Cooperative Learning

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COOPERATIVE LEARNING IN THE EFL CLASSROOM

Plan of the lecture:

1. What is cooperative learning?
2. Assumptions about cooperative learning
3. Strategies for group dynamics
4. Steps in teaching cooperative skills
5. Levels of cooperative skills
6. Benefits from using cooperative techniques

What is cooperative learning?
Cooperative learning can be characterized in the following Chinese proverb:

Tell me, and I’ll forget
Show me, and I’ll remember
Involve me, I’ll learn.

Cooperative learning can be defined as a strategy for the classroom that is used to increase motivation and retention, to help students develop a positive image of self and others, to provide vehicles for critical thinking and problem solving, and to encourage collaborative social skills (Calderon 1987)

Assumptions about cooperative learning
1. Cooperative skills must be learned. Humans are not born instinctively knowing how to cooperate with others. In the classroom, students will not automatically start cooperating as soon as you put them into small groups. Cooperative group skills must be taught – just like skills in math, reading, writing. Because most students have not been taught to work effectively with others, they can not do it. Traditional forms of education do not encourage cooperative activity; students work independently and compete for recognition with their peers (Slavin 1979). 2. The physical and spatial arrangement of the classroom affects cooperative work. If students in EFL classes are to cooperate, activities must be structured so that students can cooperate and talk to each other. If they want to have a conversation with someone, they can’t talk facing back-to-back or front-to-back. They need to talk face-to-face. 3. Peer support and group dynamics are the keys to successful group work. The members in the group are the ones who determine how well the group will function. • Will the group share responsibilities or will some group members monopolize the time? • Will they respect each other?

• Will low-performing group members be included?
These are all problems that must be solved with the cooperation and support of peers in the group and through well-structured teacher guidance. There must be a careful balance between pressure for learning cooperative skills and support for doing so. The earlier students can be taught these skills, the easier it will be for them to learn how to cooperate (Johnson and Johnson).

Strategies for group dynamics
Christison and Bassano (1987) have identified 6 strategies for helping teachers understand group dynamics and promote peer support in the second/foreign-language classroom.

Strategy 1: Restructuring. Restructuring activities usually require students to interact physically as a group. Students are given specific instructions for carrying out the task. There is minimal participation by the teacher. These activities help students adjust to future small-group, cooperative experiences by breaking down student expectations for the traditional teacher-controlled classroom.

Strategy 2 : One-Centered. These activities put one student in the ‘spotlight’ for a few minutes. Activities are structured so that each student is given individual attention for a limited period of time. For aggressive students, this “spotlight focus” reaffirms their importance to the group. They are less apt to “steal show” from he other group members when their position has been reaffirmed. For shy students, these successful, one-centered experiences increase the likelihood of contributions in the follow-up discussions and in additional activities later on.

Strategy 3: Unified Group. Unified-group activities promote cooperation in the group. Students begin to think about group goals instead of individual goals. Praise and positive reinforcement are given to promote group success. These activities require the participation of...
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