Peer interaction is one of the dominant features of cooperative learning. While cooperative learning can be a much-synchronized structure, its methodological principles signal to a higher level of cognitive function. Social interactions lead to a level of social experiences that is critical and essential to the cognitive processing of language. Transference from the primary language to a secondary language occurs as the cognitive processes occur in a natural response to linguistic development. The social role cooperative learning plays in mainstream classrooms empowers all students and promotes engagement and higher levels of student interaction.
Alongside social interaction, cognitive events occur that link conceptual representations to the group experience that supports that very critical element of language acquisition. Cooperative learning activities allow students to develop into their second language competency by facilitating interaction between students that supports and encourages diversity in a low anxiety impacted learning environment.
Emma Garza writes that the human thought process is reasonable and plausible. Garza states that there is an association between social interaction and the learning environment that suggests a relationship that allows acquisition of second language to flourish. Her work corroborates the use of cooperative learning in that it promotes conditions that facilitate transfer from the primary language to the secondary language. Garza also points out that teachers of English Language Learners must appreciate and encourage the struggle and diversity, as well as the individual needs of their students.
Developing Cognitive Learning Skills
Utilizing cooperative learning suggest that these techniques prove successful in supporting student achievement. Elizabeth Jimenz discusses the CALLA (Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach) instructional model developed byAnna Uhl Chamont. This model presents five key principles:
Using students prior knowledge
Develop lesson around learning tasks that are plausible
Instruction should be centered with student engagement
Central processes are strategic
Assist students in reflective and self-evaluation practices
Principles of Cooperative Learning
Jimenez discusses that studentsâ€™ first language is developed for the social interaction within the home. The linguistic environment from the point of view of this study, the classroom draws from the language experience first encountered by the ELL student in the home. Classrooms utilizing cooperative learning draw from the social aspect of learning that students may already be familiar with informally. Jimenez lists some guiding points to ensure the ELL student engages in content supported a predictable, organized learning structure:
Prior knowledge establishes a foundation for the acquisition of knowledge.
Focus activities on meaningful tasks that brings the learner to active engagement
Provide a highly social environment that facilitates the academic setting
Support cooperative learning with a predictable environment
Monitor language with a conscious focus to ensure learning is taking place
High levels of social interaction lead to social experiences that are critically essential to the cognitive processes of language acquisition. David Noye states strategies that ensure the maximum use of cooperative learning as a structure to engage student learners demonstrates higher levels of growth towards acquiring a second language. Noye contends that teachers must be aware of the following elements that facilitate learning in cooperative learning groups:
Elements of diversity for student placement in cooperative groups
Social interaction provides greater occurrence for use of speaking skills
Strategic design and planning ensures students meet learning targets and goals
Social interaction in a safe, nurturing classroom environment is essential
Meaningful learning tasks that are structured and well organized, allow social interaction to take place without restraint. Both teacher and students focus participation to a degree that is functional, productive, observable and easily monitored. Interaction utilizing the cooperative learning structure relies upon universally incorporated processes and strategies. Noye suggests that students in the organized, predictable, cooperative learning structure move towards rapid acquisition of the second language. The functioning cooperative learning group fosters and engages:
Frequency in the use of terminology or desired vocabulary
Redundancy in the practice of repeating a topic numerous times
Identity Congruence that signals informal use of the secondary language with peers while maintaining individual identity and their primary language
The social role embedded in the cooperative learning structure coupled with cognitive events and processes link positive experiences associated with cooperative learning groups and growth. Spencer Kagan discusses language acquisition in the context of cooperative learning. Key points related to this topic include:
Cooperative learning groups facilitates communication between students in order to accomplish real goals using functional vocabulary.
Students engage in conversations that provided immediate feedback without conventional dialogue or questioning that might deter or impede progress.
Opportunities to gain feedback occurs with greater frequency in cooperative learning as opposed to whole group and one on one small group with teacher.
Students use their abilities to articulate to their peers without inhibition in cooperative learning groups. Consider a student giving a report of findings to the whole class more much more formal than presenting their findings to the cooperative learning group that has been engaged in exploratory together.
Communication becomes more functional in cooperative learning groups. Students have the opportunity to engage in dialogue at their individual level of growth.
One of the key features to facilitating learning for the ELL student is to provide cognitive experiences that will engage new vocabulary to transfer knowledge and meaning from the primary language to the secondary language.
Adam Waxler discusses cooperative learning groups in mainstream classes to promote student interaction as a means to actively engage the ELL student. Waxler writes that student interaction is very valuable to language transfer because peer-to-peer communication is much less cumbersome than teacher language. Peer to peer communication in the cooperative group promotes active engagement that leads to acquiring learning and new language that becomes accessible almost immediately.
Some basic interpersonal skills are learned spontaneously in a natural environment such as the family home, schoolyard, or other predominantly social environments. The social environment in general is important to the ELL student in ways that are much different from those acquired in more formal learning environment where learning takes place in a much more predictable way. They each make significant contributions to language development.
Developing language skills using cognitive processes engages the brain and facilitates transference of information and understanding of concepts from the primary to the newly acquired language. Cognitive development is a subconscious process that occurs in the learning environment. It provides a strong foundation to transfer skills and concepts between languages. Similarly, both environments, the formal and informal, may positively or negatively affect self-esteem and ethnic values between cultures and languages of the ELL student. Implementation of cooperative learning structures that incorporate English Language Arts standards, language objectives, and English language development standards bring into focus the processes needed to provide sound instruction for the growth and success of ELL students.