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Cooperative learning on academic and social skills, behavioural problems and self-concept in elementary school students

Cooperative learning on academic and social skills, behavioural problems and self-concept in elementary school students

A influência da aprendizagem cooperativa nas competências sociais e no autoconceito em alunos do 1.º CEB.



José Lopes*[1]

Helena Silva*1

         Margarida Ramos*

* Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Vila Real, Portugal



This study was to investigate the effects of cooperative learning on social skills and the self-concept of elementary school students. Method: It was an exploratory study case, and took place in an elementary school class (Grade 2, age 7-8), in northern Portugal.  The Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (Teachers form) was used to evaluate social skills and the Children’s Self-Concept Perception Scale to evaluate self-concept. Results and conclusions: The results show that the use of cooperative learning increased social skills and decreased behavioural problems. However, the same results were not observed in academic skills and self-concept. 

Keywords:   Cooperative learning; social skills training; self-concept; elementary school.





Este estudo pretendeu investigar os efeitos da utilização da aprendizagem cooperativa no autoconceito e na aquisição de competências sociais por alunos do 1º Ciclo do Ensino Básico. Método: Consistiu num caso de estudo exploratório e envolveu uma turma de alunos do norte de Portugal que frequentavam o 2 º ano de escolaridade, com idades compreendidas entre os 7-8 anos. Para avaliar as competências sociais foi utilizada a Escala de Avaliação de Competências Sociais K-6 (Versão para Professores) e a Escala de Perceção de Autoconceito das Crianças, para avaliar o autoconceito. Resultados e conclusões: os resultados mostram que o uso da aprendizagem cooperativa possibilitou o desenvolvimento das competências sociais e a diminuição dos problemas comportamentais. Os mesmos resultados não foram observados no que respeita às competências académicas e ao autoconceito.

Palavras-chave: Aprendizagem cooperativa; treino de competências sociais; autoconceito; 1º ciclo do ensino básico







El objetivo del presente artículo es presentar los resultados de una investigación sobre los efectos del aprendizaje cooperativo sobre las habilidades sociales y sobre el autoconcepto de los estudiantes en la escuela primaria. Método: El diseño utilizado en la investigación contempla un grupo de pre-prueba / post-prueba. El estudio tuvo lugar en una clase de escuela primaria (Grado 2, 7-8 años), en el norte de Portugal. Se utilizó la Escala de Habilidades Sociales K-6 (Forma de Maestros) para evaluar las habilidades sociales y la Escala de Percepción de Autoconcepto Infantil para evaluar el autoconcepto. Resultados y conclusiones: Los resultados muestran que el uso del aprendizaje cooperativo aumentó las habilidades sociales y disminuyó los problemas conductuales. Sin embargo, los mismos resultados no se observaron en las habilidades académicas y el concepto de sí mismo.


Palvras clave: aprendizaje cooperativo; habilidades sociales; autoconcepto; educación primaria.







The inherent cooperation skills related to cooperative group work play an important role in student’s education, as they lead to an effective integration into society and the workplace, therefore it is essential that they are encouraged from the start of schooling (Hoover, 2002; Johnson & Johnson, 2014, 2016; Slavin, 2015). In accordance with this perspective, it should be an active part of the learning process. Thus, cooperative learning allows the reorganization of student’s cognitive process, granting the possibility of overcoming some of the obstacles imposed by the traditional method (Kromrey & Purdon, 1995).


Cooperative learning is often defined as a pedagogical strategy where small, heterogeneous groups of students are requested to work together for a given period in order to accomplish shared learning goals, which are fulfilled if all group members are committed to their assignments (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith 2014; Slavin, 1987). Students encourage and support each other, assume responsibility for their own and each other’s learning, employ group related social skills, and evaluate the group’s progress (Dotson, 2001).


