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(p. 195) Teaching Students How to Cope With Adversity: The Three Cs 

(p. 195) Teaching Students How to Cope With Adversity: The Three Cs
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(p. 195) Teaching Students How to Cope With Adversity: The Three Cs
Author(s):

David W. Johnson

and Roger T. Johnson

DOI:
10.1093/med:psych/9780198508144.003.0010
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date: 07 August 2020

Coping with stress and adversity

Everyone who is alive is under stress (Johnson 2000). The stress can be mild (such as when we are asleep) or severe (such as when we are under physical or psychological attack). Some level of stress, however, is always present. Stress cannot be avoided, and our stress level is never at zero. A certain amount of stress is necessary for providing the energy required for maintaining life, accomplishing goals, engaging in relationships, and adapting to constantly changing external influences. Stress is only damaging if it is too high or too low. Too high a level of stress for too long produces serious psychological and/or physiological problems. Too low a stress level for too long does likewise—that is why solitary confinement in the dark is so punishing. Not only is stress unavoidable and necessary, in many situations it is highly desirable. As a species, we are stress-seeking. We seem to long for new experiences and new challenges. Travelling to the North Pole, climbing mountains, living in deserts, and exploring the bottom of the oceans are all activities for which we are biologically and socially ill-adapted, but we do them anyway. Humans seek out certain types of stress and enjoy it.

Adversity is a different matter. Often at unforeseen, surprising times, individuals are faced with misfortune or a calamity, such as rejection by valued others, death of a loved one, or serious illness. Adversity is misfortune that taxes or exceeds the individual’s resources. How stressful an adverse event is depends on an individual’s ability to cope with stress. Coping is aimed at mastering, tolerating, or reducing the stress generated by adversity. To develop in healthy ways and to live productive and happy lives, children, adolescents, and young adults need to learn how to cope constructively with adversity and stress.

The independent-self or the interdependent-self

Based on social interdependence theory (Deutsch 1949a, 1962; Johnson and Johnson 1989), two approaches to teaching children, adolescents, and young adults how to cope with adversity and stress may be identified (i.e. the interdependent-self and the independent-self). The interdependent-self approach to coping views the person as being imbedded in networks of interdependent relationships such as family, friendships, church, community, (p. 196) country, and so forth and who, therefore, deals with adversity as a member of relational networks that provide resources above and beyond the individual’s own (Johnson 2000). Interdependence may be positive (i.e. cooperation) or negative (i.e. competitive) (Deutsch 1949a, 1962; Johnson and Johnson 1989). The two types of interdependence are not mutually exclusive and most relationships are a mixture of both. In a network of interdependent relationships, the adversity of one person affects all other persons and becomes a joint issue. The assumption is that humans are innately social beings and when confronted with adversity a person faces it within networks of interdependent relationships that provide additional resources to help cope with the stress (see Chapter 4 by Hobfoll for additional support for this assumption). Coping is viewed as joint problem-solving, social support, social comparison, joint identity, intimate conversations, physical contact, and so forth. Thus, students need to be taught how to build and maintain interdependent relationships within which individuals will receive the help and assistance they need to cope effectively with the adversity in their lives. This requires establishing a network of interdependent relationships, knowing how to manage conflicts constructively, and promoting the values underlying mutual support and assistance.

The independent-self approach to coping views the person as an independent, isolated individual separate and apart from all other individuals and who, therefore, deals with adversity on his or her own with only his or her own resources (Johnson 2000). Individualistic efforts reflect the absence of interdependence with others (Deutsch 1962; Johnson and Johnson 1989). This approach has had a powerful influence on the coping literature (see Chapter 4 by Hobfoll). It emphasizes teaching each person a set of cognitive strategies (such as positive appraisal, problem-focus, noting positive events, appraisal of situational meaning, and others) that the person uses to cope with adversity. There is a danger, however, that viewing coping as an individual activity leads to a self-orientation and a delusion of individualism that each person lives his or her life separate and apart from all other individuals and, therefore, one’s own frustration, unhappiness, hunger, despair, and misery has no significant bearing on others’ well-being and vice versa (Johnson 2000). Such social isolation may magnify the impact of adversity.

The importance of the interdependence-self approach to coping is illustrated in the research on depression. We are in an epidemic of depression, anxiety, and mental illness (Seligman 1988). Two major surveys of mental illness in the US, for example, showed that, contrary to expectations, younger people were much more likely to have had a depressive episode in their lives than were older people (Seligman 1988). The rate of depression over the last two generations has increased roughly tenfold. People experience much more depression now than they did two generations ago, feeling hopeless, giving up, being passive, having low self-esteem, and committing suicide. The reason may be found in the breakdown of cooperative, interdependent relationships with other people in our social networks (family, neighbourhood, community, work, church, and country) and commitment to larger social institutions. There has been a loss of faith in God, country, community, and family (Seligman 1988). Without faith in society’s institutions, personal failures, and losses are often interpreted as catastrophic. When an individual’s identity, hope, and meaning are no longer rooted in a relationship with God, when an individual no longer believes that his or her country and the organization he or she works for are powerful and benevolent, and when an individual no longer believes that his or her family or friends are (p. 197) a source of enduring unity and support, when faced with adversity the individual has to turn to a very small and frail being: the self. The result has been a ‘huge increase’ in the frequency and depth of depression and meaninglessness (Seligman 1988).

