Cooperative learning on academic achievement in elementary African American males

Cooperative learning on academic achievement in elementary African American males

Linda Wilson-Jones

The aim of T this study was to investigated how cooperative learning promoted the academic success of elementary African American males in grades 3 through 6 in a rural school in Mississippi This study presents viewpoints based on these students’ perception of what influenced academic achievement. The qualitative study Using a qualitative analyzed interview data gathered in approach to collecting data, participants engaged6 face-to-face interviews with 16 African-American males over a 3-month period during the 2002-2003 academic school year.. Participants represented 16 elementary African American males. All students students were regular education students who ranged between the ages of 8 and 13 years old. The participants were interviewsed focused on topics related to home and school experiences and and on how these two environments affected their academic success. It was evident of the significance cooperative learning had on their desire to learn. Cooperative learning was found to be a Results of this study indicated that was primary among the factor promoting that promoted these students” their academic success. The results further indicated thatamong the factors thought to inhibit their academic successFinings showed that those African American males who had limited literacy activities did not perform as well academically as the students who did.


The purpose of this study was to determine the effective learning styles of rural elementary African American males and to identify instructional strategies that could promote their academic success.

Review of Related Literature

In her book. Black Children: Their Roots, Culture and Learning Styles, Hale-Benson (1982) suggested that the formal methods of educating African American students had not succeeded because educators had not used teaching styles that corresponded with African American children’s unique learning styles. According to Hale-Benson, teachers of African American students must understand the role culture has on learning styles and adapt teaching styles to coincide with these learning styles. In describing the unique learning styles of African American children, Hale-Benson stated that African American children engage in people-oriented learning styles, therefore, preferred working collaboratively in groups with others. A positive classroom setting has been linked to student’s school satisfaction as early as third grade (Baker, 1999). Baker found that teachers who engaged students in small group instruction and cooperative learning had African American students who showed an overall improvement in academic performance and school satisfaction.

The Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education (1992) defined cooperative learning as a successful teaching strategy that team students in small groups with different levels of ability, using a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. The overall intend of this instructional strategy is to teach responsibility for learning and to help others learn. The findings from numerous research on cooperative learning found improvements in (a) academic achievement, (b) behavior and attendance, (c) self-confidence and motivation, and (d) school and classmates satisfaction (Hudley, 1997; Quinn, 2002). The overall concept of cooperative learning is the positive interrelation that occurs when group members are connected together for the success of the entire group. The group builds a community of support and encouragement in carrying out assigned tasks and each member is held accountable for achieving the goals.

Research found that a learning environment that offered encouragement and an opportunity for accomplishment was essential to the academic achievement of African American males (Edwards & McMillion 2000). A sense of accomplishment built the self-esteem and self-concept of African American males and gave them a willingness to continue at being academically successful (Justice, 1999). Research constantly showed that the learning styles of African American males were unique and cooperative learning was the most effective method of teaching these students (Peterz, 1999).

Cooperative learning has been researched and implemented in classrooms around the world since the 1970s. Research has proven that this instructional strategy can be instrumental in encouraging student relations and motivating academic involvement toward school. Research also indicated that cooperative learning can produce positive effects on academic achievement, especially for students with learning disabilities (Gillies & Ashman, 2002). It is essential, however, to note that cooperative learning is not simply the process of grouping students, when it is carefully structured, students exhibited an increase in academic engaged time and elementary students remained on task (Quinn, 2002).

According to Pang and Barba (1995) students of color are more prone to function better within group settings than individually and they have a preference for learning cooperatively. Therefore, when teachers implemented cooperative learning strategies in the classroom with students of color, they promoted academic achievement among these students. Research also indicated that students of color have unique cognitive and learning styles from those of other cultures (Gay, 2000).

Banks (2001) also found in his study on diversity and education that instructional programs in schools should be structured to reflect the learning styles of all students. Further research on instructional strategies and learning styles found that schools were not meeting the learning and cognitive styles of students of color (Fordham, 1996). Ladson-Billings (1994) found that when educators matched teaching and learning preferences and implemented cooperative learning to match learning styles, students of color were more academically responsive in the learning process.


Data was collected using face-to-face interviews. The interviews were conducted at the student’s school during the 2002-2003 academic school year. The parents or legal guardians were asked to give consent for their children to participate. During the initial telephone contact, the research process was explained and parents/guardians were informed to expect a formal written request and consent forms. All of the invited students whose parents or legal guardians granted written permission to participate were also ask permission to participate and informed of the purpose and intent of the research project. The confidentiality and voluntary nature of the study was described to students before each interview. Each interview session was tape-recorded.