Cooperative learning is based on two fundamental principles. The first refers to the direct and active participation of students organized in heterogeneous groups (León del Barco & Latas-Pérez, 2007); which means all elements have to learn together, and that it is not possible to substitute one another, as learning is a result of the union between motivation and active participation. The second principle refers to mutual support and cooperation (Maset, 2001). The argument and cognitive conflict that generate in a group when points of view are different or opposing not only allow students to learn new concepts, but also to rectify, consolidate and reaffirm those already learned. Hence, students learn more and better, reaching higher levels of learning (Franzen, Weinberger, & Kirschner, 2013).


According to social learning theory, most learning takes place in a social environment, in which learners obtain knowledge, rules, skills, strategies, beliefs and attitudes by observing others. This theory places human behaviour within a framework of three reciprocal interactions: person, behaviour, and environment (Schunk, 2007). People learn more by observing and imitating the desired behaviours of others, thus a strong connection was found between this theory and the practice of cooperative learning (Johnson, Daigle, & Rustamov, 2010; Schunk, 2007). Consequently, social behaviour and the actions of effective learners in the cooperative learning groups are expected to be modelled and adopted by other students through reciprocal determinism, or the interaction between observed behaviours, cognitive factors, and external environments (Tran, 2013).


There are five basic conditions of cooperative learning groups: positive interdependency; individual and group responsibility; stimulating interaction (preferably face to face); interpersonal and group skills; group process or group evaluation (Johnson & Johnson, 1994). These conditions should be maintained so that the students achieve more productive results throughout this teaching-learning process, compared to those students in a competitive or individual teaching-learning process.


Through work in small groups, the cooperative learning provides the development of autonomy and personal discovery of skills as well as allowing students to obtain benefits associated with academic performance, self-concept and development of social skills (Artut, 2009; Bertucci, Johnson, Johnson, & Conte, 2012; Bulut, 2009; Ebraim, 2010; Gillies, 2004; Lavasani, Afzali, Borhanzadeh, Afzali, & Davoodi, 2011; Metha & Kulshretha, 2014; Moreira, 2011; Ning, 2013) and also decreasing problems of lack of discipline (Kuester & Zentall, 2012; Obiyo, 2010)


The term self-concept refers to the perception that the individual has of him/herself. It is formed from four influences, namely, the way in which people observe the individual, the notion that the individual has of its own performance in specific situations, the confrontation of the individual’s conduct with the social peers that it identifies with, and the evaluation of a specific behaviour according to values conveyed by standard groups. All of these influences help build the self-concept with positive or negative characteristics (Lewis, 1990).


The self-concept refers to a subjective evaluation that the individual has of itself.  The individual develops its own self through interactions with significant people, which implies esteem, feelings, experiences or attitudes (Shavelson, Hubner, & Stanton, 1976).


The hierarchal vision of self-concept allows us to address the contradiction that exists between the dynamic or stable character of this construction. Higher levels of self-concept are characterized by certain stability, whereas the lower levels are more dependent on context (Huang, 2011). The relative stability of self-concept seems to be affected by age.  Various studies of this area have allowed us to conclude that there is a decrease of self-concept between the 2nd and 5th or 6th grades, however, there seems to be a positive recuperation between the 7th and 10th grade (Fontaine, 1991). Meanwhile, there are studies that point to a reduction of certain self-concept dimensions by the age of 15 (Harter, 2006).


A decrease of self-concept is explained by “action of a perception bias” in younger children.  In other words, their own self-evaluations are not precise as their self-perception is essentially positive.  This may occur since they do not incorporate negative external information as it does not agree with their own perception.  This lack of realism dissipates throughout development with the integration of exterior information, information arising from social comparison and evaluations made by others, making their own self-evaluation more precise and real.  The individual starts to make an internal comparison of its own skills by differentiating the various facets of its self-concept. A child, normally, tends to invest in activities and roles in which it perceives itself as competent and so devalues activities and roles in which it perceives itself as incompetent.  From this overestimation of its capacities, a quite positive self-concept is created. Nevertheless, with cognitive development the self-concept becomes more realistic and consequently less positive, as previously mentioned (Fontaine, 1991; Harter, 2006).


