Girls co-operate better when solving problems

Published on 27 November, 2017
Girls co-operate better when solving problems

In a recent groundbreaking evaluation of collaboration, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) collected some results about problem-solving as reported by this BBC article.

The expected result was confirmed.

High achievement students are better at problem-solving due to two well-developed skills: understanding the problem and the ability to reason for complex issues. The top 10 problem-solving countries were Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Macao, New Zealand and Australia.

Details about collaboration

But collaboratively working together does involve additional or different skills. Boys tended to solve problems better than girls when working individually. In every country, when collaboration was the problem-solving environment, girls did better. This is a stunning result that should change the face of teaching. After all, the workplace requires that people solve problems together.

Let's dig a little deeper into the details of the findings.

Since girls value relationships, they are more apt to value what others are saying. Boys on the other hand are more pragmatic, as they assess collaboration for how it can benefit them by helping them be more effective or efficient. Interestingly all disadvantaged students see teamwork as positive. They believe that teams make better decisions than individuals.

Teachers can make a difference.

In classes, in which there is significant interaction already, such as through student discussion and proving their ideas, collaboration is more highly regarded. And where teachers develop positive relationships with students, this is an indicator that collaboration is likely to be successful.

How to improve collaboration skills

The quality of collaboration can be improved through a variety of strategies, some school related and others beyond the school borders - details published here...

  • Teachers can identify socially isolated students and provide activities to promote relationship building. Often it is helpful to offer conversation models to all students. So instead of saying “That's wrong.” the acceptable phrase is “Do you think it would work better if we . . .? ”. And even more useful is having these posted for students to refer to while working.
  • Debriefing after a collaborative work time is very effective as well. A discussion of the task is meaningful but how well the team worked and areas of improvement, in general, will build everyone's understanding of collaboration. Questions such as “What worked well in your group? Or how were you able to solve the problem? How did everyone contribute to solving the problems?” are very effective.
  • Parents can assist in developing the ability to collaborate. It was noted in the study that parents who took an interest in school activities were the parents of students who scored higher in collaborative problem-solving.
  • As far as the use of the internet, there were 2 findings. Students who used the internet for chatting and connecting with friends were better at collaboration and students who played video games were in the group that does worse.

What does this mean?

In many school systems teachers are now required to evaluate a variety of learning skills, including collaboration. Since the evaluation is tied to the report card, the expectation is that teachers are now setting up situations for students to practice collaboration and providing insights into how to be more collaborative.

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