Strough J (2008) Adolescents collaboration in the classroom: do peer relationships or gender matter? Psychology in the schools, 45, 8, 715-728.

Back to Archives