The cooperative context facilitates greater improvement in self-concept than does competitive or individualistic learning environments (Hanze & Berger, 2007; Peréz-Sánchez & Proveda-Serra, 2008; Robin, 1991; Slavin, 1991). In studies of primary school students’ self-concept increased in cooperative situations because students were involved in cooperative efforts (Box & Little, 2003; Bray & Kehle, 2011; Mustafa, 2012; Sanchez & Roda, 2007).


School is an ideal environment for sociability, where it is said that academic skills constitute one of the best predictors of the exhibition of social skills and that, if the first are not acquired, the second could suffer significant damage. Therefore, the teacher should stimulate not only the development of academic skills, but also create learning opportunities for the development of social skills (Goodwin, 1999). The learning of skills inherent to cooperative learning is not different from the learning of school subjects.  The teacher should give the students the opportunity to see the necessity of competence, to understand what skills are, how to use them and put them into practice.  Teachers should also give them feedback about how well they are using the skills and insist on their practice until their use becomes automatic. Social skills are not born with the individual, so it is extremely important to teach students how to use social skills, especially when working in cooperative groups (Slavin, 2010).

Throughout literature a relationship between the development of self-concept and social skills is established, considering they are interrelated constructs. The studies related to the influence of gender (Rodger, Murray, & Cummings, 2007), although scarce, indicate that boys and girls experience cooperative learning environments differently.


Although these results are promising, more studies are needed to corroborate and extent their results. In Portugal there are no studies on the effect of cooperative learning in the development of self-concept and social skills considering gender.


Therefore, this investigation’s main objective is to examine the effects of cooperative learning on the development of social skills and self-concept in primary school students.  In a complementary manner, the authors intend to verify the relationship between social skills and gender; to validate the influence of cooperative learning on academic skills and behavioural problems; and finally, to identify the differences in general self-concept at the gender level.

Analyses were oriented by two general questions:A)What are the effects of cooperative learning in students of the 1st cycle of basic education social skills and self-concept of? B) What is the relationship between social skills and self-concept and gender?









This study was conducted in a elementary school second grade, in a class of 27 students (14 female and13 male). The students were between 7 years and 0 months to 7 years and 10 months old, the average age being 7 years and 5 months.  Of the 27 students, two presented unspecified learning disabilities. The school is situated in Vila Real, a city in the north of Portugal. The school is a public school and because of its central location and experienced teaching staff, it is a highly popular one. There was no control group. 




Materials and Procedure


Through an exploratory case-study, this investigation aimed to verify the effects of cooperative learning on the development of social skills and self-concept in primary school students. The intervention was carried out by the class teacher, who has experience in practicing cooperative learning method.


Two different instruments were used to gather the necessary data: Portuguese Adaptation of the SSRS K-6 (Teacher Form) to Children (Lemos & Meneses, 2002) and Children’s Self-Concept Perception Scale (CSPS) by Sánchez & Escribano, adapted and validated for the Portuguese population by Loureiro et al. (2010).  


The SSRS K-6 (Teacher form) consists of three measurement areas: Social Skills, Problem Behaviours, and Academic Competence. The Social Skills scale has three subscales: Cooperation, Assertion, Self-Control. The sum of the subscales yield “Behaviour Levels” that indicate the descriptive frequency (based on cut-off scores) of a particular behaviour. The Problem Behaviours scale includes three subscales: Externalizing Problems, Internalizing Problems, and Hyperactivity. Similar to the previous measurement area, these can be translated into “Behaviour Levels” by summing the item scores.


The Academic Competence measurement area is a single scale without subscales.

An analysis of internal consistency yielded average coefficient alpha reliabilities of 0.93 for the Social Skills scale, 0.91 for the Cooperation subscale, 0.86 for the Assertion subscale, 0,90 for the Self-control subscale. And 0.91 for the Problem Behaviours scale, 0.92 for the Externalizing Problems subscale, 0.83 for 

the Internalizing Problems subscale, and 0.87 for the Hyperactivity subscale. Relating to the Academic Competence scale coefficient alpha is 0.96 (Lemos & Meneses, 2002).


