The contemporary classroom embraces the wide range of students and celebrates all of their differences. Students differ in culture, race, age, native language, and ability level and are all placed in the same classroom. Teachers must use these differences to create a positive, safe and productive learning environment. However, it is difficult to teach children when they do not all speak a common language. Cooperative Learning is a teaching approach that when implemented correctly improves achievement and language acquisition of English Language Learners (Kagan, 1995).
Cooperative Learning is an approach to organizing classroom activities in small groups to enhance academic and language achievement. The students work together to achieve a common goal. To ensure that all the students are actively participating in the activity each member of the group is given a specific job, such as recorder. The groups are given the tools and steps needed to complete the task. Each group that is working together is sitting together as a team. Cooperative Learning increases understanding and creates a positive learning environment (Johnson, 2000).
Through the application of Cooperative Learning students' social skills improve, they are able to communicate more effectively with peers and work successfully in a group setting (Johnson, 1999). Student achievement increases when teachers use the Cooperative Learning approach in their classroom. Students communicate more effectively and retain academic content at a higher rate. The Cooperative Learning approach is beneficial to all students and has proven especially beneficial for students learning the English Language (Kagan, 1995).
The Cooperative Learning approach increases achievement in English Language Learners (ELL students). Working in small groups provides ELL students with the opportunity to apply the English Language more effectively. The students are required to speak and listen to actively participate in a Cooperative Learning activity. Therefore the students are developing English Language Skills. The characteristics of small group instruction that improve language acquisition are repetition, immediate response, frequency, supportive/motivating, developmentally appropriate and comprehensible (Kagan, 1995). These aspects of Cooperative Learning improve the academic achievement and language acquisition among ELL students.
Most educators agree that repetition improves retention and recall of a topic. When students are working in Cooperative Learning groups the information is repeated several different times and in several different ways, this increases vocabulary and concept retention. The students must participate in discussion to complete the topic and the students are being forced to speak in English to complete the task. This repetition provides the students with the opportunity to hear and speak about a topic repeatedly. The more familiar a student becomes with a topic the more developed their language pertaining to that topic becomes (Kagan, 1995). In a traditional classroom setting the students are not given the opportunity to listen and discuss a topic repeatedly. Therefore the students are not developing the vocabulary and understanding of a topic through repetition.
Immediate response increases student achievement and language acquisition. ELL students are given immediate response when they are working in pairs or small groups associated with Cooperative Learning. When ELL students are speaking to their peers they are given an immediate response regarding the correct use of the English Language. If an ELL student uses a phrase improperly another student will correct them in a non-threatening manner, this will provide the student with an immediate response and a constructive correction. When an ELL student understands the language correctly they are more likely to understand the content of the activity. If the ELL student was in a traditional classroom they most likely would be speaking in front of the entire class and would be corrected by the teacher. The ELL student could be embarrassed by language mistakes which would then make understanding the content less effective.
In a Cooperative Learning classroom the students are given the opportunity to speak regularly compared to a traditional classroom setting. When ELL students are allowed to participate in conversation on a regular basis they will learn English at a faster rate. The more an ELL student hears, speaks and applies English in a contextual setting the more they will learn the language (Kagan, 1995). In a traditional classroom setting the students typically answer a question the teacher has presented. The student is only required to answer the question and not participate in a conversation.
The Cooperative Learning approach creates a supportive and motivating learning environment which increased academic achievement and language acquisition. The students are working with their peers and are motivated to speak so they can complete the task. The students are asked more questions by their peers in a group setting than a traditional classroom. The students are taught to praise and encourage each other when completing a task. The students are encouraged and work together because they are all on the same team. When a classroom environment is supportive ELL students are more comfortable speaking and participating in the task at hand.
Working at a level that is developmentally appropriate allows the students to succeed and increases self-esteem. When students are working at a level that is developmentally appropriate they understand the concept without frustration and are more successful and motivated by their success. When students are working in small groups they are able to understand more difficult concepts because their peers can scaffold them to the next level. The same is evident in the development of an ELL student's language. An ELL student can speak at a higher level of language development due to the interaction with his peers. In a traditional classroom setting an ELL student is required to use formal language which is not developmentally appropriate for most ELL Students. Students learn best when the content is presented in a developmentally appropriate manner (Kagan, 2002).
Language acquisition and student achievement is supported by language experiences that are comprehensible. When ELL students understand the language they learn more. When teachers are lecturing the class they have to use a general language level for the entire class. When students are working in small groups they are able to use language that is at their developmental level which they can understand better. So when ELL students work in Cooperative Learning groups they are able to use developmentally appropriate language which allows them to understand the concepts being discussed. The students change their language level naturally when communicating with each other. Exposure and experience with the language is an essential aspect of the Cooperative Learning approach.
The Cooperative Learning approach consists of various strategies and techniques. As mentioned above the implementation of these strategies increases language acquisition and student achievement. A couple commonly used strategies are think/ pair/ share and jigsaw (Johnson, 2000). All of these strategies encompass the main characteristics of Cooperative Learning such as repetition, developmentally appropriate, comprehensible, and immediate response.
The first strategy think, pair, share, begins with the teacher asking the students to think about a specific question or topic. The students share their thoughts with a partner. During the share time the students are discussing at their level the specified topic. The ELL student is given the opportunity to hear and speak the language at an appropriate level in an encouraging environment. Finally the student pairs share their thoughts with other pairs in the classroom. This step in the lesson gives the ELL student the opportunity to repeat the concept and the language necessary to participate in the discussion. The ELL student is given immediate feedback from the other students partaking in the discussion. This strategy includes the characteristics of Cooperative Learning that increase student achievement and language development.
The next Cooperative Learning Strategy is the jigsaw, which begins with the teacher dividing the class into small groups. Each group is assigned a task and they will share their findings with the class when finished. The students are working in a small group setting, which provides ELL students opportunities to participate in developmentally appropriate discussion to complete the assigned task. When working in a small group the ELL students will get immediate feedback from their peers and are working is a safe and supportive environment. The final step of the strategy is to share each group's findings with the class. The ELL student will hear the content repeated again most likely in a more formal format. When the Cooperative Learning approach is implemented student achievement will increase.
The Cooperative Learning approach increases academic achievement and language acquisition in English Language Learners. This approach provides the students with opportunities necessary to improve language skills while learning content knowledge as well. ELL students are provided with the opportunity to have meaningful discussion with peers at a developmentally appropriate level. When the ELL students understand the language used they are more likely to understand and retain the topics taught. The Cooperative Learning Approach is a successful and effective method for teaching English Language Learners.