While there is almost no simple recipe for coping with stress, being isolated and detached from other people generally decreases coping and being involved in networks of supportive, caring, cooperative, and committed relationships generally increases coping (Johnson and Johnson 1989). Such relationships tend to lessen the impact of adverse events, provide opportunities for intimate and personal conversations and problem-solving, create opportunities for seeing adverse events from a variety of perspectives, and provide many other positive benefits. Building and maintaining supportive, caring, cooperative, and committed relationships requires cooperative experiences, resolving conflicts constructively, and establishing a mutual set of civic values. Within schools, this is known as the Three Cs Programme.

The three Cs programme

The Three Cs are essential conditions for coping with stress and adversity (cooperative community, constructive conflict, and civic values) (see Fig. 10.1). Working cooperatively with peers, resolving conflicts constructively, and internalizing prosocial values are experiences that all children, adolescents, and young adults need if they are to cope with adversity constructively. The Three Cs Programme is directly based on social interdependence and conflict theories, and the theories have been validated by a great deal of research on cooperation (Johnson and Johnson 1989), constructive controversy (Johnson and Johnson 1995c), and the peacemaker programme (Johnson and Johnson 1995a, 1996a, 2000). The Three Cs Programme, described below, has been implemented in a wide variety of schools throughout North, Central, and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It has been used with inner-city, lower-class students and with upper-class private school (p. 198) students and with everyone in between. It has been used in schools in third world as well as industrialized countries. The widespread implementation of the Three Cs Programme gives it a generalizability not found in most educational programmes.

Figure 10.1 The Three Cs of effective schools.

Figure 10.1 The Three Cs of effective schools.

The first C: cooperative community

The nature of community and social interdependence

The interdependent-self approach to coping begins with ensuring the school is a learning community. Students need to learn how to build and maintain the interdependent relationships within which they will receive the help and assistance they need to cope effectively with adversity. In addition, within schools students establish a network of interdependent relationships that may last for the rest of their lives. Developing the interdependent relationships needed to provide the resources needed to cope with adversity is a product of a community and a culture. Community is a group of people who live in the same locality and share common goals and a common culture. The school community is made up of the faculty and staff, the students, their parents, members of the neighbourhood, and other stakeholders in the school (such as district administrators, government officials, college admission officers, and future employers). The heart of community is social interdependence, which exists when each individuals outcomes are affected by the actions of others (Deutsch 1949a, 1962, 1973; Johnson and Johnson 1989) (see Table 10.1). Social interdependence maybe positive (cooperation), negative (competition), or absent (individualistic efforts). Positive interdependence (cooperation) exists when individuals work together to achieve mutual goals and negative interdependence (competition) exists when individuals work against each other to achieve a goal that only one or a few may attain. Social independence, where the outcomes of each person are unaffected by others’ actions, is characterized by individualistic actions.

Table 10.1 Understanding cooperative efforts

Types of interdependence

Cooperative learning

Essential elements of cooperation

Outcomes of cooperation

Positive

Cooperation

Formal cooperative learning

Positive interdependence

Effort to achieve

Negative

Competition

Informal cooperative learning

Individual accountability

Positive relationships

None

Individualistic

Cooperative base groups

Promotive interaction

Psychological health

Interpersonal and small group skills

Social skills

Group processing

Coping with adversity

Note: There are three types of interdependence, the most important of which is cooperation. The basic use of cooperation in schools is cooperative learning. There are three types of cooperative learning. Effective cooperation depends on five basic elements being structured into the situation. WTien the five elements are present, three types of outcomes tend to result.

(p. 199) Social interdependence theory assumes that the type of interdependence structured among individuals determines how they interact with each other which, in turn largely determines outcomes. Structuring situations cooperatively results in individuals promoting each other’s success, structuring situations competitively results in individuals opposing each other’s success, and structuring situations individualistically results in no interaction among individuals (see Table 10.1). These interaction patterns affect numerous variables, which may be subsumed within the three broad and interrelated outcomes (see Fig. 10.2) (Johnson and Johnson 1989).

Figure 10.2 Outcome of cooperative learning.

Figure 10.2 Outcome of cooperative learning.

The power of cooperation

Between 1897 and 1989, over 550 experimental and 100 correlational studies were conducted by a wide variety of researchers in different decades with different age subjects, in different subject areas, and in different settings (for a detailed review of the research on cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts, see Johnson and Johnson (1989)). In our own research programme at the Cooperative Learning Center (University of Minnesota) over the past 30 years we have conducted over 90 research studies to refine our understanding of the nature of cooperation and how it works. Many different researchers have conducted the research with markedly different orientations working in different settings, countries, and decades. Research participants have varied as to economic class, (p. 200) age, sex, nationality, and cultural background. A wide variety of research tasks, ways of structuring cooperation, and measures of the dependent variables have been used. The research on cooperation has validity and generalizability rarely found in the educational literature.

The research studies on social interdependence may best be summarized within a metaanalysis. A meta-analysis uses the statistically combined results of a set of independent studies that test the same hypothesis and using inferential statistics to draw conclusions about the overall result of the studies. Meta-analyses usually involve effect-sizes. An effect size is the standardized mean difference between the experimental and control groups or the proportion of a standard deviation by which an experimental group exceeds a control group (Glass et al. 1981).

Effort to achieve

Schools do not increase students’ abilities to cope with adversity by being stress-free environments. Learning how to cope with adversity requires facing stressful challenges and successfully dealing with them. One of the arenas in which challenges are presented is academic learning. From Table 10.2 it maybe seen that cooperation promotes considerably greater effort to achieve than do competitive or individualistic efforts. Effort exerted to achieve includes such variables as achievement and productivity, long-term retention, on-task behaviour, use of higher-level reasoning strategies, generation of new ideas and solutions, intrinsic motivation, achievement motivation, continuing motivation, and greater transfer of what is learned within one situation to another. Thus, more successful coping with academic challenges occurs within cooperative than within competitive or individualistic situations.

