A. O'Donnell

Rutgers The State University of New Jersey (UNITED STATES)
The purpose of the study was to compare the effectiveness of the collaborative use of a graphic organizer or a question generation strategy on students’ learning about the circulatory system. Collaboration among peers is known to enhance reasoning and conceptual development under some circumstances (Cohen, 1994). An important issue for both teachers and researchers lies in understanding how to promote and sustain high quality discourse in groups. Students in the middle school are only beginning to develop self-regulatory skills necessary to maintain focus, direct strategic cognitive actions in the pursuit of goals (Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992) and students need support to do so. 192 students from five 7th grade classes and four 8th grade classes within the same school participated. Materials were developed in collaboration with classroom teachers and with college faculty in life sciences. The experiment took place over a four-day period. Classes were assigned to either a Graphic Organizer group or a Questioning group. On the first day, all students took a prettest. The students in the Graphic Organizer were then provided with a list of structures of the human circulatory system in the form of a graphic organizer and were asked to find out the functions of these. The students in the Questioning group were asked to generate Fact or Connection questions about the human circulatory system. On successive days, the students worked on material related to the earthworm’s and the grasshopper’s circulatory systems. On the third day, students also worked together to compare the circulatory systems of all three organisms. On the final day of the study, the students took the posttest. Students were successful in learning about the circulatory system. The true/false questions tapped into many common misconceptions held by students (Chi, Chiu, & De Leeuw, 1992) and the improved performance by students on the posttest indicated a reduction in misconceptions. Students who used graphic organizers were more successful than those who generated fact and connection questions on an overall posttest score. However, an interaction of grade level with condition qualifies this finding. Seventh graders did better in the fact/connection question condition than in the graphic organizer condition whereas the eight graders did as well in either condition. Eighth graders had more experience with the content from previous classes and were more experienced as learners. As a consequence, the particular form of the strategy used may have been less important as the general function of helping students focus on the task and organize their learning may have been accomplished equally well in both treatment conditions. The average performance of the classes with in-class support for students with special needs was lower than the other classes and although the strategies helped students’ learn, there was little effect of the type of strategy. For advanced students, however, the picture was different. Eighth graders did better with the graphic organizer as it may have required less effort than the question generating strategy