Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, participate in a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject (Noyes, 2010). Each member of a team is accountable not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an environment of success (Kagan, 2002). Students work through the task or assignment until all group members successfully understand and complete it.
For English language learners, cooperative learning is critical, because it truly accelerates learning. There is no better way to learn language, other than using it. Teachers often model language but, hamper students by not providing them with opportunities to apply it and master aspects of the language as rapidly as possible (Noyes, 2010). Cooperative learning provides the opportunity for English language learners (ELL) to accelerate learning of the language skills required to be doing well in academic subjects. The purpose of cooperative learning is each member of the team is accountable for not only learning what is taught, but also helping their teammates learn. It creates an atmosphere of community and achievement (Kagan, 2002). The students are actually teaching each other and a function that's community based and builds collaboration. Cooperative learning is a strategy that can be used with all students.
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Benefits for English Language Learners
Cooperative learning is usually valuable for any student learning a second language. Cooperative learning activities support peer communication, which helps the expansion of language and the learning of concepts and content (Kagan, 2002). It is essential to assign ELLs to different teams so that they can benefit from English language role models. ELLs learn to convey themselves with greater independence when working in small teams. In addition to picking up vocabulary, ELLs benefit from observing how their peers learn and explain problems. Roles need to be assigned and rotated each week or by activity. By rotating, students increase skills they mainly need to perform. Cooperative learning builds learning communities as students grow to be experienced at how to get along, how to be concerned for themselves and for each other and how to deal with their own performance as they work on the way to a common objective (Kagan, 2002).
Cooperative learning groups make best use of the swift attainment of English because it provides students with understandable contribution in English in encouraging, non-threatening surroundings (Noyes, 2010). Academic and language learning requires that students have opportunities to figure out what they hear and read as well as express themselves in significant tasks (McGroarty, 1993). Cooperative learning creates normal, interactive contexts in which students have bona fide reasons for listening to one another, asking questions, expounding issues, and re-stating points of observation. The foundation of school achievement is academic literacy in English; age appropriate comprehension of English is a requirement in the accomplishment of content standards. We learn mainly through language and use of language to convey our knowledge.
Cooperative learning increases opportunities for students to construct and figure out language and to gain modeling and criticism from their peers. A great deal of the significance of cooperative learning lies in the way collaboration encourages students to connect in such high level thinking skills as analyzing, explaining, synthesizing, and elaborating (McGroarty, 1993).
Teacher's Role in Cooperative Learning
Standards must be taught. The rules of learning groups must be understood by all students (Noyes, 2010). The learning groups must be free from negative comments which hinder learning and growth. Everyone must be active listeners; each team member must participate, and help everyone understand the objective and what is being learned. Additionally, noise levels must be kept in perspective and the group needs to keep on the assignment.
Schools must provide teaching that assists ELLs in acquiring content area comprehension along with resources for becoming skilled in English (NCLB, 2001). Cooperative learning is not just group work (Noyes, 2010). For it to be effective, the teacher must teach high utility words that appear within the content areas that are a means to comprehension along with definitions and examples of use in context. The group must engage each member in learning words through an assortment of methods of comparing, analyzing, and using target words because academic language is important for reading and mastery of skills in all subject areas.
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Careful planning is a must for cooperative learning to be effective. ELLs working in cooperative learning groups must be given assignments according to their levels of English proficiency. The teacher must be aware of their stages of language acquisition. Class building and team building activities such as mix pair share, mingle and match, give one/get one, find someone who, think pair share, round table, and roam the room are useful ways to integrate cooperative learning into the classroom (Noyes, 2010).
Research suggests that cooperative learning techniques boost ability for all students (Noyes, 2010). Cummins (2001) considers cooperative learning "an empowerment pedagogy" because students have greater opportunities to practice oral language.
Cooperative learning is a successful approach in which small teams, each with students of diverse levels of capability, use a range of learning activities to advance their understanding of a topic (Noyes, 2010). Each member of the team is accountable not only for learning what is taught, but also for helping teammates learn through the formation of an environment of accomplishment (Kagan, 2002). Cooperative efforts result in members motivated for mutual achievement so that all gain from each other's efforts, recognize that all members share a common fate, know that one's performance is caused by each other working together and feel proud and jointly celebrate when one is recognized for success. Cooperative learning is not just group work or a way to keep students busy. Teachers must provide key instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension and allow the dynamics of cooperative learning to provide practice for proficiency.