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This paper will examine what cooperative learning is and what sets cooperative learning apart from traditional classrooms. The second question considered is why cooperative learning strategies should be used and how cooperative learning strategies help all students, not just English Language Learners (ELL). Finally, I will discuss how I use cooperative learning strategies to help English Language Learners (ELL) understand cognitive language skills.
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The Benefits of Cooperative Learning for English Language Learners
The purpose of this paper is to examine the benefits of cooperative learning for ELL. First, I will explain what cooperative learning is and isn't. Then I'll examine why teachers should use cooperative learning strategies. Finally, I will discuss how cooperative learning helps develop cognitive language skills.
What is cooperative learning? Cooperative learning is "the inclusion of cooperative student-to-student interaction over subject matter as an integral part of the learning process." (Kagan, Kagan 2009) According to Kagan, cooperative learning uses different strategies to help students learn content material.
Traditional classrooms use the teacher as the expert who delves out information in the hopes that the students will process it and learn the key concepts. Usually, a small group of students are interacting with the teacher while the rest of the class whiles away the time, daydreaming, sleeping, talking to a neighbor, or partially paying attention to what the teacher is saying. There is little interaction between the students. Each student is responsible only for themselves. Consequently, mastery of the standard is almost impossible.
In a cooperative learning classroom, the teacher acts as a facilitator who determines what the students need to learn according to the standards and then decides which cooperative learning strategy should be implemented to achieve student mastery of the learning objective.
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There are four phases for developing a functioning cooperative learning group. The first phase is the get along phase. Students need to be dependent on each other in order to accomplish their goals. When first implementing cooperative learning strategies in the Classroom, the teacher uses Class Building strategies. These strategies start with two students in each cooperative group and work up to 4 students in a team. Spencer Kagan has developed many different strategies that have students working in cooperative groups. The main reason these strategies work is because they are fun. Students do not realize they are working and learning the skills and concepts. Class building strategies include StandUp-HandUp-PairUp or Mix-Pair-Share, which are easy motivational ways to quickly get two students to form a cooperative team.
Kagan's approach to cooperative learning groups is different from traditional groups previously used in classrooms. All of Kagan's strategies start with the PIES Principle. PIES stand for Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Equal Participation, and Simultaneous Interactions. When all four of these principles are in place, students are learning. By changing instructional approaches, the outcome can change. Students are not apathetic, causing behavior problems, or doing time so that they can advance to the next grade. Once students are working together, the next phase starts.
The second phase is developing relationships. The strengths of each team member are important and vital to the cooperative group. A couple of teambuilding strategies include AllWrite RoundRobin and RoundRobin.
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The production phase or when students complete a task is the third phase. The teambuilding strategies have resulted in a cohesive group of students who collaborate together. They are proud of their accomplishment and see positive results.
The final phase is the hardest to achieve-the autonomy phase. At this phase, students require very little help from the teacher. They are self-motivated and know how to work together to complete a task. A teacher can check on these students by having them self-monitor their progress. The students can use a check list or can role play for the class how they work together and complete a learning objective.
This brings us to the final question. Why use cooperative learning strategies? One reason is future employers are looking for people who have good communication skills. Also, being able to relate and work well with others are in the top six skills that employers want their employees to possess.
The second and the most important reason why cooperative learning strategies work is ELL students achieve academic mastery in both language development and content objectives. Using Kagan strategies and the PIES principles, ELL students develop their second language proficiency skills and at the same time, all students grow in their academic achievement. Since the outcomes and learning goals are determined by the teacher, students develop cognitive language skills. If there were no learning goals involved, then only basic interpersonal communication skills would evolve. None of the students are allowed to sit, sponge off the work of others and get credit for doing nothing. The students participate equally and their knowledge base grows with them.
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Cooperative learning strategies also improves the achievement gap between minority students and majority students. Both groups of students gain equally when compared to traditional classes where only the majority students demonstrated achievement in skills.
It is easy to see that Kagan's strategies also improve the relationships between different races of people. When you depend on someone else for your success and work with them on completion of the targeted learning standard, it is hard to see that person as different from yourself. It puts each of you on an equal platform.
In conclusion, English Language Learners benefit three-fold from Kagan's cooperative learning strategies. Their second language skills improve because they are forced to interact with their classmate and thus, communication improves. Second, they are learning the academic content required for success in school and eventually in the work place when they graduate. And, third, they develop their self-worth and self-esteem as an individual by seeing that they can succeed in their new environment.
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