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 each group member. No members may “bow out”. If someone chooses not to participate, the group can not be successful. Strategy 45: Small group. Small-group activities are more loosely structured than pair activities. They require patience, motivation, and good listening habits. The teacher acts only as a facilitator, so the responsibility for success lies with the group itself. These activities help students develop techniques for fair group interaction. Strategy 5: Large Group. Large-group activities are similar to small group activities in their objectives and structure.
The only difference is the inclusion of a larger number of students requires more skills among group members in fair group interaction. Strategy 4: Dyad. These activities give students the opportunity to work one-to-one with others in the class. Through these activities, students become better acquainted with each other and begin to feel more comfortable sharing personal ideas and views. Almost any activity can be structured . for pair work. Steps in teaching cooperative skills There are four steps that teachers must follow in teaching cooperative skills. 1.
Students need to understand why it is they are doing things differently and how it will help them reach their goals. • Explain why they are doing cooperative work • Do brainstorm session on the possible value of a cooperative group work • Place posters around the room to remind learners of the benefits of cooperative group work. 2. Students must be aware of the necessary skills for successful group work in order to know what they are supposed to do. The teacher should demonstrate and model the skill to further clarify the points to the students. Concentrate on one skill at a time. 3. Students must practice the skill.
The major responsibilities teachers have in cooperative learning are to design and set up practice situations. 4. Students need to process the skills they have practiced. Processing means that students need to become aware of what exactly it is they have practiced and to evaluate how successful they have been in the practice of the skills. Levels of cooperative skills In cooperative learning, setting up practice sessions is the chief responsibility of the teacher. According to Johnson and Johnson (1975), there are 4 levels of cooperative skills that teachers can focus on. These skills can be categorized in the following way.
1. Forming. Forming skills are directed towards organizing the group and establishing behavioral norms. Groups who have mastered the skills of forming can move into their groups quickly and quietly, use quiet voices, stay with their groups for the duration of activity, encourage participation within the group, use group members’ names. Teachers who claim that cooperative group work is too noisy or takes too much time are working with students who have not been allowed to master the skill of forming. 2. Functioning. Functioning skills are directed to completing tasks and maintaining good relationships within a group.
Groups must understand, f. e. , what the time limits are and how the activity should be carried out within their groups, step by step. Activities that focus on the skill of functioning give learners a chance to ask for help, paraphrase previous comments, clarify, explain, and express support. 3. Formulating. The skill of formulating is directed towards helping learners to develop a deeper understanding of the material being studied and to develop better reasoning strategies. Activities that focus on the skill of formulating help learners develop the following strategies: • Summarizing out loud.
• Adding important information to the summary • Pointing out information that may not have been summarized properly • Relating material from a previous activity to the one being focused on 4. Fermenting. The highest-level skill for cooperative groups is fermenting. This skill involves helping learners explore more thoroughly the material the material they have been exposed to. When students can begin to challenge each other’s ideas, to explore different ways of looking at the material and reconceptualize these ideas, they are using the skills of fermenting. Benefits from using cooperative techniques.
• Academic achievement. Most studies that high, average, and low achievers gain equally from the cooperative experience. Wheeler (1977) found that the student affect weighed heavily on the results. Studies also supported the concept that the more tightly structured methods of cooperative group work will have the largest effects on basic skills. Higher-order cognitive skills are best improved by the more open-ended methods used in cooperative learning. • Self-esteem. Through cooperative learning techniques, students can become real partners in the learning enterprise.
Since most consequential problems are solved via collaboration, students who learn to work together in an educational setting are better prepared to meet life’s obligations. Through cooperative learning techniques learners are asked to do things in FLT classroom that they are asked to do in real life – take charge of and responsibility for their own learning. Co-operative learning occurs when students work collaboratively towards a common goal (Panitz, 1996) Achievements are positively correlated with the other cooperating students. Students work together in small clusters or groups.
Effective co-operative learning promotes–positive interdependence – a feeling of connection with other members of the group as they accomplish a common goal – individual accountability – every member of the group is held accountable for the group’s achievements – face to face interaction – group members engage at close range and are influenced by each other’s verbal communication – social skills – students become aware of the human interaction skills involved in effective group cooperation – group processing – groups may reflect and discuss how well they are functioning as a unit and how effective their working relationships are developed.
Recommended literature: 1. Teacher development making the right moves (Selected articles from the English Teaching forum 1989-1993) Thomas Kral 2. Jean Brewster and Gail Ellis. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. (Penguin English, 2003). 3. Opal Dunn. Beginning English with young children. Macmillan publishers LTD, 1993 4. Daniel A. Prescott, Ed. D. The child in the educative process, McGraw-hill book company, inc. , 1957. 5. Diane Phillips, Sarah Burwood and Helen Dunford, Oxford University Press, 2005.
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