ERIC Identifier: ED310881
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Tudge, Jonathan - Caruso, David
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Cooperative Problem-Solving in the Classroom.
Over the years, early childhood education has stressed the importance of
cooperative play and learning for the young child's development (Dewey, 1897).
Cooperative learning involves children in the active exchange of ideas rather
than passive learning. Research has demonstrated the potential of cooperative
problem-solving for enhancing young children's cognitive development and
Cooperative problem-solving is likely to be effective if children share a
goal, and have differing perspectives on the best way of attaining it. This
sharing of differing points of view in the attempt to achieve a common goal
results in cognitive advance. Cooperative problem-solving often occurs in
classrooms--for example, when two children attempt to ride on a swing at the
PIAGET AND COOPERATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING
Research on the
effects of collaboration between peers on cognitive development has primarily
been based on Piaget's theory concerning the impact of social interaction on
cognitive and moral development (Piaget, 1932, 1959). Piaget maintained that
opportunities for becoming less egocentric are more common when children discuss
things with each other because then they must face the fact that not everyone
has the same perspective on a situation. Psychologists have based most of their
research in this area on Piaget's theory, and have examined children's
performance on conservation tasks, working in pairs and individually. Several
researchers have found that children who were paired with a more advanced child
were later able to solve conservation tasks at a higher level, while children
who worked individually did not improve.
Piagetian scholars argue that cognitive conflict--a difference in perspective
that leads to discussion of each partner's opinion--is necessary for
development. In trying to resolve conflicts, partners have to explain to each
other their points of view. In the course of the explanation, the less advanced
child can be led to greater understanding.
Study results (Tudge, 1985, 1986) suggest that in the absence of feedback,
cognitive conflict (brought about by pairing children with different
perspectives) only helps children who reason at a less advanced level than their
partner when the partner is confident of his or her opinions. But in a third
study (Tudge, 1987), in which children discovered whether or not their views
were correct, children improved regardless of whether their partner initially
reasoned at a less or a more advanced level. Thus our research indicates that
the effects of cooperative problem-solving are by no means straightforward. We
can merely suggest possible consequences of encouraging collaboration in the
GUIDELINES FOR TEACHERS
Teachers can encourage children to
interact and share their perspectives during cooperative play by:
*Planning Activities in Which Children Have a Shared Goal. It is not enough
to have children working side by side on an activity. For example, when two
children are playing with building blocks together but working on different
parts of a structure, they may not be trying to accomplish the same goal.
Children who try to achieve a shared objective will find it helpful to discuss
their ideas about the problem and agree on a strategy. Teachers can promote real
cooperative activity by encouraging collaboration during the activity-planning
*Ensuring That the Goal Is Intrinsically Interesting. Young children are
likely to pursue a goal only if they find it interesting. Quite often, when
teachers present problems that they see as important, they inadvertently fail to
consider the children's degree of interest in solving the problem. One effective
approach for maximizing the child's intrinsic interest is to involve children in
activities in which they can determine their own objectives, that is, activities
with several possible goals or which offer several ways of reaching the goals.
*Making It Possible for Children to Achieve Their Goal Through Their Own
Actions. This guideline, suggested by Kamii and DeVries (1978) for physical
knowledge activities, can lead to successful cooperative problem-solving.
Through acting on objects and observing the effects, young children receive
feedback, which helps them adapt their differing perspectives when working
cooperatively. Rolling a ball down a ramp to hit a target, for example, provides
many opportunities for adapting the actions involved. Children can vary the
speed and direction of the ball, the slope of the ramp, and so forth. They can
discuss why they miss the target and the best way to solve the problem.
*Seeing To It That the Results of the Child's Actions Are Visible and
Immediate. The give and take of sharing perspectives and strategies during
cooperative activity will be encouraged by immediate feedback about the results
of children's actions. As Kamii and DeVries (1978) point out, when children see
results, they are likely to be motivated to keep trying different strategies.
Contrast an activity such as planting seeds, which results in a long-delayed
reaction, with a game of target-ball, in which the child chooses the objective,
produces the object's action, and observes an immediate result.
THE TEACHER'S ROLE IN COOPERATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING
the objective of cooperative problem-solving is for children to share
perspectives as they pursue goals, it is essential that teachers encourage and
suggest rather than give directions. These guidelines will help teachers in this
1. Encourage children to interact with each other. A teacher might introduce
an activity in an open-ended way by saying, "Here's an activity for 2 or 3
children. What do you think we could do with these things, Brett and Sally?"
This conveys the importance of each child's perspective and encourages children
to come up with their own goals.
2. Help children clarify or adapt their shared goals. In order for children
to pursue goals cooperatively, they must agree upon a clearly delineated goal.
During early childhood, when children often act first and discuss later, a
teacher can play a vital role by helping them clarify their goal before they
attempt to solve the problem. Teachers can verbalize the objective for the
children. A teacher might say, for example, "I see. You're trying to get this
water over there by using the tubes and funnels."
3. Involve children who are unlikely to initiate. Quieter children are less
likely than more assertive children to become involved or state their ideas. It
is critical for teachers to encourage these children to participate and to help
them state their perspectives on the problem.
Teaching strategies that may be appropriate for other activities limit the
effectiveness of cooperative problem-solving. Even if children are struggling,
it is not appropriate to demonstrate solutions or solve a problem for them.
Research suggests that arriving at the correct answer is less important for
children's cognitive development than the process of struggling with the problem
As Damon (1984) points out, when children
explore new possibilities jointly, their thinking is not constrained by an
expert who "knows better," but rather is limited only by the boundaries of their
mutual imaginations. When teachers present problems that children at differing
developmental levels can work on together, encourage children's efforts to share
perspectives, and help children arrive at a common objective, cooperative
problem-solving becomes a valuable part of the curriculum.
This digest was adapted by Sue Ann Kendall from "Cooperative Problem Solving
in the Classroom: Enhancing Young Children's Cognitive Development," YOUNG
CHILDREN, November, 1988, pp. 46-52.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Damon, W. "Peer Education: The
Untapped Potential." JOURNAL OF APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 5 (1984):
Dewey, J. "Speech to Parents of Dewey School." (1897). Quoted in K. Mayhew,
and A. C. Edwards (Eds.). THE DEWEY SCHOOL: THE LABORATORY SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO 1896-1903. NY: Atherton, 1966.
Kamii, C., and R. DeVries. PHYSICAL KNOWLEDGE IN PRESCHOOL EDUCATION:
IMPLICATIONS OF PIAGET'S THEORIES. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978.
Piaget, J. THE MORAL JUDGMENT OF THE CHILD. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1932.
Piaget, J. THE LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT OF THE CHILD (3rd ed.). London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1959. (First published 1923).
Slavin, R. COOPERATIVE LEARNING. NY: Longman, 1983.
Tudge, J. R. H. "The Effect of Social Interaction on Cognitive Development:
How Creative Is Conflict?" QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER OF THE LABORATORY FOR
COMPARATIVE HUMAN COGNITION 7 (1985): 33-40.
Tudge, J. R. H. BEYOND CONFLICT: THE ROLE OF REASONING IN COLLABORATIVE
PROBLEM-SOLVING. Paper presented at the Piaget Society Conference, Philadelphia,
May 30, 1986. ED 275 395.
Tudge, J. R. H. PEER COLLABORATION AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT. Paper presented
at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development,
Baltimore, April 24, 1987.