Friday, March 20, 2009

Larkin (2006)’s qualitative research study investigates how collaborative group work with small children impacts the development of their individual metacognitive development. It uses a case study method to isolate and focus on the individual child while analysing the group interactions. The research question, “How does the interactions between members of a collaborative work group impact individual’s metacognitive development?” is broad enough to capture the study’s central themes. However, Larkin fails to narrow the major themes in her study by not providing sub-questions.

Within a conceptual framework of analysis based on verbal interactions, which are developed from early theories of metacognition, Larkin (2006) takes a phenomenological perspective in order to investigate the dynamic interaction between the development of the self and the development of metacognition of 2 six-year-old children. Larkin also completes an in-depth grounded analysis based on Piagetian stage development theory combined with a broad Vygotskyan framework emphasising the social construction of knowledge and thinking.

Larkin uses the audio recordings of the dialogue of two subjects participating in the CASE programme as well as the data collected from 9 observations of the subjects as they collaborated in a group of six students on CASE activities. Larkin provides a detailed contextual description of the educational environment of the 2 six-year-old subjects, the teacher’s training and skills, and the educational program used. Larkin highlights the diverse perspectives of the subjects and provides tacit knowledge of the subjects’ non-verbal communication. For example, Larkin supports the transcripts with a description of subjects’ hand gestures, sighs, and facial expressions.

Larkin (2006)’s study is preceded by Venville, Adey, Larkin and Robertson (2003)’s qualitative study in which Larkin, as co-author, examines the effectiveness of the CASE programme in fostering thinking through science in the early years of schooling. However, Larkin does not inform the reader of her co-authorship of Venville et al. She therefore fails to identify any assumptions, beliefs, values or biases that may have influenced her interpretation of the data obtained from the audio recordings and observations in her 2006 study.

Larkin (2006) presents the data in a clear format. However, personal accounts from the participants are not presented and member checking does not occur. The three clearly stated major themes in Larkin’s study are based on the person, task, and strategy variables described in Flavell (1979)’s model of cognitive monitoring. Data is collected over the course of a school year, which increases the reliability of the findings of the case studies. The major themes are used as category codes to code the children’s interactions.
Lastly, interconnecting themes occur between the two case studies.

Inter-rater reliability of the coding system is undertaken by two researchers not connected to the CASE programme, on three different transcripts of children working on the CASE activities. A reliability rating of 97% is achieved and disputed areas are not included in the study. Larkin (2006) states that the two six-year-old students, a boy and a girl, chosen for the case studies are typical of the CASE participants in that they engage with their group and in the CASE activities presented. However, she acknowledges that if two other children had been chosen the descriptive data would be different.

A narrative approach is used to examine the data of both case studies. Larkin (2006) presents the data using the same layering approach for both case studies. She begins with a description of the subject’ s social skills, followed by a transcript of the group’s dialogue. She supports the dialogue with tacit knowledge provided by field notes taken during the observations with regards to the behaviours of group members as they collaborated in the CASE activities. She concludes the examination with a summary of the findings. Obtaining a 97% inter-rater reliability, using observational data and transcripts, revealing interconnect themes between the case studies, and applying a layering approach allows Larkin to partially triangulate the data. However, as mentioned earlier, she does not provide personal accounts from the subjects to validate her interpretations of the subject’s motivations and thinking that influences the subjects’ dialogue and observed behaviours. Also, it is unclear if Larkin (2006) is the non-participatory adult observer described in her study or if other(s) did the observing.

Larkin also does not provide contrary information, multiple perspectives or extreme unexplainable results. She acknowledges large sections of the recorded transcripts were not coded and were omitted, as they did not relate to the category codes. However, she does not provide a description or examples of the omitted data so the reader has no idea how this data differed from the included data. A better understanding of the omitted data and the reason it was omitted may have been a way to test and strengthen the basic findings of the study.


Larkin, S., (2006). Collaborative group work and individual development of
metacognition in the early years. Research in Science Education, 36(1-2), 7-27.

Venville, G, Adey, P., & Larkin, S. (2003). Fostering thinking through science in the
early years of schooling. International Journal of Science Education, 25(11), 1313-


  1. Congrads, Sea to Sky, on a thorough review. I'm sure that this critique will help you in your own program of research! What is left out of a study is sometimes far more interesting than what is reported!

  2. I do like this review! For one thing, part of the study is talking about collaborative learning, which is related to my intended study. On the other hand, the way you addressed each critique issue is easy to understand, with both positive and negative parts provided. I even tried to search the article for further detail and found that a framework of analysis
    is developed based on verbal interactions. This is especially intesting to me, for I'm curious how it was done!