Using Student Learning Teams and the Homework Check Cooperative Learning

Model to Improve Student Achievement in Accounting Courses


Robert E. Holtfreter

Central Washington University


Kristy L. Holtfreter

Kerry A. Holtfreter

University of Washington


Over the past decade organizations have reduced their levels of manage­ment through restructuring and have placed a greater emphasis on employees working on teams. Accounting educa­tors have experienced similar pressures from the Bedford committee, Big-Six accounting Firms, (perspective) and the Accounting Education Change Com­mission to restructure their classrooms by using student learning groups or teams to improve student achievement and cognitive/interpersonal skills. Using student learning teams or groups is a characteristic of cooperative learning. There are many cooperative learning models that have been used in the K—12 level over the past thirty years and a few are starting to emerge in university ac­counting programs. Arizona State Uni­versity has been especially successful in integrating cooperative learning into their accounting program. I have suc­cessfully used a cooperative learning model called Homework Check over the past two years in a number of ex­periments in accounting principles and cost accounting courses. The statistical results have consistently shown that student achievement is significantly bet­ter in the cooperative learning class­room compared to the traditionally taught lecture classroom. The proce­dure for implementing the Homework Check cooperative learning model fol­lows.

The first step is to assign students to learning teams, which I do after the first exam. Since one of the main purposes of the student learning teams is to improve student achievement, both Slavin (1990) and Johnson (1981) recommend that the teams be composed of students with heterogeneity skill levels. This can be accomplished by using some measure of prior achievement. I use stu­dent scores on the first exam, which I rank from one hundred to zero, hypo­thetically. If each student learning team is to be composed of four students, which is typical, and there are forty stu­dents in the class, then four achieve­ment levels can be created from the ranking of student scores from the first exam. Each achievement level is com­posed of ten students with level one composed of the top ten student scores, level two the next ten students, and so on. Each student-learning group is then formed by randomly selecting one stu­dent from each of the four achievement levels.

After the student learning groups are determined, I structure the class­room to initiate the cooperative learning process. Assuming three days are as­signed to a chapter, I devote the first day to lecturing the chapter material with the use of overhead transparencies and example problems. The next two days are devoted to the cooperative process. The students and instructor each have specific tasks to perform on these two days.

The primary task of the students is to discuss the solutions to the home­work that was assigned for the day. They are instructed to start with the first exercise or problem, and if a stu­dent is uncertain as to how a solution was derived, he or she is encouraged to ask other team members for help. They are to focus on the “why" as well as the “how.” After the answer to the first ex­ercise or problem is understood by all of the group members, they progress to the next problem or exercise and con­tinue in the same manner. If they do not understand how a particular answer was derived or do not know how to do part of an assignment, they are required to ask the professor for help. After it was determined that most of the groups had completed their work in the cooperative setting, the instructor then called on students to explain their group’s solu­tion to a particular assignment.

The primary task of the instructor is to facilitate the learning process for the students. In addition to providing the initial lecture on each chapter, this is accomplished by walking around the classroom observing the behavior of the students in order to keep them on task and answer any questions they might have. Also, the last fifteen minutes of the cooperative learning sessions are re­served for the instructor to recap the homework assigned for the day and re­inforce the major concepts and proce­dures.

Two controls are used to help moti­vate the students. One is an extrinsic group reward system and the other is a student task check. Although a special extrinsic reward system is not neces­sary to motivate students working in groups, the research relating to the use of cooperative learning models to en­hance student achievement concludes that the use of an extrinsic group reward system leads to better results. A group reward system and the use of preset grading standards for individual stu­dent grades, i.e., As, Bs, Cs, etc., en­courage students to cooperate and not compete. Basing student grades on a class curve is counterproductive, en­courages students to compete, and as a result, must never be used where coop­erative models are used.

The group reward system that I used involved bonus points that were added to each test score following the first test if the test average for a partic­ular team exceeded the norm for that test. For example, if a group averaged 75% on a test and the norm was 70%, then each member of the group would receive five bonus points. A norm for a particular test was determined by aver­aging all the scores on that test when it was given to students in a non-cooper­ative classroom. The test norms were based on approximately 250 student scores over a two-year period where the same books, syllabi, etc. were used.

To add validity to the process of us­ing norms in determining bonus points and in comparing student achievement in a cooperative classroom to a tradi­tionally lecture-based classroom, it must be determined that the students in these two types of classrooms and in the classes from which the test norms were established were of similar ability. This can be determined by using a T-Statis­tic to compare the averages on the first exam, student college grade-point av­erage, and, in my case, an admission in­dex score, which is a function of a stu­dent high school grade-point average and SAT score.

The student task check control is a system designed where students in each learning group evaluate each other on their contribution to the group just prior to taking a particular test. If a student shared equally in the learning process, then he or she qualified for bonus points. If not, a student could start over again and qualify for bonus points for the next test if group members deter­mined that the student contributed equally to the cooperative process be­tween tests. The students evaluated each other as to class attendance, con­sistency in coming to class with most of the assigned homework completed, and the quality of the help provided in the cooperative process.

In summary, if a cooperative learn­ing model is utilized correctly, students take an active part in the learning process. The teaching function is shared by the students as well as the instructor. This compares to a traditionally taught classroom where the roles of the stu­dents are passive. The payoff for re­structuring the classroom to a coopera­tive environment was more than expected. In addition to observing sig­nificant increases in student achieve­ment, feedback from students indicated that the cooperative process was quite challenging in terms of developing trust between group members and resolving conflict. Student learning teams that ex­ceed met numerous times out of class, a behavior that was not required or ex­pected. The cooperative structured classroom provides the environment necessary to also build students’ inter­personal skills. Most important, stu­dents asked more questions in the small group setting in one day than were asked in an entire academic quarter in a traditionally structured classroom. This indicates that once trust is estab­lished and self-confidence increases, students are more prone to directing questions to other students and the in­structor. This is a stark comparison to a large sized, competitively structured classroom where students generally are intimidated and lack the confidence to ask questions. Asking questions and re­ceiving valid answers enhances the learning process. Try the Homework Check cooperative mode. You’ll like it.



Johnson, D.W., G. Maruyama, R. Johnson, D. Nelson, and L. Skon. 1981. Effects of Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Goal Structures on Achievement: A Meta-analysis. Psychological Bul­letin (January): 47-62

Slavin, RE. 1990. Cooperative Learning. Engle­wood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice.