A Scientific Study of High School Curriculum

and Student Discourse in Cooperative Learning Activities


by Humberto Garciasalas


      The curriculum of schools and the planning of cooperative learning activities guide teachers to better assess and monitor student activities. Students can achieve the goals in each lesson planned by the curriculum and the teachers. How can scientific studies on cooperative learning groups help teachers better assess their students and reevaluate the goals planned by the curriculum? The scientific research conducted by two scientists, K.A. Hinchman and J.P. Young reveal data from the curriculum of middle schools and high schools and student participation in student discourses. Hinchman and Young reveal significant data that implies that behavioral rules and writing methods are needed in a curriculum for the benefit of each child’s literacy and language development.


       During the reformation of the American curriculum, the child study movement influenced scientists to study the developmental stages of children. Herbert M. Kliebard explains that the child study movement helped the curriculum unify with the child’s real interests:


Although frequently infused with romantic ideas about childhood, the developmentalists pursued with great dedication their sense that the curriculum riddle could be solved with ever more accurate scientific data, not only with respect to the different stages of child and adolescent development in harmony with the child’s real interests, needs, and learning  could be derived. The curriculum could then become the means by which the natural power within the child could be unharnessed (Kliebard, 24).


The scientific data in observation studies of students’ behaviors in cooperative learning groups will benefit the curriculum. Kliebard asserts that the curriculum of schools can use the observational data to unharnness the natural power within the child. Kliebard asserts that scientific data on children’s learning behavior reveal social trends, so the curriculum can better adapt to social conditions set by the powers within students’ behaviors (25).


      Hinchman and Young assert that students’ participation in small learning groups reveal data on psychological influences and socioeconomic influences on student behavior in student discourses (Hinchman, 244). Hinchman and Young are scientists that observed and analyzed the power of two students’ participation in actual interactions with other students. Desuna is an eighth grader who is an African American that is very enthusiastic about joining learning groups. However, Desuna is silent in groups arranged by students and their friends. Colin is a Caucasian tenth grader who articulates very well on his homework assignments and participates in classroom discussions.


      Hinchman’s and Young’s observation and analysis of Colin and Desuna participation in small learning groups applies Fairclough’s view of the forces of the power of social classes.  Hinchman and Young explain that Fairclough’s view of the power of social classes emphasizes the inequality among students in different situations:


Critical discourse analysis (CDA) investigates the relationships among particular events, discourse norms, social and historical contexts, how the language, in turn, shapes these relationships and contexts. As Fairclough describes it, CDA makes visible traces of discourses operating and the asymmetries in power relations that are constituted in their operation. It seeks to reveal how written and spoken utterances are representations of knowing that can hide or disguise their own status and authority ( Hinchman, 246).


Colin expresses a certain perspective during his text discussions, because his perspective comes from the power of his social class. For instance, Colin’s discussions about the text seem to dominate discourses in small learning groups. Colin’s and Desuna’s utterances can be observed and analyzed in small learning group sessions.


       Colin and Desuna revealed their beliefs and values in these discourses in the small learning groups, because the particular interests of Colin and Desuna are based on the understanding among other students in the small learning groups. The rule of the learning group activity has an obligation to contribute to the discussion. The problem is that the comments and perspectives of Colin and Desuna grew less valuable to their peers and teachers during the course of the year in these small group discussions. Desuna’s peers said that contributions should not be a waste of other students’ time by saying something that should be ignored.


       Hinchman and Young wanted the origins of Colin’s and Desuna’s class participation in conjunction with their interests in classroom power relations.  Especially, Hinchman and Young were intrigued by the two individual’s participation patterns, because they did not mesh easily. Colin was declassified as a learning disabled, yet in his social studies class, he was very outspoken in discussions in class. In small learning groups and whole group discussions in class, students listened to Colin increasingly less.


       Desuna’s case is similar to Colin’s case, because Desuna’s teacher wanted her to engage in detailed discussions about short stories and novels. During these small group discussions, Desuna’s words seem to question authority in her comments. Desuna’s argument was about letting people know how she feels. Her peers commented that she lets everybody knows what she is talking about, but she doesn’t say a lot.


      The description, explanation, and interpretation in a student’s comments about the text reveal the operation of the student’s beliefs and values. Hinchman and Young coded the interchanges of Colin and Desuna. Colin’s and Desuna’s way of controlling other students’ turns to talk, so then their participation limits the insight of all students and the discourse’s operation in these groups. Hinchman and Young video taped the groups that Colin and Desuna participated in, and found that Colin and Desuna express their power of authority.


         In conclusion, the scientific study of the curriculum and the small group discussion groups indicate that teachers should monitor and assess students voicing their beliefs and values in class discussions. Students such as Colin and Desuna are difficult to handle and tolerate, yet their insights are critiqued by other students, and this interaction in small groups bring a new understanding and a new discourse language. Students and teachers should note how discourses defined by gender, race, and class silence those who could learn from others. Teachers can add journal lessons and silent reading and writing assignments for those students who are outspoken about values and beliefs. The curriculum can develop from these lessons, so that all individuals can receive equal amounts of chances.



Works Cited


Hinchman, K.A., ( 2001) “Speaking but not being heard: two adolescents 

                            negotiate classroom talk about text.”  Journal of literacy Research.

                            Volume 33, No. 2 Chicago: National Reading Conference. PP. 243-68.


Kliebard, H.M.    (2004)  The struggle for the American curriculum 1893-1958. Third

                             Edition. RoutledgeFalmer. New York.