Background. In a 21st century context, it is essential to develop skills for working together to achieve common goals. Research demonstrates that with Cooperative Learning, students acquire verbal, cognitive and social skills. In addition, the prospect of learning how to resolve problems peacefully by working to achieve a common good are the skills needed for constructing democratic citizenship. Even though it is important for future learning that students learn how to work together in the early years, very few interventions with Cooperative Learning have been implemented in early childhood education. Investment in young students’ education could be a way of preventing disadvantage, especially in children from low socio-economic backgrounds. The beliefs teachers hold about pedagogy is a crucial determining factor for their behaviour inside the classroom. Little is known about Cooperative Learning in a Chilean context, and furthermore, there is a paucity of research about the beliefs early childhood teachers hold regarding the use of this pedagogical approach to learning.
Aim. The purpose of this research project was to identify, describe and understand Chilean early childhood teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, intentions and experience towards the use of Cooperative Learning in their classrooms.
Method. A sequential explanatory mixed method research design was implemented. More than 500 Chilean early childhood teachers, teaching either kindergarten or second year in private and public schools, participated in this project. The project consisted in three sequential studies: Study 1 was designed to elicit the beliefs and experiences of 20 early childhood teachers towards Cooperative Learning. Data were collected using individual and group interviews. Study 2 built on the information obtained from Study one and the Theory of Planned Behaviour to construct the Cooperative Learning in Early Childhood Questionnaire (CLECQ) to investigate early childhood teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours towards the use of Cooperative Learning. The CLECQ was then administered to 500 teachers. Confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling were conducted to confirm how well the data fitted with the Theory of Planned Behaviour and how the relationships between Attitudes, Subjective Norm and Perceived Behavioural Control (central aspects of the Theory of Planned Behaviour) contributed to teachers’ Intentions to use Cooperative Learning. Study 3 explored the differences between the groups of teachers (i.e., those who taught in kindergarten or second year and those who taught in private or public schools) in their beliefs and attitudes regarding their use of Cooperative Learning.
Results. Teachers showed positive attitudes towards the use of Cooperative Learning in their classrooms. The advantages they identified are related to personal and social skills, while they tended to omit cognitive skills as an outcome of Cooperative Learning. Teachers in general, and specifically teachers in public schools, believed they did not have the competencies to use Cooperative Learning, and that schools do not facilitate the implementation of its use.
The results of the confirmatory factor analysis and structure equation modeling supports that the Theory of Planned Behaviour framework and their three constructs characterize and predict intentions and use of Cooperative Learning of early childhood teachers in the Chilean context. The highest correlation with intentions was Perceived Behavioural Control, followed by Attitudes, while Subjective Norm had the weakest association. Therefore, the perception of “how in control” teachers feel about using Cooperative Learning in their classroom would be the strongest predictor of their intentions to use Cooperative Learning.
In the paper version of the questionnaire, public school teachers reported lower intentions towards using Cooperative Learning, and perceived they were able to exercise less control implementing Cooperative Learning than private school teachers. There were no significant differences between teachers who taught kindergarten and those who taught second year.
Conclusions. It seems that while there is some Cooperative Learning occurring in early childhood classrooms in Chile, it appears to be in a very embryonic stage. This study shows that the most powerful variable that is affecting the intention of teachers to use Cooperative Learning is their perception of the low level of control they would have in using Cooperative Learning in their classroom. In order to address this issue and increase their self-efficacy, it is recommended that professional development be provided to early childhood teachers for the use of Cooperative Learning, a community of learning be created among colleagues, and other educational players be included in the process, as well as the school providing the right/appropriate environment for cooperation to thrive. Teachers’ beliefs should always be considered in the design of public policies or educational programs, the Theory of Planned Behaviour appears to be an appropriate theory framework to elicit and understand the beliefs of early childhood teachers in a Chilean context regarding the use of Cooperative Learning.