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Cooperative Learning: When it comes to solving everyday problems, most people would agree that two heads are better than one. But does the old adage hold up when it comes to high-level problem solving in schools? On that question, researchers disagree. In an attempt to resolve the matter, University of Minnesota researchers Zhining Qin, David Johnson, and Roger Johnson reviewed 43 studies conducted between 1929 and 1993 on the effectiveness of cooperative learning. For the purpose of their analysis, the researchers classified the kinds of problems used in the studies in four ways: well-defined problems or those for which the problem-solving strategy is clear; ill-defined problems; linguistic problems or those solved through writing or talking; and nonlinguistic problems, which were mostly math problems. For all four problem types, members of cooperative-learning teams outperformed students who were solving problems on their own. But the cooperative strategy, the researchers found, was more effective for solving nonlinguistic than linguistic problems. Qin, who is now an education specialist with the Minnesota education department, speculates that the difference may stem from the fact that most of the studies were done with young students whose communications skills were not fully developed. "When you talk about cooperative-learning activities, you do need a much better way to express yourself,'' she says, "and older kids do better.'' The study appeared in the summer issue of the Review of Educational Research.


Pets In The Classroom: A new study out of Israel reveals that elementary students have an uncanny ability to pick out the teacher's "pets'' in their ranks, even when teachers don't appear to treat their favorite pupils any differently from the others. Researcher Elisha Babad of Hebrew University in Jerusalem gave separate questionnaires to students and teachers in 46 5th and 6th grade classrooms in his country. The results, published in the September Journal of Educational Psychology, show that students were able to clearly identify one or more teacher's pets in about half the classrooms studied. The researcher also found that where there were perceived pets, classroom morale was often low. Students were particularly resentful of two kinds of classroom favoritism: When the perceived pets were unpopular with their classmates and when students thought their teachers in subtle ways gave less emotional support to low-achieving students. The latter situation emerged even in classrooms where teachers and students agreed that teachers spent more time with their lower students than they did with their favorite A pupils. Babad says students may pick up on teachers' feelings when they behave in an overtly nice way toward low achievers--behavior that students often interpret in a negative way. "Teachers' differential affect,'' the researcher writes, "is strongly related to the way students experience their schooling.''


Teens And Tobacco: Nonsmoking adolescents who are very aware of tobacco advertising are twice as likely to take up cigarettes as those whose peers and family members are smokers, according to a new analysis of survey information. The findings by researchers at Indiana University at Bloomington and the University of California at San Diego challenge the claim by tobacco companies that marketing has far less impact on adolescent smoking than social factors like peer pressure and family. The study, which drew on a 1993 survey of 3,536 California adolescents ages 12 to 17 who had never smoked, appeared in the Oct. 18 Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The researchers sought to identify young people who were likely to take up smoking and the factors that increased their chances of doing so. Among the adolescents interviewed, one-fourth were classified as susceptible to smoking--meaning they could not rule out deciding to try a cigarette soon. Key factors in that susceptibility, the researchers found, were peer pressure, advertising, and the influence of family. To measure the effects of advertising, the researchers created an index of awareness based on such factors as whether youths could name a brand name of cigarettes. A top score on that index increased a youth's susceptibility to smoking fourfold over those with the lowest score. Thomas Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, assailed the study as biased and said it wrongly diverts attention from the influence of peer pressure on adolescents. The fact that children know about advertising does not make them susceptible to smoking, Lauria said. "Everyone has favorite ad campaigns whether you like the product or not, or buy the product or not.''

--Debra Viadero and Millicent Lawton

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