The value of collaborative learning has been recognized throughout human history and its effectiveness has been documented through hundreds of research studies. Collaborative learning is now widely recognized as one of the most promising
practieces in the field of education.
Collaborative learning (CL) is an instructional method that makes use of small, heterogeneous groups of students who work together to achieve common learning goals (Johnson & Johnson, 1992). Within group learning, students benefit from sharing ideas rather than working alone. Students help one another so that all can reach some measure of success.
The purpose of this review of research is to illustrate the various aspects of collaboration and how collaborative learning reinforces second language acquisition with reference to the theories. In this brief review of research, I first discuss two major theoretical perspectives of collaborative learning. I establish few major themes of collaborative research and review representative research studies that address collaborative activity in classroom settings. Finally, I connect research findings to the theories and outline some critical areas where research is needed on collaboration and language learning in classroom settings.
Theoretical Orientation / Motivational Perspective
Motivational perspective on collaborative learning focuses primarily on the reward or goal structures. In this perspective, collaborative learning creates a situation in which the only way group members can attain their own personal goals if the group is successful.
Social interdependence theory, the most influential theory of the perspective, on collaborative learning suggested that the essence of a group is the interdependence among members (created by common goals), which results in the group being a “dynamic whole”, so that a change in the state of any member and an intrinsic state of tension within group members motivates movement toward the accomplishment of the desired common goals (Kurt Lewin 1935). Similarly, Skinner’s behavioral learning theory assumes that students will work hard on those tasks for which they secure a reward and will fail to work on tasks that yield no reward or yield punishment.
Whereas motivational theories of collaborative learning emphasize the cooperative goals change students’ desire to do academic work, cognitive perspective emphasizes that the interactions among students will increase achievement due to the mental processing which takes place. Cognitive-Development theory can fully illustrate the notion.
Vygotsky proposes a central concept – zone of proximal development – in his theory; it has a great significance to language acquisition. He defines the zone as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (1978, p.86). In his view, collaborative activity among learners promotes growth because learners of similar ages are likely to be operating within one another’s proximal zones of development. In other words, unless students work cooperatively, they will not grow intellectually.
Vygotsky’s concept corresponds with the Input Hypothesis which attempts to answer the important question of how we acquire language. The hypothesis states that a necessary condition for language acquisition to occur is that the acquirer understands input language that contains structure “a bit beyond” his or her current level of competence. The hypothesis also presumes that acquisition happens when learners understanding the message instead of form (Krashen 1981). This illustrates the superiority of collaborative learning in language acquisition since its activity establishes an environment where the students communicate with each other to solve problems in a meaningful context.
Similarly, Piaget (1926) held that social-arbitrary knowledge – language, values, morality and etc. can be learned only in interactions with others. In his views, learners must engage in some sort of cognitive restructuring or elaboration of material if information is to be retained in memory. Many Piagetians have called for an increased use of collaborative activities in schools since students will learn from one another because in their discussions of the content, cognitive conflicts will arise, inadequate reasoning will be exposed and higher-quality understandings will emerge.
Generally, all perspectives on collaboration have common ground; they all predict that collaborative learning will promote higher achievement than would individualistic learning. The following sections discuss a number of representative studies and research findings about collaborative learning.
With the respect to the social interdependence perspective, collaboration promotes group cohesion and a supportive social climate. Some research studies are reviewed in the following to illustrate how collaboration fosters social interdependence among classmates and it gives expression to the motivating effects of working together toward a common goal.
Hijzen, Boekaerts and Vedeer (2006) examined relationships between the quality of cooperative learning (CL) and students’ goal preferences and perceptions of contextual factors in the classroom. The researchers expected students’ perception of the quality of CL depends to their goal preferences that they bring into the classroom. The subjects of this study were 1920 students from different secondary and vocational schools in Netherlands. Subjects were invited to complete several self-report questionnaires regarding their goal preferences and perception of contextual factors in the classroom and the quality of CL. The study found that subjects gave most preference to mastery goals, followed by social support goals and belongingness goals. Social support goals had the strongest relationship with the quality of CL. In other words, students who value helping and supporting each other rated the quality of CL higher. The study also found that there is a strong relation between the quality of CL and students’ perceptions of contextual factors, as defined by the type of task, reward systems and CL skills they were taught, in the classroom.
