Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Peer Relationships and Collaborative Learning as Contexts for Academic Enablers

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Peer Relationships and Collaborative Learning as Contexts for Academic Enablers

Article excerpt

Abstract. In this article it is argued that peers have the potential to provide contexts for learning that can have a profound impact on the development of students' academic enablers. Based on work on social support and belongingness, ways in which being accepted by peers can motivate students to engage in learning activities and to display socially appropriate forms of behavior are discussed. Using a Vygotskian perspective, ways are described in which peer collaborative contexts can promote academic engagement as well as provide a supportive structure for the development of specific problem-solving skills. The implications for teachers and practitioners of facilitating positive peer relationships and of using social skills training programs for developing academic enablers are discussed.

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Numerous studies have documented positive relations between children's relationships with peers and a range of social and intellectual enablers, including motivational orientations reflected in goals and values, and skills related to self-regulation, social interaction, and problem solving (e.g., Wentzel, 1999). These findings illustrate how learning is inextricably linked to the social contexts within which children learn, and highlight the notion that the development and use of academic enablers is highly dependent on the characteristics of and opportunities provided by learning contexts (see Bronfenbrenner, 1989). This article focuses on the development of students' academic enablers within two types of peer contexts. First discussed are ways in which peer relationships can motivate students to engage in learning activities as well as socially appropriate behavior (e.g., Connell & Wellborn, 1991). Second, ways are described in which peer collaborative contexts can promote academic engagement as well as pro vide a supportive structure for the development of specific problem-solving skills (Vygotsky, 1978).

Peer relationships and collaborative interactions have been studied in relation to a range of academic accomplishments throughout the school-aged years. With respect to peer relationships, consistent findings relate popular status among peers and high levels of acceptance to successful academic performance, and rejected status and low levels of acceptance to academic difficulties (e.g., DeRosier, Kupersmidt, & Patterson, 1994; Wentzel, 1991). Findings are most consistent with respect to classroom grades (Hatzichristou & Hopf, 1996; Wentzel, 1991; Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997), although peer acceptance has been related positively to standardized test scores (Austin & Draper, 1984) as well as IQ (Wentzel, 1991). Peer relationships also appear to exert influence at the level of dyadic friendships, although research linking friendships to objective indices of academic achievement is sparse (cf. Ladd, 1990; Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). The discussion of peer relationships, therefore, is limited to the influence of accep tance by the broader peer group.

In addition to being socially accepted by peers, students often interact with classmates in collaborative learning activities. In this case, the student collaborators are likely to be acquaintances but not necessarily friends. Researchers have found that collaborative problem solving encourages children's social interaction and is related to academic and intellectual outcomes (Gauvain & Rogoff, 1989; Tudge, 1992). For example, participation in peer tutoring has been shown to improve children's self-esteem, attitudes toward school, and social adjustment for both the tutor and the tutee (Allen, 1976). Collaborative problem solving also has been related to high levels of engagement, use of advanced strategic thinking skills, and specific academic gains (Radziszewska & Rogoff, 1991; Tudge & Winterhoff, 1993; Tudge, Winterhoff, & Hogan, 1996). This is especially true if a less competent student is provided with opportunities for active participation, with elaborate explanations, and encouragement from a higher ach ieving partner (Azmitia, 1988; Fuchs, Fuchs, Bentz, Phillips, & Hamlett, 1994; Tudge & Winterhoff, 1993). …

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