Cooperative Learning Benefits for English Language Learners

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New York and California have the largest population of ELL students. Both states have believe bilingual education is not working as well as Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) programs in helping ELL students reach high levels of academic achievement (Whitelaw-Hill, 1995).

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Support for bilingual education has waned over the years because of conflicts and confusion between goals and objectives. Bilingual education's objectives of maintaining and increasing native language skills have conflicted with their goals of teaching English. The question still exists as more and more states move away from bilingual education: What is the most effective way to promote academic achievement amongst English Language Learners (ELL)? The research shows nine proven strategies for improving academic achievement for all students (Marzano, 2001). The nine proven strategies for improving academic achievement are: 1) Identifying similarities and differences. 2) Summarizing and note taking. 3) Reinforcing effort & providing recognition. 4) Homework & practice. 5) Nonlinguistic representation. 6) Cooperative learning. 7) Setting objectives & providing feedback. 8) Generating & Testing Hypothesis. 9) Cues, questions, & advance organizers. The goal of this paper is to present research which identifies the benefits of utilizing cooperative learning in Science and English classes for ELL students.

ELL students benefit in different subjects and at different levels from cooperative learning. First, ELL students benefit from wide range of instructional strategies which include cooperative learning (Berman, 1995). Second, incorporating cooperative learning strategies improved the science achievement with high school students (Correa, 1995). Third, cooperative learning strategies are effective in improving the language proficiency, comprehension, and critical thinking skills in elementary schools (Fernandez, 1992). Fourth, cooperative learning strategies improved English writing skills of college students (Gooden-Jones 1998). Fifth, cooperative learning along with other effective teaching strategies will better meet the needs of students (Leduc, 1990).

Literature Review

Do ELL students benefit from a wide range of instructional strategies?

Ell students do benefit from a wide range of instructional strategies (Berman, 1995). In his study Berman focused on eight schools which provided exemplary education to ELL students at their grade level in Mathematics, Science and Language Arts. Berman solicited nominations for schools from knowledgeable people from the local, state, and national level. From those nominations a preliminary screening test composed of a phone interview and a one day site visit was conducted. Finally, out 125 schools nominated eight where selected for more a more intensive study. During the intensive study a select number of faculty, staff, and administrators were interviewed. Focus group meetings with students and their parents were held. Demographic, financial, and evaluative information was collected and analyzed. Finally, interviews with external partners, district and state officials were conducted. The results suggested multiple benefits of cooperative learning for ELL students. First, cooperative learning was a critical component of the school-wide vision for student achievement. Second, Language development, like cooperative learning, strategies were adapted for different subject matter and courses students were involved in. For example, some classes utilized groupings of 2, 3 or even 4 students which also affected the classroom arrangement of students. Finally, cooperative learning and hands-on activities kept ELL students engaged in the learning process.

How do you effectively incorporate learning strategies to Improve Science Achievement?

Cooperative learning is one way in which to effectively improve science achievement (Correa, 1995). The purpose of the study by Marilyn Correa was prompted by the poor achievement, negative attitudes, and anxiety of ninth grade science ELL students. Ninety students participated in the study because the course they took was a "required course". The students were assigned to cooperative learning groups. The students were given specific projects corresponding to the curriculum but requiring exploratory and investigative methods rather than reading from a textbook. In addition, the teacher contacted parents by telephone and wrote to them in multiple languages about ways in which to assist their child in science. The results indicated student achievement increased on teacher made criterion referenced pre and post test. There was an increase in student participation in the science fair and attitudes towards science improved. Marilyn Correa suggests improvement for cooperative learning would be the development of tests which reflect class activities, creation of a parent-guide, and provision for tutoring options.

Can cooperative learning develop English writing proficiency for ELL college students?

Cooperative learning can improve academic achievement in English Language Arts (Fernandez 1992, Gooden-Jones 1998). The study by Fernandez investigated the effectiveness of enrichment activities in developing the language proficiency, comprehension, and critical thinking skills of ELL students. 19 ELL students from kindergarten to 5th grade were selected. The students participated in a myriad of activities such as: cooking, field trips, arts, computer activities and cooperative group projects related to fish and pond life. Subjects participated in 30-minute sessions held twice a week over a period of 10 weeks. The students were required to take a pretest and a posttest. The results from the test showed the majority of the students showed an improvement of 25% on their raw scores in verbal language and participation. Additionally, observations included improved self-esteem and critical thinking skills.

The purpose of the study by Epsen Gooden-Jones was to describe the process involved in the implementation of cooperative learning strategies in the development of English writing proficiency of ELL college students. The ten ELL students chosen for the study were all volunteers who committed to a four month, twice a week for four two hours each day. Students were continually monitored through observations, reviewing practice essays, questionnaires and interviews. The cooperative learning strategies focused on all aspects of the writing process. The outcome for the participants in the study is that eight passed the college writing assessment test. The results show students may benefit from cooperative learning activities. Interaction among peers was highest during the brainstorming, editing, re-organization and revision part of the writing process. Additionally, all students expressed the feeling they had improved writing skills and viewed writing as a mode of learning.

Is cooperative learning the solution for improving student academic achievement?

Cooperative learning is one of many research based strategies which improves the academic achievement of ELL students (Leduc 1990). Poor performance on standardized exams and minimal class participation by ELL students are two reasons which prompted Ellen LeDuc to investigate the impact of cooperative learning on ELL students. LeDuc chose one school with a focus on second grade ELL students in a science class. The ten week program which the students were involved with utilized cooperative learning strategies for using the scientific method of investigation, hands-on activities, experiments, music, creative movement done to poetry, and a science fair exhibit. The results found the students made significant gains in their content knowledge, vocabulary accuracy, and their self esteem. LeDuc concluded a comprehensive program using bilingual, cooperative learning and active involvement for all students in a wide range of instructional activities will better meet the needs of students with limited English proficiency.


Based on the research presented, cooperative learning is beneficial in a myriad of ways to ELL students. Cooperative learning provides a comprehensive list of benefits which include but are not limited to: Fostering positive interdependence because all of the students rely upon each other. Second, it promotes face-to-face interaction between individuals. Third, it requires individual and group accountability. Fourth, interpersonal and small-group skills are learned such as solid communication, trust, leadership, decision-making, and conflict resolution. Fifth, group processing skills provide how students can improve and to assess how they are doing. Finally, cooperative learning must be part of a teacher's repertoire for instructing ELL students (Hough, 1993).