Despite the evidence that CL encourages social interdependence, there are conditions under which the kinds of interdependence emerge different effects. In a study by Johnson, Johnson and Stanne (2001), it demonstrated the conditions under which positive interdependence enhances or interferes with individual success and overall group productivity. Two types of positive interdependence were studied: positive goal and positive resource interdependence.
Forty-four black American high school students were randomly assigned to the experimental task. It was to master information on map reading and to apply their knowledge in deciding what actions to take to solve the problem. The independent variables were positive goal interdependence and positive resource interdependence. Goal interdependence was operationalized by telling the subjects to work together as a company and resource interdependence was operationalized by dividing the information required into three parts and giving each part to a different member of the group. Thus, in order to complete the task, each group mate had to obtain the information required from other group mates.
The findings provided evidence that two sources of positive interdependence promote stronger effects than either source of positive interdependence alone. The presence of positive resource and goal interdependence would promote higher individual achievement than would the presence of positive resource interdependence only. Therefore, when resource interdependence is used, it should be done in combination with positive goal interdependence.
Another study by Ghaith (2003) supports the claim that collaborative learning has positive effects on achievement. The study intended to investigate whether CL has more effective than whole-class instruction in promoting the English as Foreign Language reading achievement and the academic self-esteem of the learners.
Participants in the study were 56 secondary school EFL learners in Beirut and they were randomly assigned to control and experimental groups. In the study, subjects in the control group were taught by the teachers who carried out reading lessons with using traditional teaching instruction while subjects in the experimental group were taught by teachers who used collaborative learning. The study lasted for 10 weeks and a pretest-posttest control group design was employed and it focused on the variables of academic self-esteem and academic achievement.
The study did indicate that the CL is more effective that traditional textbook instruction in improving the EFL reading achievement of the students. Thus, reading achievement in L2 can be improved through small group cooperative interaction among peers in a supportive environment. However, academic self-esteem is unlikely to be improved in the course of short experiments and cooperative interventions.
The study by Shachar and Shmuelevitz (1997) differs from the above research. Their study focuses on teachers’ collaboration instead of students’ and how this relates to students’ learning. The study assessed the effects on teachers’ sense of efficacy of a year-long in-service teacher training program on CL. The study hypothesized that teachers who acquire competence with CL methods were reported as having high frequencies of these methods in their classroom and experience high levels of collaboration with colleagues. Their sense of efficacy which can also affect students’ learning and social relation.
One hundred twenty-one teachers from nine junior high schools in Israel were selected and trained that they acquired skill in implementing CL methods. This study was conducted over a period of 3 months at the beginning of the second year of the project. During the time, the teachers’ instructional behavior was observed. Two questionnaires about patterns of teacher collaboration in the school and measures of teachers’ efficacy were administered to all the teachers during the second half of the second year.
The findings showed that teachers who employed collaborative learning in their classrooms expressed a significantly greater degree of efficacy in promoting the learning of slow students compared to teachers who continued to employ traditional instruction without using CL. The finding also reported that teachers who participate in collaborative staff work are more likely to feel capable of promoting cooperative relations among their students. Therefore, collaboration affected personal teaching efficacy and promoted students’ social relations.
Cognitive perspective claims that language is best acquired when it is used in a way that is meaningful to the student. The collaborative learning setting provides opportunities for students to use the language for a specific purpose and express themselves in a functional manner. Especially, a type of language use which is called ‘exploratory talk’ emerges from collaboration when partners engage critically but constructively with each other’s ideas. In the ‘exploratory talk’, learners work together to solve linguistic problems and co-construct language or knowledge about language. The following research studies illustrate how ‘exploratory talk’ enhances language acquisition and development of knowledge.
The study by Chinn, O’Donnell and Jinks examined how the discourse of group interaction is structured and whether the discourse structure mediates learning. One hundred and nine students in seven fifth-grade classes in New Jersey participated in the study. They were asked to conducted experiments with electrical circuits in groups of four. After writing their own individual conclusions based on the two circuits they constructed, the students were provided with three conclusions from other group mates to evaluate and discussed the quality of these conclusions.
