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New York: Participating in collaborative group work to learn about important social issues can make children better decision-makers than their peers who learn the same curriculum through teacher-led discussions, says a new study.
"Collaborative group work positions students as active decision-makers, whereas direct instruction places them in a passive role, following the reasoning of their teacher," said study lead author Xin Zhang from University of Illinois in the US.
"If children are to become thoughtful decision-makers, they need more time in the school day for collaborative group work that involves active reasoning about significant issues," Zhang added.
The study involving more than 760 fifth-grade students compared the efficacy of collaborative group work with conventional direct instruction at promoting students' ability to make reasoned decisions.
The students studied a six-week curriculum in which they explored whether a community should hire professional hunters to kill a pack of wolves that was causing many residents concern.
Students examined various perspectives on the issue, including the potential impact on the ecosystem, the local economy and public policy.
The curriculum's purpose was not to lead students to a predetermined best answer but to raise their awareness about making responsible and reasoned decisions, Zhang said.
After completing the wolf curriculum, the students wrote two individual essays: one that explained their personal decision on what should be done about the wolf pack, and another about their decision on a moral dilemma between two friends, presented in the story "The Pinewood Derby".
In the story, a boy named Jack has a friend named Thomas who wins a pinewood derby competition but later confesses to Jack that he violated the rules by enlisting his older brother's help in building his car.
After reading the story, the students were asked to write an essay about whether Jack should reveal his friend's dishonesty.
The researchers found that children who had worked in collaborative groups on the wolf project were better prepared to take on the role of decision-maker about Jack's moral dilemma with his friend Thomas.
These children were more proficient at three key aspects of decision-making: recognising more than one side of a dilemma, considering a range of reasons to support differing viewpoints, and weighing the costs and benefits associated with different decisions, according to the researchers.
The study was published in American Educational Research Journal.