Teachers who have been encouraged to pair passive children with more assertive classmates in the belief that it will help the development of the quiet child have been warned that the practice may be counter-productive.
Mark Windschitl, a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, now believes that learning gains may be greatest when children with similar levels of assertiveness work together.
Windschitl reached this conclusion after studying the conceptual gains of 90 junior-high pupils who spent two weeks learning about the human cardiovascular system in pairs. He tested pupils at the beginning and end of the experiment and found that their partners' level of assertiveness affected their scores.
"The exercise involved problem-solving," said Windschitl. "It required dialogue and choice about courses of action. We found that when a student with low assertiveness was paired with the opposite, the highly assertive student took over and the other student became a passive observer. And when you're passive you don't learn very much."
Some have suggested that more assertive students could help classmates. But Windschitl says that this rarely happens spontaneously. "Unfortunately the American system of education tends to foster competition."
Contact: Mark Windschitl, 115 Miller Hall Box 353600, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.