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Why the Cooperative Learning is beneficial for ELL students? The scope of this research paper is to demonstrate the importance of employing the cooperative learning groups to help ELL students to achieve English language proficiency.
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How does cooperative learning benefit English learners? David Noyes answers this question with a richness of research-based facts as it follows: it is not “threatening” encouraging a low affective barrier, which facilitates a better comprehensive input, the information provided comes from at least two sources, the teacher and peers, with the result of an improved retention, and is strategic and purposeful through scaffolding and differentiated instruction. In addition to already mentioned Multisensory Approach noticed by Noyes, Hammerken suggests that practicing with a peer, experimenting different study approaches help students achieve better on assessments (2000, p.88). In addition, the cooperative learning activities encourage sharing and building background knowledge. The cultural, emotional, and geographical schema of each student is enhanced through brainstorming, group discussions, the use of graphic organizers, review of text, review vocabulary in context. Moreover, an important supporting argument is that it “maximizes the acquisition of English.” Noyes cites Cummings calling the cooperative learning an “empowerment pedagogy.”
Dr. Cummings in his article Putting Language Proficiency in Its Place: Responding to Critiques of the Conversational/Academic Language Distinction emphasize the importance for educators to make the distinction between basic skills and academic proficiency skills, “I have suggested that in order to address these issues (Critiques of the Conversational/Academic Language Distinction ) we need to make a fundamental distinction between conversational and academic aspects of language proficiency (originally labeled basic interpersonal communicative skills [BICS] and cognitive academic language proficiency [CALP]” (Cummings,19797 ). The language development for bilingual students is recommended, ” by providing students with extensive opportunities to carry out projects investigating their own and their community’s language use, practices, and assumptions” (Cummings, 1979), which are the characteristics of cooperative learning groups activities.
Moreover, Dr. Krashen in his article What is Academic Language Proficiency? explains that understanding and making the difference between basic interpersonal language skills and Academic Proficiency skills is important for educators in their effort to support language acquisition, becoming the “central goal of language teaching programs .” The article’s emphasis is on the strategies employed to facilitate the language acquisition on achieving the academic proficiency versus teaching strategies that children naturally develop anyway and deliberate, rote memorization. The efficient strategies recommended for developing knowledge of academic language and content as they represent “one of the reasons for the success of bilingual programs ” are; activating the background knowledge, the use of pictures, realia, group discussions, narrow reading, and scaffolding for problem solving. All the strategies indicated can be found in cooperative learning groups activities.
Another reason the Cooperative Learning groups are recommended for ELL students is that of the effect of lowering the affective barrier followed by the increase of comprehensive input, “the effective language teacher is someone who can provide input and help make it comprehensible in a low anxiety situation” (Krashen,2009, 163). Total Physical Response as defined by Dr. Krashen (2009, p. 140) represents the student’s understanding and reaction to teacher’s directions/commands and shows the level of motivation and involvement during the instructional process. The Cooperative Learning Group activities ensure the total physical response of the participants by allowing the ELL students to go over the immersion “silent” stage through a low affective barrier and answer when they are ready (Krashen, 2009).
In addition to the pro arguments for Cooperative Learning Groups use is the amount and quality of conversation involved. According to Dr. Krashsen conversation, as a method to acquire language proficiency, gives good comprehensive input, is interesting/relevant, and with the presence of a native speaker has a low affective filter. “Conversation will give the acquirer a chance to practice the tools he has learned and give him perhaps the best opportunity to acquire new ones” (Krashen, 2009, p.163). Rothstein and Turnbull accentuate on teacher expectations for students to use a logical-scientific type of discourse, which is actually the formal academic language as opposed to social narrative. They suggest “bridging between stories and academic discourse” by using classroom instruction structures which “promote student’s engagement in forms of discourse that they do not use at home” (Rothstein & Turnbull, 2008, p. 140). As a part of the Bridging Cultures classrooms the collaborative learning is considered providing the necessary support by fostering positive interdependence, on task behaviors, and promoting academic discourse. Dr. Jimenez explains that students are naturally supposed to interact during cooperative learning activities which make monitoring academic speech a must. She suggests explicit teaching, charting, and monitored practice in order to enhance academic speech functions.