Table 10.2 Mean effect sizes for impact of social interdependence on dependent variables

Cooperative vs. competitive

Cooperative vs. individualistic

Competitive vs. individualistic

Achievement

0.67

0.64

0.30

Interpersonal attraction

0.67

0.60

0.08

Social support

0.62

0.70

−0.13

Self-esteem

0.58

0.44

−0.23

Taken from Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. (1989). Cooperation and competition: Theory and research. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Interpersonal relationships

The degree of emotional bonding that exists among students has a profound effect on students’ coping with adversity. There have been over 175 studies that have investigated the relative impact of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts on quality of relationships (Johnson and Johnson 1989). From Table 10.2 it maybe seen that cooperation generally promotes greater interpersonal attraction among individuals than do competitive or individualistic efforts (effect-sizes = 0.66 and 0.60 respectively).

In addition to friendly, caring, and committed relationships among collaborators, there has been considerable research on social support. Since the 1940s there have been 106 studies comparing the relative impact of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts on social support. Cooperative experiences tended to promote greater social support from peers and from superiors (i.e. teachers) than did competitive (effect-size = 0.62) or individualistic (effect-size = 0.70) efforts.

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of these research results. Children, adolescents, and young adults need supportive and caring friends. Friends give a person a developmental advantage. Students who do not have friends are at risk. Antisocial behaviour and rejection by the normal peer group are positively correlated (Cantrell and Prinz 1985; Dodge et al. 1982; Roff and Wirt 1984). Inappropriately aggressive behaviour leads to rejection by peers (Coie and Kupersmidt 1983; Dodge 1983). Rejected children tend to be (p. 201) deficient in a number of social-cognitive skills, including peer group entry, perception of peer group norms, response to provocation, and interpretation of prosocial interactions (Asarnow and Callan 1985; Dodge 1985; Putallaz 1983). Among children referred to child guidance clinics, 30–75 per cent (depending on age) are reported by their parents to experience peer difficulties (Achenbach and Edelbrock 1981). These difficulties are roughly twice as common among clinic children as among nonreferred youngsters. Moreover, referred children have fewer friends and less contact with them than nonreferred children, their friendships are significantly less stable over time, and their understanding of the reciprocities and intimacies involved in friendships is less mature (Selman 1981).

Psychological health

Asley Montagu (1966), a famous anthropologist was fond of saying that with few exceptions, the solitary animal in any species is an abnormal creature. Karen Horney (1937), a renowned psychoanalyst often stated that the neurotic individual is someone who is inappropriately competitive and, therefore, unable to cooperate with others. Montagu, Horney, and many others have recognized that the essence of psychological health is the ability to develop and maintain relationships in which cooperative action effectively takes place. With our students and colleagues, we have conducted a series of studies relating cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts and attitudes to various indices of psychological health. The samples studied included middle-class junior-high students, middle-class high-school seniors, high-school age juvenile prisoners, adult prisoners, Olympic ice-hockey players, and adult step-couples. The diversity of the samples studied and the variety of measures of psychological health provide considerable generalizability of the results of the studies. A strong relationship was found between cooperativeness and psychological health, a mixed relationship has been found with competitiveness and psychological health, and a strong relationship has been found between an individualistic orientation and psychological pathology.

More specifically, in our studies we found that the more positive a person's attitudes toward cooperating with others, the less likely they are to engage in antisocial behaviours such as drug abuse and criminal activities, the less their tension and anxiety, the less their depression and dejection, the less their anger and hostility, the less forceful and demanding they are, and the less rebellious and egoistic they are (see Johnson and Johnson 1989). In addition, the more cooperative individuals are, the more they use socially appropriate and approved ways of meeting environmental demands, the more they see reality clearly without distorting it according to their own desires and needs, the greater their emotional maturity, the greater their ability to resolve conflicts between self-perceptions and adverse information about oneself, the higher their self-esteem and self-acceptance, the greater their basic trust in others and optimism, the more aware they are of their feelings, the more they can control their anger and frustration and express them appropriately, the more they take into account social customs and rules in resolving interpersonal and personal problems, the more willing they are to acknowledge unpleasant events or conditions encountered in daily living, the more their thinking is organized and focused on reality and free from confusion and hallucinations, the greater their leadership ability and social initiative, the more outgoing and sociable they are, the greater their sense of well-being (p. 202) (which includes minimizing their worries and being free from self-doubt and disillusionment), the greater their common sense and good judgment, and the more conscientious and responsible they are (see Johnson and Johnson 1989). All of these qualities relate to coping successfully with stress and adversity.

Interpersonal and small group skills

An essential aspect of coping with adversity is the mastery of the interpersonal and small group skills needed to interact effectively with other people (Johnson 2000; Johnson and Johnson 2000). They include such skills as communication, trust-building, self-disclosure, leadership, decision-making, goal-setting, and social influence skills. Conflict resolution skills are highly important in both interpersonal and small group settings. Students master interpersonal and small group skills in a cooperative context (Johnson and Johnson 1989). Competitors tend not to interact in constructive ways and in individualistic situations no interaction takes place. Lew et al. (1986a, b) found that socially isolated and withdrawn students learned more social skills and engaged in them more frequently within cooperative than within individualistic situations, especially when the group was rewarded for their doing so. Slavin (1977) found that emotionally disturbed adolescents who experienced cooperative learning were more likely than traditionally taught students to interact appropriately with other students, and this effect was still present five months after the end of the project. Janke (1980) found enhancing effects of cooperative learning on appropriate interactions among emotionally disturbed students and also found the programme improved these students’ attendance. More generally, cooperation promotes more frequent, effective, and accurate communication than do competitive and individualistic situations (Johnson 1973, 1974). Within cooperative situations communication is more open, effective, and accurate, whereas in competitive situations communication will be closed, ineffective, and inaccurate (Bonoma et al. 1974; Crombag 1966; Deutsch, 1949b, 1962; Deutsch and Krauss 1962; French 1951; Fay 1970; Grossack 1953; Johnson 1971, 1973, 1974; Krauss and Deutsch 1966).