Data was collected using face-to-face interviews individually with each of the 16 elementary African American males. The interviews were conducted in their educational setting during the 2002-2003 academic school year. Students were interviewed over a 3-month period on 6 separate occasions for approximately 30-minutes each. Students were asked to describe their feelings about school, teachers, parents and themselves. In order to capture the full essence of the interviews, the sessions were tape-recorded. The taped recorded sessions were transcribed into textual data. The textual data was coded into reoccurring themes, which provided the basis for generating ground theory. Cooperative learning was the main theme across the interviews.

Students were asked to respond to the following interview items:

1. Do you work with friends on class projects?

2. Describe how you feel about school.

3. Describe your classroom.

4. How do you prefer to study?

5. How do you learn best?

6. Do you read for fun or do you read only for class work?

7. Describe reading time at school.

8. Do you work well in groups?

Results of Study

This qualitative study involving sixteen rural elementary African American males provided insight into their educational experiences, particularly into their perspectives concerning academic achievement. The students shared viewpoints and feelings about the daily academic experiences they faced in a rural school in Mississippi. Two thoughts were related to this academic concern. First, a limited amount of research existed addressing academic achievement [dl I ]of elementary African American males. Second, African American males are faced daily with situations that appear to decrease their chances for academic achievement. Therefore, this study offered an opportunity to gain a better understanding and insight into the preferred learning environment they felt was most beneficial to their academic success. According to the responses of all students, cooperative learning was the preferred method of classroom learning.

Almost all students indicated that they preferred to learn by working in groups with limited interaction with teachers. Most expressed a preference to doing class projects and other activities that involved working in groups with other students. This method of learning appeared to be most conducive for academic achievement for this group of African American students.

Recommendations for future research:

1. Future educational research should include expansion of this study to investigate other African American males from different parts of the United States and not restricted to rural areas.

2. The research should be conducted as a longitudinal study to follow students throughout their educational journey to observe changes in learning styles as they matured.

3. Using the same methodology expand the number of students to include other African American males within the same age group but from various backgrounds and geographic areas to determine a need for curriculum change in the school systems.

4. The educational curriculum should be geared to ensure that cooperative learning is a major teaching strategies for African American males from elementary through high school.


Baker, J.A., (1999, September). Teacher-student interaction in urban at-risk classrooms: Differential behavior, relationship quality and student satisfaction with school. The Elementary School Journal, 100 (1), p. 57-70.

Banks. J. A. (2001). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum and teaching. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Dr. Linda Wilson-Jones and Dr. Marlene Cain Caston, Faculty Members, Fayetteville State University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Linda Wilson- Jones, 1200 Murchison Road. Fayetteville, NC 28301: email:

Edwards, P. A., & McMillion, G.T. (2000, November). Why does Joshua “hate” school … but love Sunday school? Language Arts, 78, p. 111-120.

Fordham, S. (1996). Blacked out: Dilemmas of race, identity, and success at Capital High. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory research and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gillies, R. M. & Ashman, A. F. (Spr. 2000). The effects of cooperative learning on students with learning disabilities in the lower elementary school. Journal of Special Education, 34, (1), p. 19-28.

Hale-Benson, J. (1982). Black children: Their roots, culture and learning styles. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press.

Hudley, C.A. (1997, May). Teacher practices and student motivation in a middle school program for African American males. Urban Education, 32, (2) p. 304-319.

Justice, E. M., Lindsey, L. L., & Morrow, S. F. (1999, February). The relation of self-perceptions to achievement among African American preschoolers. Journal of Black Psychology. 25 (1) p. 48-60.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994) The Dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Department of Education. (1992). Vo. 1.

Pang, V. O. & Barba, R. H. (1995). The power of culture: Building culturally affirming instruction. Educating for Diversity. p. 341-358. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Peterz, K. S. (1999, May). The overrepresentation of Black students in special education classrooms. Education Rights, In Motion Magazine.

Quinn, M. M. (August 2002). Changing antisocial behavior patterns in young boys: A structured cooperative learning approach. Education and Treatment of Children, 25, (4), p. 36.

COPYRIGHT 2004 George Uhlig Publisher

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group