Freeman and Freeman, the authors of English Language Learners; The Essential Guide, are fully aware of the importance of developing the academic language for EEL students. Also, the authors recognize that the ELL students have difficulties using the formal English language as opposed to a so called proficiency using the casual language. In order to develop the CALP and provide more context-embedded instruction the authors suggest the use of graphic organizers, working in cooperative groups, and engage in hands-on activities which are the descriptors of cooperative learning groups; “When teaching occurs in Quadrant C (context embedded and cognitively demanding) students develop the academic language” (Freeman, 2000, p. 155).
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Supporting the topic, Echevaria and authors explain the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol as being the instructional model designed to help bilingual students to achieve English language proficiency; “Effective sheltered classes are characterized by a variety of grouping structures, includingâ€¦cooperative learning groups (2004, p.105). Moreover, “competent language learners actively engage these cognitive skills, and researchers know these learners are effective, in part, because they have special ways of processing the new information they are learning “(Echevaria, 2004, p.82). The learning strategies considered by the SIOP model are the Metacognitive, Cognitive, and Social/Affective Strategies. These strategies that are employed through explicit teaching, modeling, and scaffolding are the characteristics of instruction needed for a teacher implementing cooperative learning groups. Making the content comprehensible is done by applying approaches as the use of mnemonics, SQP2RS, PENS, GIST, Rehearsal Strategies, Graphic Organizers, Comprehension Strategies (Echevaria, 2004). The Sheltered Instruction Protocol is based on research which points out clearly that the grouping configurations has to be diverse “promoting the development of multiple perspectives and encourage collaboration.” Also, as Noyes suggests as well, avoid grouping the low-average performing students with ELL students. The important idea is that the ELL students get extra support in being grouped according language proficiency level, but only for specific activities when extra support is needed (paraprofessional monitoring, practicing a specific language notion, etc). The cooperative learning grouping gives every student the opportunity to access equally the curriculum (Echevaria, 2004).
The authors of Teaching Students with Mild and Moderate Disabilities; Research Based Practices, Cohen and Spenciner, acknowledge the benefits of cooperative learning for students “both with and without disabilities” (2005, p.235), because they work collaboratively to achieve academic performance. As a common note the ELL students and students with learning disabilities have difficulties understanding and applying their knowledge to problem solving and higher order thinking skills (Cohen &Spenciner, 2005, p.194).The reasons are different of course, but the teacher’s approach is to correct and improve student’s performance by teaching metacognition skills. Accordingly, the ELL students will learn how to think and how to learn from their peers during cooperative learning group activities following teacher’s modeling and cues.
A huge importance in the learning process is made by addressing/applying Gardener’s Multiple Intelligences Theory. Hammerken suggests that students are experimenting in their effort to find the one which supports their learning style, “the most effective method is the method that will capitalize on student’s strengths” (200, p. 87). Noyes considers that “the multiple intelligences are a catalyst for differentiation of instruction in class” (2010). The Cooperative Learning groups activities address and compliment all types of MI including the interpersonal (individual work), intrapersonal (pair-share) which are harder to reach using other instruction models.
In conclusion, scaffolding on David Noyes’ answer to the question “How does cooperative learning benefit English learners?” we have explained the crucial elements that makes cooperative learning activities able and indicated for achieving the goal of English language proficiency. Cooperative learning activities are designed as to decrease the affective barrier while increasing the comprehensive input, the retention level is high, information coming from diverse sources with a high level of hierarchical effectiveness, monitored interaction /conversation and teacher’s examples using formal/conversational language facilitating academic language acquisition, prior knowledge is activated and facilitates background building, multiple intelligences are approached through scaffolding and differentiated instruction.
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