Basic elements of cooperation

These outcomes tend to result only when cooperation is effectively structured to contain five basic elements (Johnson and Johnson 1989, 1999) (see Table 10.2). First, there must be a strong sense of positive interdependence, so individuals believe they are linked with others so they cannot succeed unless the others do. Positive interdependence may be (p. 203) structured through mutual goals, joint rewards, divided resources, complementary roles, and a shared identity. Second, each collaborator must be individually accountable to do his or her fair share of the work. Third, collaborators must have the opportunity to promote each other's success by helping, assisting, supporting, encouraging, and praising each other's efforts to achieve. Fourth, working together cooperatively requires interpersonal and small group skills, such as leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict-management skills. Finally, cooperative groups must engage in group-processing, which exists when group members discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships.

To create a learning community within which students (a) learn how to build and maintain interdependent relationships and (b) establish a network of supportive and caring relationships that will continue throughout their schooling experience and beyond, positive interdependence must be structured at all levels of the school: learning group, classroom, interclass, school, school-parent, and school-neighbourhood.

Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups of students working together to maximize their own and each other’s learning (Johnson et al. 1998a). Any assignment in any curriculum for any age student can be done cooperatively. There are three types of cooperative learning-formal, informal, and cooperative base groups (see Table 10.2).

Formal cooperative learning consists of students working together, for one class period to several weeks, to achieve shared learning goals and complete jointly specific tasks and assignments (such as decision making or problem-solving, completing a curriculum unit, writing a report, conducting a survey or experiment, or reading a chapter or reference book, learning vocabulary, or answering questions at the end of the chapter) (Johnson et al. 1998a). In formal cooperative learning groups teachers

  1. 1. Make a number of preinstructional decisions. Teachers specify the objectives for the lesson (both academic and social skills) and decide on the size of groups, the method of assigning students to groups, the roles students will be assigned, the materials needed to conduct the lesson, and the way the room will be arranged.

  2. 2. Explain the task and the positive interdependence. A teacher clearly defines the assignment, teaches the required concepts and strategies, specifies the positive interdependence and individual accountability, gives the criteria for success, and explains the expected social skills to be used.

  3. 3. Monitor students’ learning and intervene within the groups to provide task assistance or to increase students’ interpersonal and group skills. A teacher systematically observes and collects data on each group as it works. When needed, the teacher intervenes to assist students in completing the task accurately and in working together effectively.

  4. 4. Assess students’ learning and help students process how well their groups function. Students’ learning is carefully assessed and their performances evaluated. Members of the learning groups then discuss how effectively they worked together and how they can improve in the future.

(p. 204) Informal cooperative learning consists of having students work together to achieve a joint learning goal in temporary, ad hoc groups that last from a few minutes to one class period (Johnson et al. 1998b, 1998). During a lecture, demonstration, or film, informal cooperative learning can be used to focus student attention on the material to be learned, set a mood conducive to learning, help set expectations as to what will be covered in a class session, ensure that students cognitively process and rehearse the material being taught, summarize what was learned and precue the next session, and provide closure to an instructional session. The procedure for using informal cooperative learning during a lecture entails having three-to-five minute focused discussions before and after the lecture (i.e. bookends) and two-to-three minute interspersing pair discussions throughout the lecture.

Cooperative base groups are long-term, heterogeneous cooperative learning groups with stable membership whose primary responsibilities are to provide support, encouragement, and assistance to make academic progress and develop cognitively and socially in healthy ways as well as holding each other accountable for striving to learn (Johnson et al. 1998b, 1998). Typically, cooperative base groups (a) are heterogeneous in membership, (b) meet regularly (for example, daily or biweekly), and (c) last for the duration of the semester, year, or until all members are graduated. When students know that the base group will stay together for some time, they become committed to find ways to motivate and encourage their groupmates and solve any problems in working together. The procedure for using base groups is to assign students to base groups of three to four members, have them meet at the beginning and end of each class session (or week) to complete academic tasks such as checking each members’ homework, routine tasks such as taking attendance, and personal support tasks such as listening sympathetically to personal problems or providing guidance for writing a paper.

Classroom interdependence

There are numerous ways to extend the positive interdependence within the learning groups to the classroom as a whole. Class goals may be established (criteria for students to reach, improvement goal for each student, total class score), class rewards or celebrations may be created (bonus points when class members achieve up to criterion, nonacademic rewards such as extra recess time or a class party), class roles may be structured (classroom government, class newsletter in which each cooperative group contributes one article), and class processing takes place in class meetings. Finally, a common class identity may be created through a class name, slogan, flag, or song.

Interclass interdependence

An interdisciplinary team of three to six teachers may organize their classes into a ‘neighbourhood’ or a ‘school within a school.’ Science and math, or literature and social studies, may be integrated and the classes combined. Students of different ages can be involved in cross-class ‘reading buddies’ that meet weekly throughout the year so they can jointly share and explore literature. Several classes can do periodic projects on learning specific social skills and values. In these and many other ways, interclass interdependence may be created.

