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D. Filippatou, S. Kaldi

University of Thessaly (GREECE)
This study focuses upon the effectiveness of structured co-operative group work on primary school pupils with learning difficulties regarding their content knowledge, attitudes toward co-operative group work, metacognitive skills, relationships with peers, experiential learning and open-ended curriculum as well as pupils’ social and learning behaviour during co-operative group work. A cross-curricular educational programme was implemented within the curriculum area of environmental studies entitled ‘traffic education’ for eight weeks. On average, three teaching hours were spent every week in eight Year 4 mainstream primary school classes. The methodology applied in this study was two-fold: a) the experimental research design and the case study research design. The sample included 32 pupils with learning difficulties (LDs) allocated in the eight Year 4 classes. The selection of the classes was based on two criteria: (a) class teachers who volunteered to implement a structured group work learning educational programme and (b) classes, which had pupils with LDs. The 32 pupils were identified as having LDs based on two measures: (a) a standardized teacher questionnaire for identification of pupils with learning difficulties (A.M.D.E.) (Padeliadu & Sideridis, 2008) and (b) a standardized screening software for learning skills and weaknesses (L.A.M.D.A.) (Protopappas & Scalumbakas, 2008).Sixteen pupils with LDs participated in the experimental group and sixteen pupils with LDs in the control group. The instruments used in order to collect data were: (a) knowledge test about traffic education which was administered to both research groups of the study, (b) an attitude scale about group work learning, experiential learning, metacognitive skills and relationships with peers which was administered to the experimental group of pupils only and (c) an observation scale used during the teaching sessions in the experimental group of pupils who worked with structured group work. In the control group pupils implemented the educational programme of ‘traffic education’ in a traditional teaching method which could not provide data for comparing group work behaviour and attitudes between the two research groups of pupils. The study was undertaken during January to May in two school years (2009-2010 and 2010-2011) in the prefecture of Larissa (central mainland of Greece) The findings of the present study support the view that pupils can gain benefits through structured group work co-operation in obtaining content knowledge and group work skills, as well as in developing positive attitudes toward group work, experiential learning, metacognitive skills and open-ended curriculum. On the contrary, changes in the relationships with the peers and the co-operation with their peers with LDs were not affected after the implementation of the educational programme. Moreover, pupils in the experimental group improved their co-operative learning behaviour, individual accountability according to the rules of working in groups and an understanding of the learning activities during the implementation of the educational programme whereas they did not show an improvement in their co-operative group work skills during tasks in which pupils worked in divided group work according to the rules of working in groups. The implications of the outcomes in the present study are also discussed within the frame of special education.