The results of the study indicated that some type of collaborative discourse were significantly associated with reasoning, exploration and explanation. These features can be viewed as the elements of argumentation structures. Thus the fifth graders’ discussions about the quality of the conclusions could be analyzed as argument networks. The results also suggested that more complex argumentation promotes learning, both when the complex arguments are individually constructed and when they are collaboratively constructed.
The study by Cohen, Lotan, Abram, Scarloss and Schultz (2002) tested the proposition that providing students with evaluation criteria will improve the character of the discussion as well as the quality of the group product and individual performance. The hypothesis in this study is that the better the quality of the group discussion and product, the better will be the individual performance of group members.
In the five classrooms, there were 39 groups of 4-5 students who performed the same experienced group tasks. The subjects had to perform a series of complex instruction regarding the topic of the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. They are expected to discuss and answer several higher order questions requiring them to deeply explore their resource materials. The subjects were audiotaped for the entire lesson each day and this required 5 days of implementation so that students could rotate through the tasks, give a presentation and discussion.
It was found evaluation criteria have a direct effect on the nature of the group discussion in which subjects tended to have more exploratory talk in the group discussion. The study also illustrated that evaluation criteria are a motivational tool helping groups to be more self-critical and increasing their effort to create a superior group product. Through evaluation, the group discussion emerged productive explorative talk which improved the group’s performance.
Verplaetse (2000) examined what particular discourse strategies the teacher use to create an interactive classroom during full-class and teacher-fronted discussions. Three middle-school science teachers were selected and their lessons were being observed with three interviews with the teachers afterward.
The finding provides a good example of how the teacher’s use of paraphrase and repetition produced a supportive environment where the contributions of all students were accepted and valued. Moreover, it was found that the teacher modeled the process of scientific inquiry aloud for his students and thereby authorized the right to wonder, raise questions and engage in exploratory talk on science topics. In addition to the collaborative discussion that modeled scientific inquiry, another important aspect of this study was the consequence of this dialogic collaboration on the participation of English language learners who volunteered more frequently and participated more actively in the full class discussion. This study illustrates how classroom relations and collaborative were forged through the teacher’s validation of student contributions.
Teachers play a critical role in promoting interactions between students and engaging them in the learning process. The study by Gillies (2006) sought to determine if teachers who implement collaborative learning in their classrooms engage in more facilitative, learning interactions than teachers who implement group work only. The study also sought to determine of students in the collaborative groups model their teachers’ behaviors and engage in more positive helping interactions with each other than their peers in the group work groups. Twenty-six high schools’ teachers in Australia volunteered to establish cooperative, small-group activities in their Grades 8 to 10 classrooms for 6 weeks. The teachers were audiotaped twice during these lessons and samples of the students’ language, as they worked in their groups, were also collected at the same time.
The results showed that teachers who implement collaborative learning in their classrooms asked more questions and engaged in more mediated-learning behaviors than teachers who implement group work only. The students in the collaborative groups engaged in more verbal behaviors that are regarded as helpful and supportive of group endeavors than their peers in the group-work groups. Thus, when teachers implement collaborative learning, their verbal behavior is affected by the organizational structure of the classroom.
Wegerif, Mercer and Dawes (1999) supports the claim that social experience of language use shapes individual cognition. The study assumed that the use of exploratory talk will help children to reason together more effectively when they jointly tackle the problems of a test of reasoning and to develop better ways of using language as a tool for reasoning individually when they work alone on a reasoning test. Sixty British primary school children aged 9-10 and their teachers took part in an experimental teaching programme, which designed to develop primary children’s use of language for reasoning and collaborative activity. Children’s subsequent use of language when carrying out collaborative activity in the classroom was observed and anaylsed and effects on their performance on an individual reasoning test were also investigated. Comparative data were gathered from children in matched control classes.
It was found that using exploratory talk helps children to work more effectively together on problem-solving tasks. Children who have been taught to use more exploratory talk make greater gains in their individual scores on a test of reasoning than do children who have not had such teaching.
In this section, a number of research studies are reviewed from the cognitive perspectives which claims that cognition and knowledge are constructed though dialogically interaction. For this reason I have limited the studies in which one can link collaborative dialogue to a particular aspect of second language learning.