(p. 205) School interdependence

School level positive interdependence is established in numerous ways (Johnson and Johnson 1994). The school mission statement may articulate the mutual goals shared by all members of the school and may be displayed on the schools walls and printed at the top of the agenda of every meeting involving faculty and staff. Faculty and staff can meet weekly in teaching teams and/or study groups. Colleagial teaching teams consist of two-five teachers who meet weekly and discuss how better to implement cooperative learning within their classrooms and colleagial study groups meet regularly to discuss a book or series of articles about cooperative learning. Teachers may be assigned to task forces to plan and implement solutions to school-wide issues such as curriculum adoptions and lunchroom behaviour and ad hoc decision-making groups during faculty meetings to involve all staff members in important school decisions.

School-parent interdependence

Parents may be involved in establishing school goals and the ‘strategic plan’ to achieve the goals, producing a school newsletter, publishing the school yearbook, volunteering in classes, helping conduct special projects, and serving on all school committees or the site council. The PTA may raise money for supplies and technology. A faculty-parent task force may be formed to deal with serious discipline problems.

School-neighbourhood interdependence

The school mission can be supported by local merchants through such programmes as giving a discount to students who have a card verifying that in the last grading period they achieved a ‘B’ average or above. Members of the neighbourhood could contribute resources to school activities such as playing in the school band. Classes could do neighbourhood service projects, cleaning up a park or mowing the yards of elderly residents.

The second C: constructive conflict resolution

For interdependent relationships to exist and be maintained over a long period of time, conflicts must occur and be managed constructively. In addition, much of the adversity in any persons life involves conflicts with others. If conflicts are managed in destructive ways, both the frequency and level of adversity increases. On the other hand, when conflicts are managed constructively, they can increase (a) individuals’ energy, curiosity, and motivation, (b) achievement, retention, insight, creativity, problem-solving, and synthesis, (c) healthy cognitive and social development, (d) clarification of own and others’ identity, commitments, and values, (e) quality of relationships, and (f) many other positive outcomes (Johnson and Johnson 1995a, b, 1996a, 2000).

Managing conflicts constructively depends on (a) clear procedures for managing conflicts, (b) individuals being skilled in the use of the procedures and value using them, and (c) community and organizational norms and values encouraging and supporting the use of the procedures. Faculty and staff need to teach students (and learn themselves) three (p. 206) procedures for managing conflicts: academic controversy, problem-solving negotiation, and peer mediation procedures (see Table 10.3).

Table 10.3 Types of conflict

Academic controversy

Conflicts of interest

One person’s ideas, information, theories, conclusions, and opinions are incompatible with those of another and the two seek to reach an agreement.

The actions of one person attempting to maximize benefits prevents, blocks, or interferes with another person maximizing their benefits.

Controversy procedure

Integrative (problem-solving) negotiations

Research and prepare positions

Describe wants

Present and advocate positions

Describe feelings

Refute opposing position and refute attacks on own position

Describe reasons for wants and feelings

Reverse perspectives

Take other’s perspective

Synthesize and integrate best evidence and reasoning from all sides

Invent three optional agreements that maximize joint outcomes

Choose one and formalize agreement

Academic controversies

To promote coping with adversity, teachers can structure academic controversies frequently and teach students how to resolve them. A controversy exists when one person's ideas, opinions, information, theories, or conclusions are incompatible with those of another and the two seek to reach an agreement (Johnson and Johnson 1995b). Controversies are resolved by engaging in what Aristotle called deliberate discourse (i.e. the discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of proposed actions) aimed at synthesizing novel solutions (i.e. creative problem-solving). Teaching students how to engage in the controversy process begins with randomly assigning students to heterogeneous cooperative learning groups of four members (Johnson and Johnson 1979, 1989, 1995b). The groups are given an issue on which to write a report and pass a test. Each cooperative group is divided into two pairs. One pair is given the con-position on the issue and the other pair is given the pro-position. Each pair is given the instructional materials needed to define their position and point them towards supporting information. The cooperative goal of reaching a consensus on the issue (by synthesizing the best reasoning from both sides) and writing a quality group report is highlighted. Students then do the following.

  1. 1. Research, learn, and prepare position: Students prepare the best case possible for their assigned position by researching the assigned position, organizing the information into a persuasive argument, and planning how to advocate the assigned position effectively to ensure it receives a fair and complete hearing.

  2. 2. Present and advocate position: Students present the best case for their assigned position to ensure it gets a fair and complete hearing.

  3. 3. Engage in an open discussion in which there is spirited disagreement: Students freely exchange information and ideas while (a) arguing forcefully and persuasively for their (p. 207) position, (b) critically analysing and refuting the opposing position, (c) rebutting attacks on their position, and (d) presenting counter-arguments.

  4. 4. Reverse perspectives: Students reverse perspectives and present the best case for the opposing position.

  5. 5. Synthesize: Students drop all advocacy and find a synthesis on which all members can agree. Students summarize the best evidence and reasoning from both sides and integrate it into a joint position that is new and unique. Students are to write a group report on the group’s synthesis with the supporting evidence and rationale and take a test on both positions. Groups then process how well the group functioned and celebrate the groups success and the hard work.

Benefits of controversy

We have conducted over twenty-five research studies on the impact of academic controversy and numerous other researchers have added to the literature (Johnson and Johnson 1995b, 1989 (see Table 10.4). The research indicates that intellectual conflicts create higher achievement, greater retention, more creative problem-solving, more frequent use of higher-level reasoning and metacognitive thought, more perspective taking, greater continuing motivation to learn, more positive attitudes toward learning, more positive interpersonal relationships, greater social support, and higher self-esteem (Johnson and Johnson 1985, 1995b). Engaging in a controversy can also be fun, enjoyable, and exciting.