CPSS is an instrument designed to evaluate self-concept of children with ages between 3 and 10 years (pre-primary and first level of basics).The results show that this instrument of collective administration has a reasonable reliability (K-R 20 = 0.79) and an adequate factor structure.


In the pre-test phase, the classroom teacher completed the SSRS K-6 (Teachers form) in relation to each of the 27 students. The students completed, individually, the CPSS. The pedagogical resources for the implementation of cooperative learning were also developed.


The test or implementation phase occurred throughout the 2015/2016 school year, namely in the 1st and 2nd trimesters, in 10 sessions with a duration of 135 minutes each. In these sessions, five methods of cooperative learning were used: Roundtable, Numbered Heads Together, Talking Chips, Showdown, and Pairs Check (Kagan, 1994; Lopes & Silva, 2010) in teaching subjects such as Portuguese and Mathematics, to practice needed social skills as well as those diagnosed through the Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (SSRS K-6 Teachers form). The class was divided into six groups of four students, heterogeneous in relation to gender, academic achievement, and mastery of social skills.


In the post-test phase, after 10 sessions, the Children´s Self-concept Perception Scale (CPSS) was administered once again.  The classroom teacher also completed another Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (SSRS K-6 Teachers form).

The ethical principles of the American Psychological Association (2009) were followed.




Preliminary analysis

Conditions for the use of non-parametric statistics: normality

Before the results related to the research design were calculated, the supposed normality dimensions of the SSRS (k-6 Teachers form) and CPSS with Kolmogorov-Smirnov test as resource (p ≤ .05). The results indicated non-normality for all the dimensions of the SSRS K-6 Teachers form, (pre and post-test). However, the distribution of CPSS post-test data was normal. This was one of the reasons, as well as the exiguity of the sample, that justified the option for non-parametric statistics. These are equivalent results to those originally obtained by the instrument authors (Lemos & Meneses, 2002).


Psychometric Properties of the Questionnaires

The internal consistency values related to the SSRS K-6 scales, regardless of whether the calculation was done in pre or post-test phase, were found to be adequate for the investigation. All of the Cronbach’s alpha values obtained were above .90

Regarding the CPSS, the same was found to be true, presenting values over .80, in pre-test and post-test. In this case, the values were above those obtained by the original authors (Loureiro et al., 2010).


Descriptive Data

After calculating the mean and standard deviation of both scales, it was possible to verify (Table 1) an increase, in post-test, of the social abilities’ subscale averages1, particularly in the area of self-control (M = 16.44, SD = 5.35), cooperation (M = 16.00, SD = 2.88), and assertion (M = 18.07, SD = 2.92).



Table 1

Mean and standard deviation of the Social Skills Rating Scale (SSRS K-6 Teachers form) dimensions and Children´s Self-concept Perception Scale (CPSS)

 Children´s Self-concept Perception Scale (CPSS)


Note. The term social skills is substituted by social abilities throughout the presentation of data in order to agree with the term used in the Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (Teachers form). CPSS = Children’s Self-Concept Perception Scale.


Concerning the academic skills subscale, the values obtained in the pre-test phase (M = 23.07, SD = 4.08) were similar to those obtained in the post-test (M = 23.74, SD = 4.34).


General self-concept maintained stability in both phases of the CPSS. Meanwhile, it is important to note that the general self-concept values obtained were high, the maximum scale value being 68 points.




Analysis of data from the Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (SSRS K-6 Teachers form)


In order to evaluate the differences between the Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (SSRS K-6 Teachers form) pre and post-test, a Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test was performed to understand whether or not there were differences concerning social competences before and after the cooperative learning intervention.


