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Conditions for collaborative learning and constructive competition in school

Journal article
Authors Pia Williams
Sonja Sheridan
Published in Educational Research
Volume 52
Issue 4
Pages 335-350
Publication year 2010
Published at Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Pages 335-350
Language en
Keywords Competition, collaboration, conditions, school, pupils, learning
Subject categories Pedagogy


Background Teacher-organized group work, in which pupils work together in groups or pairs, is one of many learning situations pupils may encounter at school. Research (Williams & Sheridan, 2006) shows that even though pupils are aware of the benefits that working in groups can generate, they tend to avoid structured group work at school. Purpose The aim of this study is to gain knowledge about necessary conditions for collaborative learning and constructive competition to develop among pupils at school. What conditions are necessary for collaboration and constructive competition to develop in learning situations among pupils at school? Sample The study was carried out in Sweden and involved a total of 66 children, 6 to 18 years of age, and 25 teachers. Both sexes were equally represented among the pupils. The participating schools and teachers were selected by means of a stratified sample involving different geographical and socioeconomic areas and different educational programs. Twelve children were selected from each of school grades 1, 5 and 9, whilst a total of 30 students were selected from five different upper secondary school programs. Design and methods To study the conditions under which constructive competition could develop in school, the methodology used involved individual interviews. The analysis was qualitative and focused on the phenomenon of constructive competition and situations in which pupils and teachers compete. The process of analysis was interplay between empirical data and interactionistic theory, an analytical process of abduction, which consists of interpreting data and devising a theory to explain them. The intentions were to highlight perspectives of constructive competition in a variety of ways. The analyses converge, as well as generating information and knowledge about how pupils and teachers understand constructive competition. Conclusions Several factors emerged as important for collaboration and constructive competition to develop among pupils in school. These were categorized into three conditions: Attitudes, Organisation and The meaning of learning. Competition between pupils and teachers does occur in school but it is not often explicitly articulated. The ways in which competition develops, either in destructive or constructive directions, becomes more a question of chance or coincidence than as evolving out of a conscious choice. To compete constructively in a conscious manner requires knowledge of how to be able to control the situation in a positive manner, about the characteristics of this kind of competition and of how – that is to say under what kind of conditions – it will develop constructively between people in school contexts. Content and conditions are thus seen as inseparable in the development of constructive competition.

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