Kim and Hall (2002) reported on Korean children’s participation in an interactive book reading program and their development of pragmatic competence in English. During the book reading, the researcher promoted with questions, elaborated on the children’s utterances and repeated the children’s contributions by paraphrasing and shaping what they said into a coherent discourse. After completing all collaborative reading sessions, the children engaged in interactional role-play situations based on school-related events. These interactions were analyzed for quantity of words used, context-based vocabulary, utterances and conversational management skill.
It was found that the participation of these children in collaborative book reading led to significant changes in their pragmatic ability dealing with a number of words and utterances and conversational management features. Kim and Hall suggested that in the context of interesting texts and collaborative talk, meaningful opportunities for the development of children’s second language competence arise. The procedure used in this study reflects discourse features similar to Verplaets’ study, with similar developmental consequences, i.e., expanded participation in interactions and the children’s growing ability to manage conversation.
Collaborative dialogue has also been shown to help students apply comprehension strategies and co-construct knowledge while reading in the study by Klingner, Vaughn and Schumm (1998). They investigated the effectiveness of a cooperative learning approach designed to foster strategic reading in grade four heterogeneouse classrooms. Eighty-five students in 11 day experimental condition were taught by the researchers to apply reading comprehension strategies (“preview”, “get the gist” and “wrap up”) while reading social studies text in small student-led groups. Fifty-six students in control condition did not learn comprehension strategies but receive researcher-led instruction in the same content. A standardized reading test and a social studies unit test were administered as dependent measures to all participants. All of the groups in the intervention condition were audiotaped during the CL strategy implementation sessions for purposes of analyzing student discourse
Qualitative analysis of the students’ discourse showed that through interacting in their collaborative strategic reading groups, the fourth graders assisted one another in vocabulary comprehension, found the main idea and asked and answered questions about their text. The tests results also indicated that the students in the experimental condition made greater gains in reading comprehension and equal gains in content knowledge. This study implies that students in the intervention condition spent significant time discussing academic content and consistently implemented the reading strategies.
In a conversational analytical study of talk-in-interaction, Mori (2002) examined 12 hours of classroom interaction across two instructional contexts in a university upper-level Japanese as a foreign language classroom. In this study, two contexts were analyzed to understand how talk was constructed in collaboration with peers during a planning sessions and a future discussion with native speaker visitors to the class afterward.
It was found that the design of the task (step-by-step requirements for the interview) was the obstacles for the creation of contingent discourse and coherent discussion with the native speaker guests. During the visits, the students’ discourse was highly structured and lacked the contingency-based features of conversation. Ironically, Mori finds that student discourse during the pretask planning involved a mutual exchange of ideas. Moria’s study implies that collaboration is constituted in particular kinds of contingently organized talk.
The study by Shachar and Sharan (1994) focused on students’ verbal interaction in multiethnic groups after the students had participated for several months in history and geography classes. The study was conducted with the Group Investigation method or in those taught with the traditional Whole-Class method. Students’ social interaction with members from their own or another ethnic subgroup and their academic achievement were evaluated. The study involved 351 Jewish students from Western and Middle Eastern backgrounds, with 197 in five classes taught for 6 months with the Group Investigation method and 154 in four classes taught for 6 months with Whole-
It was found that all students from the Group Investigation method expressed themselves more frequently and used more words per turn of speech than their peers from classrooms taught with the traditional Whole-Class method. This finding also suggest that students from different ethnic groups in the same class can learn to cooperate and give each other the opportunity to participate in the work of the group without the ignorance of the members of lower status groupmates. It seems that all students in CL classrooms learned to interact constructively, displayed more positive, fewer critical verbal and social interactions with their peers.
Face-to-face interaction in speaking activities also can assist learners along the continuum of language acquisition. Lynch (2001) studied whether the transcribing and the discussion of reflection and change result in long-term language acquisition and whether they would be feasible in a classroom setting. In the study, four pairs of college students were asked to transcribe a 90-120 second recorded extract of a role play they had performed in front of the class. After transcribing the role play scripts, the learners could make changes to their original scripts through collaborative negotiation. The teacher then reformulated the revised scripts through correcting grammar and lexis and making necessary changes to clarify meaning. As a final step, the learners compared their own revised scripts with the reformulated version and discussed the differences between the two transcripts with each other and with the teacher.