As shown in Table 2, all of the SSRS K-6 (Teachers form) dimensions have a value of p < .05. Consequently, we can conclude that there is a statistically significant difference between the two phases of the study. Concerning effect sizes (Cohen’s d) were small to medium (Cohen, 1987), namely for self-control (d =.34) and cooperation (d = .39), assertion (d = .55) and academic ability (d= .16). In relation to the subscale concerning behavioural problems, it was found (Table 2) that the inappropriate behaviours decreased, with small to medium effect sizes for externalized problems (d= -.31), internalized problems (d= -.50), and hyperactivity (d = -.47).



Table 2


Values related to the difference between the SSRS K-6 (Teachers form) pre and post-test by using the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test and Cohen’s d effect size

Social Skills Rating Scale K-6

Note. Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (SSRS K-6 Teachers form)

With reference to social skills (as shown in table 3), in the pre-test phase females attained higher average values in relation to self-control (U = 85.00; Z = 176.00, p = .79) and cooperation (U = 55.00; Z = 146.00, p = .85), the differences observed were not statistically significant.  In the assertion area, higher average values were seen in males, although the differences observed were not statistically significant (U = 108.50; Z = 199.50, p = .48). In the post-test phase, the average values continued to be higher in females for self-control and cooperation.  Males also continued to show higher average values for assertion, these values were not statistically significant.

Concerning behavioural problems, in the pre-test phase, it was found (table 4) that the average values for externalized problems (U = 98.50; Z = 189.50, p = .72) and hyperactivity (U = 116.50; Z = 207.50,  p = .22) were higher in males, however, no statistically significant differences were found between both genders. With internalized problems, higher average values were seen in females compared to males, these differences were statistically significant (U = 46.00; Z = 137.00, p = .03). In the post-test phase, the average values continued to be higher in males for externalized problems and hyperactivity, the differences observed between genders were not found to be statistically significant.

As far as academic skills are concerned, no statistically significant differences between males and females were found in pre-test or post-test.  However, higher average values were obtained in males (M = 23.76 and M = 24.38) in both phases.

Thus, it is possible to establish (Table 3), when taking everything into account, that there were no statistically significant differences between males and females. It is also important to point out that the internalized problems dimension was the only one which presented statistically significant differences between genders, with a value of p = .03.


Table 3

Values related to difference between gender in SSRS K-6 (Teachers form), in pre and post-test, using Mann Whitney

psico 3




Analysis of data from Children’s Self-concept Perception Scale


In terms of the difference between the pre and post-test results of the general self-concept (Table 4), there is no statistical evidence of a difference between groups, since the pre-test result presented significances’ of p =.83 and p = .69, respectively.




Table 4


Results referring to the difference between genders in Children´s Self-concept Perception Scale, in pre and post-test, by the Mann Whitney test.

psico 4




The results obtained using the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test indicated no existence of significant differences between the students’ general self-concept values between pre and post-test (Z = 161.00, p = .48). Thus, we concluded that, regardless of the intervention, there was stability in self-concept. However, it should be noted that the values obtained from the children throughout the study were quite high (Table 1).






The analyses performed on the Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (SSRS K-6 Teachers form) showed the existence of varying results between the pre-test phase, before the use of cooperative learning, and the post-phase, after using cooperative learning methods. 

Concerning social skills (Table 1), there was an increase in averages between pre and post-test related to self-control, cooperation, and assertion.  It was verified (Table 1) that in self-control (M = 14.43 and 14.14) and cooperation (M = 16.57 and 15.96) the higher averages were seen in females, however, males showed higher averages, in both phases, in the area of assertion (M = 15.35 and 14.15). These results coincide with those obtained by Bertucci and colleagues (2010), Ebraim (2010), Lavasini, Afzali, & Afzali (2011), León, Mendo-Lázaro, Felipe-Castaño,  Polo del Río, & Fajardo-Bullón (2017), Mehta & Kulshretha (2014), and Ning (2013), which showed that cooperative learning contributes to an improvement in students’ social skills.