Table 10.4 Meta-analysis of controversy studies: Average effect size

Dependent variable

Mean

SD

n

Achievement

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.68

0.41

15

Controversy/debate

0.40

0.43

6

Controversy/individualistic efforts

0.87

0.47

19

Cognitive reasoning

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.62

0.44

2

Controversy/debate

1.35

0.00

1

Controversy/individualistic efforts

0.90

0.48

15

Perspective-taking

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.91

0.28

9

Controversy/debate

0.22

0.42

2

Controversy/individualistic efforts

0.86

0.00

1

Motivation

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.75

0.46

12

Controversy/debate

0.45

0.44

5

Controversy/individualistic efforts

0.71

0.21

4

Attitudes

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.58

0.29

5

Controversy/debate

0.81

0.00

1

Controversy/individualistic efforts

0.64

0.00

1

Interpersonal attraction

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.24

0.44

8

Controversy/debate

0.72

0.25

6

Controversy/individualistic efforts

0.81

0.11

3

Debate/individualistic efforts

0.46

0.13

2

Social support

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.32

0.44

8

Controversy/debate

0.92

0.42

6

Controversy/individualistic efforts

1.52

0.29

3

Debate/individualistic efforts

0.85

0.01

2

Self-esteem

Controversy/concurrence seeking

0.39

0.15

4

Controversy/debate

0.51

0.09

2

Controversy/individualistic efforts

0.85

0.04

3

Debate/individualistic efforts

0.45

0.17

2

Source: Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. (1995b). Creative controversy: Intellectual challenge in the classroom, 3rd edn. Edina, MN: Interaclient Book company.

Conflict resolution training

In addition to intellectual conflicts, conflicts based on individuals’ differing interests within a situation must be resolved constructively. If students are to resolve conflicts constructively, they must learn how to resolve conflicts of interests. Conflict of interests exist when the actions of one person attempting to maximize his or her wants and benefits prevents, blocks, or interferes with another person maximizing his or her wants and benefits. The Teaching Students To Be Peacemakers Programme began in the 1960s (Johnson 1970; Johnson and Johnson 1995a) to teach students how to resolve conflicts of interests constructively. All students are taught how to engage in problem-solving negotiations and mediate their schoolmates’ conflicts. The programme is then implemented and all students take turns in being a class or school mediator.

Problem-solving negotiations

Conflicts of interests are resolved through negotiation (when negotiation does not work, then mediation is required). There are two ways to negotiate: distributive or ‘win-lose’ (where one person benefits only if the opponent agrees to make a concession) and integrative or problem solving (where disputants work together to create an agreement that benefits everyone involved). In ongoing relationships, distributive negotiations result in destructive outcomes and integrative leads to constructive outcomes. The steps in using problem-solving negotiations are (Johnson and Johnson 1995a):

  1. 1. Describing what you want. ‘I want to use the book now’ This includes using good communication skills and defining the conflict as a small and specific mutual problem. (p. 208)

  2. 2. Describing how you feel ‘I’m frustrated’ Disputants must understand how they feel and communicate it openly and clearly.

  3. 3. Describing the reasons for your wants and feelings. ‘You have been using the book for the past hour. If I dont get to use the book soon my report will not be done on time. It’s frustrating to have to wait so long.’ This includes expressing cooperative intentions, (p. 209) listening carefully, separating interests from positions, and differentiating before trying to integrate the two sets of interests.

  4. 4. Taking the other’s perspective and summarizing your understanding of what the other person wants, how the other person feels, and the reasons underlying both. ‘My understanding of you is…’ This includes understanding the perspective of the opposing disputant and being able to see the problem from both perspectives simultaneously.

  5. 5. Inventing three optional plans to resolve the conflict that maximize joint benefits. ‘Plan A is …, Plan B is …, Plan C is …’ This includes inventing creative options to solve the problem.

  6. 6. Choosing one and formalizing the agreement with a hand shake. ‘Let’s agree on Plan B!’ A wise agreement is fair to all disputants and is based on principles. It maximizes joint benefits and strengthens disputants’ ability to work together cooperatively and resolve conflicts constructively in the future. It specifies how each disputant should act in the future and how the agreement will be reviewed and renegotiated if it does not work.

Peer mediation

When students are unable to negotiate a resolution to their conflict, they may request help from a mediator. A mediator is a neutral person who helps two or more people resolve their conflict, usually by negotiating an integrative agreement. In contrast, arbitration is the submission of a dispute to a disinterested third party (such as a teacher or principal) who makes a final and binding judgement as to how the conflict will be resolved. Mediation consists of four steps (Johnson and Johnson 1995a):

  1. 1. Ending hostilities: Break up hostile encounters and cool off students.

  2. 2. Ensuring disputants are committed to the mediation process: To ensure that disputants are committed to the mediation process and are ready to negotiate in good faith, the mediator introduces the process of mediation and sets the ground rules that (a) mediation is voluntary, (b) the mediator is neutral, (c) each person will have the chance to state his or her view of the conflict without interruption, and (d) each person agrees to solve the problem with no name calling or interrupting, being as honest as you can, abiding by any agreement made, and keeping anything said in mediation confidential.

  3. 3. Helping disputants successfully negotiate with each other: The disputants are carefully taken through the problem-solving negotiation steps.

  4. 4. Formalizing the agreement: The agreement is solidified into a contract.

Implementing programme

The peacemaker programme is implemented once students understand how to negotiate and mediate. Each day the teacher selects two class members to serve as official mediators. Any conflicts students cannot resolve themselves are referred to the mediators. The mediators wear official T-shirts, patrol the playground and lunchroom, and are available to mediate any conflicts that occur in the classroom or school. The role of mediator is rotated so that all students in the class or school serve as mediators an equal amount of time. Initially, students mediate in pairs. This ensures that shy or nonverbal students get the same (p. 210) amount of experience as more extroverted and verbally fluent students. Mediating classmates’ conflicts is perhaps the most effective way of teaching students the need for the skillful use of each step of the negotiation procedure.