The result indicated that transcribing and editing the transcripts gives learners the chance to renegotiation meanings and draws the learner’s attention to language form and use in a relatively natural way. The study supports the claim that the feedback in the form of self-correction, teacher intervention and peer correction all supported student’s language learning.
Other studies in the literature show how collaborative dialogue in reading activities can also result in L2 learning. Swain and Lapkin (2003) examined a pair of grade seven French immersion students’ collaborative work in term of completing a jigsaw story task orally and in writing, comparing their written stories to a reformulated version and responding to a stimulated recall task. The data were coded for all the language-related episodes, defined as any part of the dialogue where learners talk about the language they are producing, question their language use or correct themselves.
The analysis of discussions surrounding reformulated texts indicated that approximately two-thirds of reformulations were accepted. During the later independent revisions, both learners were able to revise accurately 78% of the post test items. This indicates the power of collaborative dialogue during the composing, noticing and recall procedures.
Vygotsky’s concept of zone of proximal development (ZPD) serves as the theoretical basis for the study of peer collaboration in ESL writing classroom. The purpose of the study by De Guerrero and Villamil (2000) was to observe the mechanisms by which strategies of revision take shape and develop when two learners are working in their respective ZPDs. The participants in this study were two male intermediate ESL college learners, native speakers of Spanish, who were enrolled in an ESL writing course. In the course, the students participated in two revision sessions during which pairs of students revised a composition written by one of them. The pair of subjects was simply instructed to revise the draft and to record all their comments on a tape recorder. The focus of analysis was the dyad’s audiotaped conversation, between a ‘reader’ and a ‘writer’, which was transcribed to the written mode and divided into 16 episodes.
The results were found that both the reader and writer became active partners in the revision task with guided support moving reciprocally between each other. The reader played a crucial role as mediator displaying several supportive behaviors which facilitated advancement through the task. Some of these behaviors included explicitly instructing the writer on issues of grammar and recruiting the writer’s interest throughout the interaction. The writer incorporated the majority of the changes discussed with his partner and further revised on his own. The reader also made progress in aspect of L2 writing and revising. As the researchers noted, the opportunity to talk and discuss language and writing issues with each other “allowed both reader and writer to consolidate and reorganize knowledge of the L2 in structural and rhetorical aspects and to make this knowledge explicit for each other’s benefit” (p.65)
Storch (2001) noted that the nature of peer assistance is an important factor to consider in terms of the impact collaborative work can have on learning. His study examined the pattern of pair interaction and whether there were links between the way the dyads interacted and the quality of their written product. The study was conducted in an advanced ESL writing classroom in an Australian university. Most of the students were Asian with writing proficiency ranging from low to upper intermediate. The task used in this study was a writing task given to students in class in preparation for a report. Students worked on the task in self-selected pairs and pair talks were audiotaped and being observed by researchers. Three dyads of conversations were then chosen for analysis.
It was found that 3 dyads approached the task differently and the interaction patterns can be defined in a range from non-collaborative to collaborative. In the collaborative pattern, both students contributed to the task and reached co-constructed solutions. The dominant/dominant pair was one in which though both students contributed to the task, assistance is often rejected as there is an attempt of control and domination on the part of both students. In the case of dominant/passive pair, there was one dominant student who appropriated the task and his partner had little contribution. In the expert/novice patter pair, one participant seemed to be more in control of the task but unlike the dominant/passive pair, the expert participant acknowledges the novice and encouraged participation. An analysis of relationship between the text produced by each dyad and language development showed that in collaborative and expert/novice dyads, there were more instances evidence of knowledge development than in other dyads. These findings confirm the importance of the nature of pair interaction for the learning opportunities available to the students.
Researchers have shown that collaborative learning can induce many beneficial outcomes. However, some research studies have also shown that the differential status of individuals affected their social interactions and their capacity to solve problems together. These inequalities are related to academic status and cultural differences and personalities between students. The following research studies illustrate the harmful impact on lower status students in the group.
Duff (2002) illustrated how classroom interaction in an ethnically and linguistically diverse grade 10 Canadian social studies class attributed identities to students. The research site was a Canadian high school where 50% of the students were ESL learners, most of them are Asian. The researcher observed and recorded the Social Studies class lessons once a week with six-month duration; some of the participants, including the class teacher, were interviewed about their in-class behaviors. There were 17 non-native English speakers out of the 28 students in the course. The class teacher presented social issues and encouraged student to share their perspectives and opinions.
