Cooperative Learning in the English Language

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Cooperative Learning provides many benefits for the participants. This type of active participation, rather than sitting passively receiving information, is very rewarding. It provides opportunities to change the basic social dynamics of how we can learn together. Working in small cooperative teams will ensure that everyone has an equal chance to learn and participate in the process that lowers the affective filter for those students who lack the language or confidence to be successful in the classroom. Dr. Stephen Krashen claims that, "learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better equipped for success in second language acquisition" (as cited in Schutz, 2007,p.1).

Nakagawa (2003) studied and has implemented in Japan, Kagan's principles of cooperative learning, which includes positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation, and simultaneous interaction also known as PIES. The positive energy exhibited by the participants reinforces their ability to support one another by building relationships to learn and to make decisions together. Positive interdependent relationships are observable as participants build relationships as they plan and develop, participate in dialogue, share and reflect, accept and support one another in the learning process, turn to one another for support for solving problems, and reach out and involve all parties to work together toward a common goal.

Building relationships reduces isolation since it involves getting acquainted, creating one's own identity, providing mutual support, celebrating diversity, and developing synergy (Kagan, 2009). Teambuilding activities allow small groups of individuals to develop the skills and will to work as a cooperative and caring team as students begin a process of self-disclosure that helps them get to know and trust one another. People must feel comfortable before they will begin to share important ideas, disagree, solve problems or reflect. As students work together in small teams they will feel less threatened than speaking to an entire group. As students model language for each other, the acquisition of English is maximized (Noyes, 2005).

Community building activities operate on a larger scale that includes all participants. This develops the capacity for all parties to work together respectfully and increases collaborative decision making. Everyone is involved within a community. The team members develop relationships that will form a supportive interdependent larger group. This affords the students to increase pride in themselves, their team, and community, as well as an enhanced feeling of belonging. A lack of belonging is one reason why students tend to gravitate to gangs. It is up to the educator to ensure that students feel welcomed and wanted in their classrooms, schools, and more importantly, in the community.

Decisions are set and made within the community. It is essential to engage in dialogue concerning these decisions. We can accelerate language proficiency by using it. This will allow one to discuss issues, increase knowledge, learn new material, and continue to develop skills. It will guide them to a common direction and call for input from the entire community. In order to move forward, all participants must agree with the intended outcome. Problem solving skills will become polished as they seek to understand the complexity of a situation and propose a solution. Cooperative structures are extremely important because they provide everyone with an equal voice, generate alternatives, and increase accountability.

As students interact with one another their development of cognitive language skills will be expanded. The strategies utilized will enhance their quality of reasoning, the developmental level of thinking, metacognition, quality of problem solving, creativity, and social perspective. Cooperative learning group tasks tend to provide higher academic test scores, higher self-esteem, greater numbers of positive social skills, fewer stereotypes of individuals of other races or ethnic groups, and greater comprehension of the content and skills they are studying (Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec, 1993).

In further support, Lev Semenovich Vygotsky's theory makes it clear that successful learning occurs when instruction is within the "Zone of Proximal Development" (Galloway, 2006). There is an area that a learner has where tasks are so easy they could do them alone. The instructor does not need to teach but rather facilitate. As the tasks are more difficult they can master them with coaching or assistance by the teacher or their peers. Vygotsky believed that teaching, tutoring, coaching, and mentoring are means of mediation. If it is conducted within the students' "Zone of Proximal Development", it will be beneficial. This is where students can learn and where all teaching should be conducted. If it is to the far extreme that the task is too difficult, again the teacher is wasting time. After this mediation the student can increase their zone.

Cooperative learning addresses the multiple intelligences: verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, musical/rhythmic, bodily/kinesthetic, naturalist/ interpersonal/social, and intrapersonal/introspective (Noyes, 2005). Since students differ in their learning styles, they will obviously not learn in the same manner. Instructing in the same manner will be ineffective for some of the students. The inclusion of the various structures offered will attend to this concern by addressing more of the learner's needs. By differentiating instruction, the teacher will provide students greater access to the curriculum through their preferred styles and intelligences.

Dr. Stephen Kagan is considered to be the cooperative learning guru. Brain based learning theory has researched the effects of five of the most important principles of brain based instruction and their linkage to cooperative learning: safety, nourishment, social interaction, emotion, and information processing (Kagan, 2009 p.4.10). In order to remain in a state of alertness which is the optimal state for learning, we need to ensure that the amygdale portion of the brain is firing less so that the student is not anxious. Cooperative learning does this by creating relationships and reducing the affective filter for the student. They feel a part of the team with support and nurturing from their peers. They are not in competition with each other but rather are an extension of one another. The brain needs nourishment: oxygen and glucose (Kagan, 2009 4.10). Movement increases oxygen to the brain thus the implantation of the structures such as "Think, Pair, and Share" will reinforce the necessary physical activity. They need social interaction to increase retention of material. The continual discussions and interactions will provide that avenue. Emotion is our strongest tool for remembrance. A tragic episode will never be forgotten. Content is better retained when coupled with emotion. To aid in the information processing, "the brain remembers multi-modal content better; records episodes effortlessly; attends more readily to novel stimuli; and craves predictability "(Kagan, 2009,p.4.11). The structures implemented within cooperative learning will reinforce the tools necessary for students to succeed.

Employers seek personnel that have a higher emotional intelligence and not necessarily a higher IQ. One must have interpersonal communication skills, self control, and be self motivated. These are also known as character traits which are unfortunately presently not being taught at home for many of the students due to the demands of our present day society. Teams in the workplace are increasing and they must be able to problem solve and work cooperatively.

The formation of heterogeneous groups provides the platform for student success and will maximize intercultural communication and peer tutoring (Noyes,2005). It provides them the challenge to have to explain what they are thinking to the lower students and simultaneously increase their vocabulary by listening to the higher students. The opportunity for repetition of key words and phrases will aid students to move the content they hear from short term comprehension to long term acquisition. The interaction provides students with context-relevant speech and feedback.

There are numerous attributes in cooperative learning that cause the strategies to be of superior quality. The interaction among students will automatically increase motivation. Synergy will spread and students will feel the excitement and while having fun "playing" they are actually learning. The active participation will be initiated by the students themselves. The teacher can facilitate and begin the instruction, but they will take the reins and follow through. The students will have discussions that are lengthier and more meaningful. As the group negotiates, it will result in a deeper understanding and retention for all concerned. Students will have increased responsibility for their own learning and commitment to the cause. Individuals assume responsibility for what and how much was learned. Confidence and respect for each other will increase. By taking turns in the various roles that are implemented this multiplicity further increases self confidence and respect for peers (Noyes, 2005). As a result, an increased accuracy will resound pride in themselves, their work, and relationships and will exuberate to their peers.

Since the beginning of time it has been evident that man would not continue to survive had it not been for cooperative learning. The Bible states in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (Revised Standard Version) "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he fails and has not another to lift him up…And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken." Man's existence, but more importantly, coexistence depends on cooperative learning. In order to expect the many positive long term results of cooperative learning that can be achieved these elements must be used frequently and correctly.


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