Learning to collaborate: Can young children develop better communication strategies through collaboration with a more popular peer

Abstract

Unpopular children are known to have poor communication skills and experience difficulty in collaborative situations. This study investigated whether pairing unpopular, 5 to 6 year-old, children with a more popular peer would promote more effective collaboration. The study also investigated differences in popular and unpopular children’s verbal and non-verbal communication. Thirty-six girls and 36 boys were placed in one of 12 popular, 12 unpopular or 12 mixed pairs. There were no mixed gender pairs. Children were filmed playing a collaborative game. Collaboration in popular pairs was more successful and less disputational than in unpopular pairs. Boys in unpopular pairs broke the rules of the game more often, argued more and did not monitoring their partners’ facial expressions effectively. With popular partners they argued less, were more likely to elaborate disagreements, looked at their partner for longer, smiled more and were more likely to offer him a small toy. Unpopular girls’ interactions were not markedly disruptive but they clearly benefited from being paired with a child with good communication skills. Popular girls modified their behaviour to take into account an unpopular partner’s need for support. These findings suggest that pairing popular and unpopular children may be a useful classroom organisation strategy.

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Correspondence to Suzanne Murphy.

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This study was carried out as part of the first author’s PhD dissertation and was supported by Award No. R00429434236 from the Economic and Social Research Council, UK. We would like to express our gratitude to the staff and children of first schools in Hemel Hempstead, without their kindness and co-operation this study would not have been possible.

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Murphy, S., Faulkner, D. Learning to collaborate: Can young children develop better communication strategies through collaboration with a more popular peer. Eur J Psychol Educ 15, 389–404 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03172983

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Key words

  • Children
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Gender
  • Popularity