Behavioural problems decreased between pre and post-test with intermediate dimension effects.  These results are consistent with the study done by Kuester & Zentall (2012), which showed that social interaction contributes to the decrease in negative verbal behavior in students with PHDA characteristics.

It was found that the internalized problems (Table 2) were higher in females in the pre-test phase and the differences between genders showed statistically significant. In the post-test phase, even though the average decreased, it continued high. However, the differences between genders were not found to be statistically significant (Table 3).  These results are in agreement with those obtained in studies performed by Lima, Teixeira, Serôdio and Cruz (2008) and Pedrini and Frizzo (2010).

In relation to academic skills, there were found differences between the two phases of the Social Skills Rating Scale K-6 (SSRS K-6 Teachers form) (Table 1).  The results of our study are similar to the findings of Bertucci, Johnson, Johnson, and Conte (2012).

The present study looks at the results achieved in studies carried out by various authors, namely Artut (2009), Ebraim (2010), Lavasani et al. (2011), Ning (2013) who verified significant improvements in students’ social skills after a series of sessions where cooperative learning was used.  In our study it was possible to prove statistically significant differences in social skills between the phases of the study.  These results are in accordance with those achieved by Moreira (2011) who also found statistically significant differences in social skills between both phases of the study (pre and post-test).

Some authors (Box & Little, 2003; Mustafa, 2012) found that cooperative learning improved children’s self-concept. However, the results of this study showed no significant differences with cooperative learning, which agrees with the results found by Vieira (2011). The intervention with cooperative learning resulted in an improvement, though not significant, of students’ global self-concept. The fact that elevated results presented themselves in both phases of the study could be explained by the distorted perception that the students of younger ages have of themselves, especially since the child’s perception of itself has a tendency to be quite positive and stable in of this age(Fontaine, 1991; Harter, 2006).

Generally, it can be seen that intervention with cooperative learning increased the students’ social skills, as found in other studies (e.g., Gillies, 2004; Lavasani et al. 2011; Moreira, 2011) concerning self-concept, it was found to be stable throughout the implementation of cooperative learning. 


Conclusions and limitations


The obtained results allowed for the authors to verify that cooperative learning does in fact have a positive impact on students’ social skills and on inappropriate behaviourswith differences statistically significant between pre and post-phase.  However, no differences statistically significant between genders were observed concerning self-control, cooperation, and assertion.  With regard to behavioural problems, namely externalized problems and hyperactivity, no differences between genders were observed, with the exception of internalized problems.  Concerning academic skills, no differences between genders were observed.


Moreover, the results relating to self-concept were similar in both phases of the study, showing no differences between genders. 


The practical implications of the results of this study are clear. Teachers may be able to increase student social skills by including cooperative learning in the classroom work, because social skills are an important part of the student’s education, as they lead to an effective integration into society and the workplace.


Since this study used a one-group pre-test post-test design, it presented some limitations which will be considered in future studies.  The most significant being the lack of a control group.  Other limitations were related to the small effect and short intervention time period.

In order to investigate the effects of cooperative learning on self-concept, it was considered important that various psychometric instruments must be used in order detect the positive or negative correlation between cooperative learning and self-concept at this level of learning.


Conflict of Interests


The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this paper.



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[1]José Lopes Departamento de Educação e Psicologia, Escola de Ciências Humanas e Sociais, Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Quinta de Prados, 5000-801, Vila Real, Portugal; CIIE - Centro de Investigação e Intervenção Educativas da Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da Educação da Universidade do Porto, Rua Alfredo Allen, 4200-135, Porto, Portugal. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Helena Silva de Educação e Psicologia, Escola de Ciências Humanas e Sociais, Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Quinta de Prados, 5000-801, Vila Real, Portugal; CIIE - Centro de Investigação e Intervenção Educativas da Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da Educação da Universidade do Porto, Rua Alfredo Allen, 4200-135, Porto, Portugal. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Submissão: 2.01.2017

Aceitação: 14.02.2018