If peer mediation fails, the teacher mediates the conflict. If teacher mediation fails, the teacher arbitrates by deciding who is right and who is wrong. If that fails, the principal mediates the conflict. If that fails, the principal arbitrates. Teaching all students to mediate properly results in a school-wide discipline programme where students are empowered to regulate and control their own and their classmates actions. Teachers and administrators are then freed to spend more of their energies on instruction.

Continuing training and spiral programme

It takes years of training and practice to gain real expertise in resolving conflicts constructively. A few hours of training are clearly insufficient. Students’ skills may be refined and upgraded through integrating negotiation and mediation training into academic lessons. Almost any lesson in literature and history, for example, can include role playing in which the negotiation and/or mediation procedures are used. Each year the Teaching Students to be Peacemakers training is repeated with increasing sophistication and complexity. The Peacemaker Programme is a 12-year spiral programme. The twelve years of training and practice will result in a person with considerable expertise in resolving conflicts constructively.

Benefits of conflict resolution and peer mediation programmes

Between 1988 and 2000 we and our colleagues conducted seventeen studies on the effectiveness of the Peacemaker Programme in eight different schools in two different countries (Johnson and Johnson 1995a,d, 1996a, 2000). Students involved were from kindergarten through ninth grades. The studies were conducted in rural, suburban, and urban settings. The benefits of teaching students the problem-solving negotiation and the peer mediation procedures are as follows (see Table 10.5).

Table 10.5 Mean effect sizes peacemaker studies

Dependent variable

Mean

SD

Number of effects

Learned procedure

2.25

1.98

13

Learned procedure—retention

3.34

4.16

9

Applied procedure

2.16

1.31

4

Application—retention

0.46

0.16

3

Strategy constructiveness

1.60

1.70

12

Constructiveness—retention

1.10

0.53

10

Strategy two-concerns

1.10

0.46

5

Two-concerns—retention

0.45

0.20

2

Integrative negotiation

0.98

0.36

5

Quality of solutions

0.73

0

1

Positive attitude

1.07

0.25

5

Negative attitude

−0.61

0.37

2

Academic achievement

0.88

0.09

5

Academic retention

0.70

0.31

4

First, students and faculty tended to develop a shared understanding of how conflicts should be managed and a common vocabulary to discuss conflicts. Second, students tended to learn the negotiation and mediation procedures, retain their knowledge throughout the school year and into the following year, apply the procedures to their and other people’s conflicts, transfer the procedures to nonclassroom settings such as the playground and lunchroom, transfer the procedures to nonschool settings such as the home, use the procedures similarly in family and school settings, and (when given the option) engage in problem-solving rather than win-lose negotiations. Third, students’ attitudes toward conflict tended to became more positive. Students learned to view conflicts as potentially positive and faculty and parents viewed the conflict training as constructive and helpful. Fourth, students tended to resolve their conflicts without the involvement of faculty and administrators. Classroom management problems, in other words, tended to be significantly reduced. The number of discipline problems teachers had to deal with decreased by about 60 per cent and referrals to administrators dropped about 90 per cent. Faculty and administrators no longer had to arbitrate conflicts among students; instead they spent their time maintaining and supporting the peer mediation process. A teacher commented, (p. 211) ‘Classroom management problems are nil as far as I’m concerned. We don’t do a lot of disciplining per se. A lot of times, when a conflict occurs on the playground, they resolve it there and do not bring it back to the classroom. So there is a lot less I have to deal with in the classroom.’

Fifth, the conflict resolution procedures tended to enhance the basic values of the classroom and school. A teacher who emphasizes the value of ‘respect’ states, ‘The procedures are a very respectful way to resolve conflicts. There’s a calmness in the classroom because the students know the negotiation and mediation procedures’. Sixth, students generally liked to engage in the procedures. A teacher states, ‘They never refuse to negotiate or mediate. When there’s a conflict and you say it’s time for conflict resolution, you never have either one say I won’t do it. There are no refusals’.

Finally, when integrated into academic units, the conflict resolution training tended to increase academic achievement and long-term retention of the academic material. Academic units, especially in subject areas such as literature and history, provide a setting to understand conflicts, practice how to resolve them, and use them to gain insight into the material being studied.

The third C: civic values

Some historians claim that the decline and fall of Rome was set in motion by corruption from within rather than by conquest from without. Rome fell, it can be argued, because Romans lost their civic virtue. Civic virtue exists when individuals meet both the letter and spirit of their public obligations. For a community to exist and sustain itself, members must share common goals and values aimed at defining appropriate behaviour and increasing the quality of life within the community (Johnson and Johnson 1996b, 1999). These common values provide internal resources to cope with adversity constructively and effectively.

(p. 212) There are a wide variety of programmes to teach students values (Kohn 1997). Some of these programmes focus on listing values that should be taught and others on developing student character. Both approaches tend to be collections of exhortations and extrinsic inducements designed to make children work harder and do what they are told. Students are often drilled in specific behaviours rather than engaged in discussions that require reflection on how one should live. Kohn criticizes these approaches and concludes that a more generic approach is needed that (a) focuses on the overall organizational structure of the school, (b) assumes a positive view of human nature, (c) aims at developing individuals who are active advocates for democracy and social justice, (d) instills values (beyond selfishness) aimed at improving the quality of life for all societal members and the common good, and (e) utilizes cooperative learning as the primary means of instruction.