Interview comments, combined with observations of in-class social interactions provided evidences that the interactional behaviors of teachers and students during discursive collaborations on social issue created conditions that marginalized some students while reinforcing social recognition to others. For example, non-local students were being silent or provided limited response about their cultural rituals because they were afraid of being criticized in class and being laughed at their English. She emphasizes that “large numbers of minority students in schools world wide are at considerable risk of alienation, isolation, and failure because of the discourse and interactions that surround them on a daily basis” (Duff 2002, p.216).
Matthews and Kesner (2000) investigated the impact that a child’s status among peers has on interactions with other children during collaboration. In the study, six grade-one children of a primary school in southeastern U.S. area were being observed throughout the whole school year. Data was collected from classroom observations with audio and video recording of children participating in literacy events (collaboration) with their classmates. Data also included artifacts of the children’s work, information about the children’s social status among their peers and assessments of the children’s reading ability. The researchers were in the classroom an average of once every 3 days.
The information presented in this study focused on a child, Sammy, one of the six focal children. Sammy was characterized as a shy boy by his parents. He had low proficiency of reading ability so reading is the worst academic subject for him. Sammy also received assistance from the school language specialist of minor speech problem. The results of peer nomination and the teacher’s assessment of Sammy’s social status indicated that he is an unpopular student in his class. The classroom observation showed that Sammy was a follower during collaboration activities. He rarely made a suggestion during the literacy events. However, Sammy never appeared upset when his peers assigned him the role of follower or they did not respond to his suggestions. At the end of the school year, he could read only 20 of the 60 words on a first-grade word list and his text reading had only progressed slightly. This implies that participants may not get the most benefit from collaborative learning due to the social hierarchy.
Chiu’s study (1998) supported that status differences among students yield positive and negative effects for individuals and the group as a whole. In her study, eight students in 9th grade algebra classes in a high school were selected to solve an algebra problem in groups of four. The students filled out pre-activity questionnaires regarding mathematical status and social status and a leadership post-activity questionnaire.
At the group level, the results showed that mathematical ability predicted correct solutions whereas quantity of interaction and status did not. Polite evaluation (redressed criticisms) facilitated group work while impolite evaluation (naked criticisms) hindered it. At the individual level, social status positively predicted leadership, negotiation turns and polite redressed criticism in a group whereas mathematical ability positively predicted naked criticisms. These results supported the claim that students with higher social status were socially skillful and polite whereas students with higher mathematical showed their status by being less polite.
Baines, Blatchford and Kutnick (2003) suggested that collaborative learning is beneficial to particular age of learners. Their study examined the relationships between the age of students and the grouping practices employed by teachers within classrooms in primary and secondary schools. The data in this study come from three separately paralleled studies that used the same methodology. One project, the Primary Classroom Groupings Projects, examined grouping practices in junior levels. The focus of the second study was on the effects of class size one students learning experiences and group practices in senior primary levels. The third study examined grouping practices in secondary school with junior and senior levels. All three projects involved the use of a grouping questionnaire to collect quantitative data on the nature of the groupings as used in classes.
The results showed that there were changes in grouping practices with student age. Students in junior primary classrooms were most likely to be working alone. During the years of senior primary level, students were more likely to experience whole class interactions with the teacher assistance. At the secondary school’s level, group practices were frequently happened since secondary school age students were more likely to engage in peer interaction than primary age children.
Many educators have observed that participants frequently fail to behavior collaboratively in groups. Some groups reveal negative and insensitive behavior as well as refusal to assist one another. Therefore, some educators strongly recommend team-building or skill-building activities prior to collaborative learning stage. The research in this section show that preparation and time spent on group can definitely make for more productive groups.
The study by Naughton (2006) focused on the effect of a cooperative strategy training program on the patterns of interaction that arose as small groups of students participated in an oral discussion task. Five intact classes of high school graduates were randomly assigned to the experimental or control condition. In the control group, this division was random whereas in the experimental groups, students joined the 8 hours of the CL strategy training program. All students took part in the same pretest and posttest discussion task which lasted for 8 minutes. Data taken from the videotapes were analyzed in order to measure changes in overall participation and strategic participation.
