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To maximize learning outcomes for English Language Learners (ELL), interactive and authentic approaches to academic skills are incorporated into classrooms throughout the country. The successful research-based teaching strategy, cooperative learning creates an inclusive atmosphere of achievement and promotes positive interaction among all students by assigning small learning teams. Teachers design cooperative learning group objectives based upon academic standards. Small team interaction motivates students to learn both academic content and language skills (Meng, 2005). Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy which benefits ELL students by accelerating language (Noyes, 2008). Additional benefits include positive race relations, increase student retention, and enhance student satisfaction with their learning experience.
Learning is the acquisition of skills and knowledge. It is an inductive or a deductive process; it occurs individually or within a community (Salvin, 2003). Learning primarily takes place in school systems. The study of how learning occurs is educational psychology, learning theory, and pedagogy (Sternberg & Williams, 2002). To maximize learning outcomes for English Language Learners (ELL), interactive and authentic approaches to academic skills are incorporated into classrooms throughout the country. Instructional strategies include bilingual pairs/groups and opportunities to use and learn academic concepts in two languages (Jimenez, 2008a; Noyes, 2008b). The strategy, cooperative learning benefits ELL students; however, is not a new concept in the educational field (Slavin, 2003). Cooperative learning motivates students to learn both academic content and language skills (Meng, 2005). This is wonderful for as learning becomes the goal of education, students will be stimulated to seek new knowledge (Noyes, 2008c).
The successful research-based teaching strategy, cooperative learning creates an inclusive atmosphere of achievement and promotes positive interaction among peers by assigning small learning teams (Lyma, & Foyle, 1988). Teachers do not create the cooperative teams through random selection. Students with varying academic and language acquisition levels are intentionally grouped together. Groups typically do not exceed four participants. Intention to group assignment is given because each team member accepts responsibility for learning content for him or herself and also to assist in their teammates’ learning process. Students acknowledge responsibility and work until all group members successfully understand and complete assignments; teams receive recognition or rewards based on group performance. While working through team assignments, students utilize a variety of different learning activities to improve their understanding of a particular subject and cognitive language skills. It must be noted there is a distinction between cooperative learning and group work. The difference is students have assigned tasks during cooperative learning (Noyes, 2008b).
According to Noyes (2008a) cooperative learning can be best summarized with the acronym APLE. The apple represents student accountability. The P is for each student to positively depend on group peers. The L stands for learn. The E represents equal, for equal teammate participation. These are to be addressed during each cooperative class assignment.
Language Acquisition Benefits for ELL students
Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy which benefits ELL students by accelerating language (Noyes, 2008b). Creating comfortable learning atmospheres is crucial because Krashen’s low affective filter theory claims individuals filter content when nervous (Jimenez, 2008a). Benefits stem from teachers knowing their students and organizing groups according to language proficiency, academic achievement and personality. The first language acquisition benefit is teaching to and receiving instructional support from peers fosters an atmosphere of acceptance and comfort while encouraging exploration of different learning styles (Bongaerts, & Poulisse, 1989). The third involves a decrease in academic pressure; providing alternative group assessments immediately shifts student focus from the end result to the learning process (Jimenez, 2008c). This assists with students increasing cognitive language skills.
Cooperative groups enhance language learning and competence as reflected in the group members’ listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills in the L1 and L2 language. Teaching concepts to peers helps develop oral communication skills. This is important while increasing students’ academic language in L2 (Noyes, 2008c). These groups also enable teachers as facilitators to observe visible student behaviors and get a glimpse of some of the students’ unseen mental processes (Bongaerts, & Poulisse, 1989). Sixth, working in groups assists with language information exchange using academic knowledge, specific grammar rules, and content specific vocabulary (Meng, 2005).
Socialization Benefits for ELL students
Cooperative groups create an atmosphere of positive achievement and a cohesive learning community (Lyma, & Foyle, 1988). Socialization plays an important role in our society (Noyes, 2008c). We all know of an individual who can recite the Gettysburg address but never remembers to stop to ask how a peer is doing. Our students will enter the community with or without a high school degree. The public school system prepares students for the world outside the school doors. Therefore, socialization is critical; cooperative learning assists with the students learning appropriate social skills (Noyes, 2008b).
Groups foster an atmosphere of student respect and ability which accelerates the learning process. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs individuals must feel safe and comfortable before learning begins (Sternberg & Williams, 2002). This is why groups are not randomly selected and group guidelines taught. For example, a standard rule of behavior during cooperative learning activities includes no put-downs.
Being selective about student participation supports sensitivity to confidence levels not just in academic content but communication skills. Communication skills are essential in socialization (Cockrell, Caplow, & Donaldson, 2000). Skills are addressed in groups. For example, in our culture active listening begins with making eye contact and not talking but engaging our ears. This is not necessary the case in other cultures. Again this is also critical for comfortable atmospheres are critical in language acquisition.
Cultural Benefits for ELL students
For students to progress to higher education and create social change, support for students living in a culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse community is essential. Attention is encouraged to promote students to acquire English and recognize its role in their lives outside of school while respecting the role their L1 language plays. According to Jimenez (2008c) Ladson-Billlings refer to this as culturally responsive teaching. Attention is given to the students’ first language (L1) by incorporating culturally responsive teaching into instruction and creating cooperative groups with multiple language levels. Having peer support for emerging ELL students is just one part of culturally responsive teaching which involves making connections to a student’s naÃ¯ve language. Again this can be done through a peer who speaks the language or the use of relia, or technology software to make academic content meaningful.
Creating cultural divers leaning communities will benefit not only individuals but the community at large (Fuchs, Mathes, & Simmons, 1997). Students will learn not only the customs of this country but native English speakers will learn about other cultures. Knowledge is the key to understanding diversity and embracing difference (Jimenez, 2008b).
Academic Benefits for ELL students
Teachers strategically design cooperative learning objectives based upon academic standards. Thus, there is always a structured purpose and objective. The lesson plans will then always include specific goals and criteria for assessment. In addition, Cooperative groups encourage peer tutoring by sharing the responsibility of instruction (Cockrell, Caplow, & Donaldson, 2000). This benefits ELL students because they receive peer support until they master concepts and complete assignments. The group structure allows time for the use of visual cues. Providing visual supports enriches vocabulary presentations and helps students acquire academic language in their L2 language. Cooperative learning helps all students increase academic vocabulary and develop oral communication skills. For example, some students will communicate in L1 to emerging learners. The best way to master content is to teach it.
After students become familiar with a concept, independence is achieved. In addition to visual cues, computer software programs allowing students to read content in L1 or L2 can be used. Pedagogical practices are incorporated into cooperative assignments by (a) building upon background knowledge (b) front loading of vocabulary and language functions (c) incorporating thinking maps or graphic organizers into assignments. Graphic organizers are used to work with cognates in groups too. Think alouds, a wonderful strategy can be used to verbalize the relationship between concepts. These are just a few examples of how ELL students’ academic and language needs can be addressed in cooperative groups.
In conclusion, cooperative groups promote student learning and academic achievement, positive race relations, increase student retention, and enhance student satisfaction with their learning experience. Another benefit not discussed in previous paragraphs is the teacher’s ability to create tiers in the cooperative learning. Teachers are able to create activities such as mixed pair share, mingle and match, round table, roam the room, and head’s together. The possibilities are endless and as Cummings and Krachen stated, it is a powerful pedagogy (Noyes, 2008b).