A learning community cannot exist in schools dominated by (a) competition where students are taught to value striving for their personal success at the expense of others or (b) individualistic efforts where students value only their own self-interests. Rather, students need to internalize values underlying cooperation and integrative negotiations. The value systems underlying competitive, individualistic, and cooperative situations as well as constructive controversy and integrative negotiations are a hidden curriculum beneath the surface of school life.

Whenever students engage in competitive efforts, for example, they learn the values of commitment to getting more than others, success depends on beating and defeating others, what is important is winning, not mastery or excellence, opposing and obstructing the success of others is a natural way of life, feeling joy and pride in one's wins and others’ losses, and a person’s worth (own and others) is conditional and contingent on his or her ‘wins’.

The values inherently taught by individualistic experiences are commitment to one’s own self-interest, success depends on one’s own efforts, the pleasure of succeeding is personal and relevant to only oneself, other people are irrelevant, self-worth is based on a unidimensional view that the characteristics that help the person succeed are, and extrinsic motivation to gain rewards.

The values inherently taught by cooperative efforts are commitment to own and others’ success and well-being as well as to the common good, success depends on joint efforts to achieve mutual goals, facilitating and promoting the success of others is a natural way of life, the pleasure of succeeding is associated with others’ happiness in their success, other people are potential contributors to one’s success, and own and other people’s worth is unconditional, intrinsic motivation.

Participating in the controversy process teaches such values as (a) you have both the right and the responsibility to derive a reasoned position and advocate it, (b) ‘truth’ is derived from the clash of opposing ideas and positions, (c) insight and understanding come from a ‘disputed passage’ where one’s ideas and conclusions are advocated and subjected to intellectual challenge, (d) issues must be viewed from all perspectives, and (e) you seek a synthesis that subsumes the seemingly opposed positions.

Problem-solving negotiations and peer mediation are closely related to cooperation. They inherently teach all the values associated with cooperation. In addition, problem-solving negotiations and mediation teach such values as being open and honest about what one wants and how one feels, understanding the other person’s wants and feelings, striving (p. 213) to see the situation from all perspectives, being concerned with the other person's outcomes as well as one’s own, seeking to reach agreements that are satisfying to all disputants, and maintaining effective and caring long-term relationships. In other words, constructive conflict resolution inherently teaches a set of civic values aimed at ensuring the fruitful continuation of the community.

Conclusions and summary

Stress is unavoidable, necessary, and desirable. It is only when it is too high or too low that stress becomes a problem. Adverse events create high stress with which individuals must cope. There are two views of coping presented here. The interdependent-self approach emphasizes building and maintaining networks of supportive and caring relationships within which individuals are committed to each other’s well-being as well as their own. The independent-self approach emphasizes cognitive strategies to manage adverse events. While the latter approach has considerable value, the former approach is the most powerful and has the most data validating its effectiveness. Learning how to cope with adversity requires (a) creating a cooperative context in which the supportive and caring interdependent relationships may be built, (b) constructively managing conflicts in order to maintain and deepen the relationships over time, and (c) adopting a set of civic values that encourages concern for each other’s well-being and the common good.

As the impact of family and community life has decreased, the school has become a more important place in which learn how to cope with adversity. Many if not most children, adolescents, and young adults spend more time interacting with others in school than in any other place. Schools, therefore, can either increase or decrease students’ abilities to manage adversity constructively. This does not mean that schools should be stress-free environments. Coping is not facilitated by a stress-free existence. Rather, facing stressful challenges and successfully dealing with them facilitates coping.

It is within schools that students are confronted with academic challenges that require considerable effort and commitment to complete successfully. It is within schools that relationship challenges are presented in the process of forming and maintaining relationships with peers and developing constructive patterns of interaction with authority figures. It is within schools that students are challenged by a multitude of conflicts with schoolmates and authority figures. It is within schools that value challenges occur as students decide whether to commit themselves to either (a) egocentric or even antisocial concerns or (b) concerns involving other people’s welfare and the common good.

For students to cope with these challenges successfully and to transfer the strategies they learn to nonschool situations, three important conditions need to be met. First and foremost, the school must be a cooperative place in which students, faculty, and administrators work towards mutual goals. Caring and supportive interdependent relationships develop when cooperation is carefully structured at all levels in the school. Cooperative learning is especially important as it teaches students how to work together and inculcates important civic values. Second, students must know how to resolve conflicts constructively and to recognize the potential positive outcomes of conflicts. Many of the adverse events in a person’s life involve conflicts with others and to maintain and deepen interdependent relationships the constructive resolution of conflict is essential. The more experience they (p. 214) get with resolving conflict constructively, the better off they tend to be in many ways. Third, students need to adopt a set of civic values that underlie community and democracy. Civic values guide and direct the cooperation and constructive conflict resolution. While each of the Cs may be implemented separately, together they represent a gestalt in which each enhances and promotes the others. Together the Three Cs are a complete programme for creating effective and nurturing schools where children and youth learn and develop in positive and healthy ways.

Educational practices come and go, but cooperative learning, constructive conflict, and civic values will always be with us for many reasons. The amount and consistency of research demonstrating the effectiveness of cooperative efforts, constructive controversy, and integrative negotiations are staggering. In schools where practice follows knowledge about effective teaching, the Three Cs are foundational. In addition, cooperative learning and constructive conflict are easily integrated with (and are in some cases a requirement for) other instructional practices such as mastery learning, effective elements of instruction, whole language, and critical thinking. Finally, the Three Cs Programme is an effective means of maximizing students’ ability to cope successfully with stress and adversity and provides a foundation for other programmes aimed at doing so.

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