The pretest showed that prior to strategy training, students generally failed to engage in the types of negotiation moves that have been identified as important for language acquisition. However, the posttest indicated that the strategy training program was largely successful in encouraging students to engage in the act of requesting or giving help; this type of interaction is clearly related to CL. The result also implies that small group work in the L2/FL classroom can be beneficial when learners engage in collaborative dialogue.
The study by Gillies and Ashman (1996) compared the effects on behavioral interactions and achievement of cooperative learning in which group members were trained to collaborate to facilitate each other’s learning and cooperative learning in which members were not trained but were merely told to help each other. The study involved 192 Grade six primary school children assigned to one of two experimental conditions. In the Trained condition, students were taught how to collaborate in small groups while in the Untrained condition, children were provided only with the opportunity to work together but were not instructed in the process. The group activities for the two groups were developed around the social studies unit which required students to solve problems. Each group’s student behavior and verbal interactions during the study were videotaped and coded.
The results showed that the children in the Trained condition were consistently more cooperative; higher level of motivation, responsive to the need of their peers and provided significantly more explanations to assist each other than their peers in the Untrained condition. In addition, the children in the Trained groups used inclusive language (‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘I’). This provides strong evidence that training children to collaborate facilitates group functioning and has a positive effect on student achievement.
Veenman, Denessen, Akker, and Rijt (2005) investigated whether student-teachers who participated in the teacher-training program provided more elaborations during small group work and performed better on a cooperative task than the student-teachers who did not participate in the training program and the effects of the training program on affective-motivational resources of students in collaboration. Participants in the study were teachers from seven primary schools and 24 dyads of sixth-grade students. There were 12 dyads in the treatment group where their schools used CL instruction and practices based on a 2-years staff training of CL with a supplementary teacher-training program focusing on effective helping behaviors. The control group with 12 dyads used CL based on a 1-year staff CL training without a supplementary teacher-training program. All of the students’ dyads were asked to cooperatively solve a math task, which required formal reasoning and discussion. At pretest, Version A of the math task was used; at posttest, Version B was used. All of the sessions were video and audio recorded and later transcribed. After completion of the math task at pretest, all of the students were also administered a questionnaire addressing their help-seeking intentions and the nature of their achievement goals.
A statistically significant treatment effect was found that the treatment dyads provided more high-level elaborations than the control dyads. The use of high-level elaborations was also positively related to student achievement. The results of the study underline the need to structure learning in small groups; discourse features as help seeking, help giving, provision of reasons and exploratory talk must be practiced and reinforced.
Implications for Classroom Practices and Further Research
Several implications for language pedagogy can be drawn from the findings of these studies. First, as language teachers, we have to ensure that students are provided with multiple and varied opportunities to engage in meaningful interactions in the target language. To make the interactions meaningful, we need to encourage learners to relate the topical content to those personal experiences and social relationship that are real thus of significance to them. Motivating learners to make connections between their own and others’ background knowledge and to share these connections with each other promotes their extended engagement in their interactions. Second, in the opportunities for interaction that we make available, we must ensure that not only the cognitive but the affective dimensions are considered. As shown in these studies, making interpersonal connections with each other in their classroom interactions fostered a sense of community among the members; this helps to create a motivating learning environment. Third, language learners of all ages and levels are able to construct rich interactions. Thus we need to create opportunities for them to demonstrate their interpersonal skills without the explicit help or directed attention of the teacher.
Finally, several questions for possible study are suggested by these studies. First, given the significance of interpersonal relationships to language learning found in these studies, how do we create and sustain rapport among individuals who come from varied backgrounds or who are reticent to participate? Moreover, in the century of high technology how social processes are enabled by new communications tools and resources such as the Internet, e-mail and videoconferences. In addition, how these relationships and processes interact with language learning. The last concern is the need for more longitudinal data. Although most of the studies link language development to the particular practices, they do not actually document specific changes in learners’ use of language in their data. The only way to truly understand the occurrence of language development in oneself is to require more long-term investigations.
Baines, Ed., Blatchford, P., & Kutnick, P (2003). Changes in grouping practices over primary and secondary school. International Journal of Educational Research, 39, 9-34.
Chinn, C.A., O’Donnell, A.M. & Jinks, T.S. The structure of discourse in collaborative learning. Department of Educational Psychology. The State University of New Jersey.
