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The process of learning a second language can be very challenging. In order to effectively assist students in the acquisition of the English language and develop critical thinking, the use of cooperative learning is essential. When clearly structured and monitored, cooperative learning provides the English language learner with many benefits. Cooperative learning assist Ell students in improvement of their comprehension and retention of subjects taught, it also lowers affective filter, cooperative learning improves communication and social skills, along with assisting in cognitive language skills, and creates higher self-efficacy. Since cooperative learning requires students to be actively involved and engaged within their groups the benefits of cooperative learning also enhances student motivation. Students learn to trust their peers with this process because they are not only taking responsibility for their own learning but also that of others.
In order for cooperative learning to be most effective, it requires that the teacher know who their students are and their levels of proficiency in order to accommodate and plan activities that meet the needs of the diverse levels of the student's abilities. In order to accomplish this, the teacher must first consider how students will be grouped so that they are receiving the maximum benefit from the cooperative learning experience. "Group size can range from two to four students, depending on the cooperative learning task. These groups can be homogeneous or heterogeneous. Groups can be formed by putting students together who share common strengths, interest, etc, or they can be randomly assigned." (Palmer, Peters, Streetman, 2006). It is suggested that these groups are allowed enough time together before changing groups so the y can work together and develop a cohesive group before moving on to another. The arrangement of the room also plays a crucial role in utilizing cooperative learning. Students need to be arranged so that it is conducive to working in groups and they are able to interact in ways that allow for comprehensible input. The tools required for students to complete task should also be made easily assessable so that student learning is optimized. A key component to successful cooperative learning is that it promotes interdependence. "The instructional methods and materials that an instructor chooses must allow each individual to contribute to the group's success in a unique and meaningful way." (Palmer et al, 2006). These contributions help develop the cohesion of the group. It is also imperative that students are assigned roles within the group to ensure everyone participates equally. Another important factor in implementing effective successful cooperative learning to benefit Ell students is that teachers need to move away from the traditional lecture model of instruction and are required to become a facilitator and allow students to take responsibility for their learning. The teacher needs to create task that are student-centered and allow students to be actively involved. They must also take into account as the facilitator the importance of explaining the procedures and structure prior to students attempting their given task so that students work efficiently and effectively. It is imperative for the teacher to check for student understanding of procedures and expectations in order for effective and beneficial learning to take place. "When picking an assessment task (product to be produced), the instructor should choose one standard to address and match it to the learning approach. The cooperative learning group's task should be interesting, challenging, and motivating." (Palmer et al, 2006). Another component for structuring effective cooperative learning requires that the activities planned ensure that there is accountability among all participants and the activity is strategic and purposeful.
By identifying where your students are academically and proficiently, cooperative learning benefits are optimized.
One of the benefits received by Ell students with cooperative learning is that is improves their comprehension and retention of what they learned because cooperative learning appeals to the multiple intelligences of students and meets the diverse needs of the Ell student. By incorporating activities that integrate the use of multiple intelligences, it provides opportunities for students to interact with one another. In those interactions students are using their language, they are using academic language, they are listening to others speak English, seeing modeled behaviors, and being exposed to reading. Addressing the multiple intelligences is beneficial in that it incorporates student -centered activities that allow for students to work together, listen to each other, question each other, and create a product that represents their comprehension of what was learned. In working together this way and collaborating with one another and by producing a product that demonstrates their understanding assist in better student comprehension and provides an increase better retention of the topic. It is said that "we only remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, but 90% of what we experience" (Noyes, Multiple Intelligences).
Lowering affective filter is also a benefit of cooperative learning. Often times Ell students are reluctant or feel uncomfortable in participating in classroom discussions because culturally they may have different norms. They may feel shy or embarrassed around their peers when attempting to speak their second language. When students are feeling anxiety or stressed it prohibits or slows their learning progress. Effective cooperative learning will reduce the anxiety of the Ell student and allow them to feel that the environment they are in is a safe supportive environment. When students are made to feel accepted and feel their culture is valued then they are better able to concentrate on their learning and are more willing to take risk in their learning and in the classroom. In order to effectively lower affective filter among Ell students it requires that the given task is structured and predictable. They need to know what is expected and what their role is in accomplishing the task. They need to know that their contribution is valued and is important. Working in a cooperative and supportive environment aids in the Ell student lowering the affective filter and produces benefits for all students in the learning environment.
Cooperative learning benefits the Ell students because it allows opportunities for students to engage in relevant and purposeful conversation. It assists in the development of cognitive language skills because students are being provided with meaningful classroom activities along with being placed in groups that promote opportunities to hear and use the English language in an academic setting. Students benefit greatest when they are grouped at different levels of ability and the groups are flexible. "The composition of groups should be carefully considered and should be flexible so that students experience working with different individuals. Mixing Ell and English proficient students within groups promotes opportunities to hear and use English within a meaningful, goal-directed context."(Zehler, Working with English Language Learners, 1994). Cooperative learning provides many benefits in the development of cognitive language because students are able to hear the interactions of their peers and more rapidly acquire acquisition and comprehension on the concepts being taught. Critical thinking skills are improved because when they are grouped as mentioned above the modeling by other students assist in the reasoning process, in turn helping them to learn the language while also developing cognitive understanding. Cooperative learning assists in the developing of cognitive understanding because "it maximizes comprehensible input and the acquisition of English. Because the kids are using it and they are hearing it. "(Noyes, Cooperative Learning and English Language Learners).
Another important benefit of cooperative learning is that it creates higher self-efficacy among the Ell student. Cooperative learning assist is the students desire to learn because it creates a safe environment where members of the group give and receive feedback to answer or ideas and assist in building the students' self-esteem. With positive interactions and the feeling of support this in turn creates and develops the student's confidence resulting in higher self-efficacy. "As a result of higher self-efficacy, student's grades tend to increase; thus cooperative learning methods provide several academic benefits for students. Research indicates that students who were taught by cooperative methods learned and retained significantly more information that students being taught by other methods. (Palmer, et al, 2006)). The belief is that in "requiring a student to verbalize their ideas to the group helps them to develop more clear concepts, thus the process becomes fully embedded in the students' memory." (Palmer et al, 2006)).
For Ell students cooperative learning provides so many benefits to assist in the acquisition of the English language and the development of cognitive understanding. It incorporates the many learning styles of students so ensure success in learning. For the Ell student as well as all students effective beneficial learning takes place when the "material presented by the instructor is both auditory and visual, and the student working together use kinesthetic abilities by working with hands-on activities" (Palmer et al, 2006)
Noyes, D. Cooperative Learning and English Language Learners. Retrieved August, 2010 from http://kdsi.org
Noyes, D. Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved August, 2010 from http://kdsi.org
Palmer, G. Peters, R. Streetman, R. (2006). Cooperative Learning-From Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Cooperative_Learning#Benefits_of Coopeâ€¦
Zehler, A. (1994). Working with English Language Learners: Strategies For Elementary And Middle School Teahcers. Retrieved from