Chiu, Ming Ming (1998). Status Effects in Group Problem Solving: Group and Individual Level analyses. Educational Resource Information Center. The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Cohen, E., Lotan, R, Abram, P., Scarloss, B & Schultz, S (2002). Can Groups Learn? Teachers College Record, 104(6),1045-1068
De Guerrero M.C. & Villamil O.S. (2000). Activating the ZPD: Mutual scaffolding in L2 peer revision. The Modern Language Journal, 84, 51-68.
Duff, P.A. (2002). The discursive co-construction of knowledge, identity, and difference: An ethnography of communication in the high school mainstream. Applied Linguistics, 23(3), 289-322.
Ghaith, G. (2003). Effects of the Learning Together Model of Cooperative Learning on English as a Foreign Language Reading Achievement, Academic Self-Esteem, and Feelings of School Alienation. Bilingual Research Journal, 27:3
Gillies, R.(2006). Teachers’ and students’ verbal behaviors during cooperative and small-group learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 171-287
Gillies, R & Ashman A (1996). Teaching collaborative skills to primary school children in classroom-absed work groups. Learning and Instruction, 6(3), 187-200
Hijzen, D, Boekaerts, M & Vedder, P (2006). The relationship between the quality of cooperative learning, students’ goal preferences and perceptions of contextual factors in the classroom. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 47, 9-12.
Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T. & Stanne M.B (2001). Impact of Goal and Resource Interdependence on Problem-Solving Success. The Journal of Social Psychology, 129(5), 621-629
Johnson, R.T. & Johnson, R.T. (1992). Implementing cooperative learning. Contemporary Education, 63, 173-180.
Kim, D, & and Hall, J.K. (2002). The role on an interactive book reading program in the development of second language pragmatic competence. The Modern Language Journal, 86(3), 332-348.
Klingner, J.K., Vaughn, S., & Schumm, J.S. (1998). Collaborative strategic reading during social studies in heterogeneours fourth-grade classroom. The Elementary School Journal, 99, 3-22.
Krashen, S. D. (1981). Effective Second Language Acquisition: Insights from Research. The Second language classroom. Oxford University Press, Inc.
Lewin, K. (1935). A dynamic theory of personality. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lynch, T. (2001). Seeing what they meant: Transcribing as a route to noticing. ELT Journal, 55, 124-132
Matthews, Mona & Kesner, John (2000). The silencing of Sammy: One struggling reader learning with his peers. International Reading Association, 53(5), 382-390
Mori, J. (2002). Task design, plan, and development of talk-in-interaction: An analysis of a small group activity in a Japanese language classroom. Applied Linguistics, 23(3), 323-347.
Naughton, N.(2006). Cooperative Strategy Training and Oral Interaction: Enhancing Small Group Communication in the Language Classroom. The Modern Language Journal, 90,(ii).
Piaget, J. (1926). The Language and Thought of the child. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Shachar, H & Sharan S (1994). Talking, Relating, and Achieving: Effect of Cooperative Learning and Whole-Class Instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 12(4), 313-353.
Shachar, H & Shmuelevitz, H (1997). Implementing Cooperative learning, Teacher Collboration and Teachers’ Sense of EFFICACY IN Heterogeneous Junior High Schools. Contemporary educational psychology, 22, 53-72
Storch, N.(2001). How collaborative is pair work? ESL tertiary students composing in pairs. Language Teaching Research 5, 29-53
Swain, M.& Lapkin, S. (2003). Talking it through: Two French immersion learners’ response to reformulation. International Journal of Educational Research, 37, 285-304
Veenman, S, Denessen, E, Akker, A & Rijt, J (2005). Effects of a Cooperative Leraning Program on the Elaborations of Students During Help Seeking and Help Giving. American Educational Research Journal, 42(1), 115-137
Verplaetse, L.S. (2000). Mr. Wonder-ful: Portrait of a dialogic teacher. Second and foreign language learning through classroom interaction, 223-241
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society (ed. M. Cole, V. John Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wegerif, R, Mercer N, & Dawes L (1999). From social interaction to individual reasoning: an empirical investigation of a possible sociocultural model of cognitive development. Learning and Instruction. Walton Hall.