Sunday, June 27, 2004

We Can Talk: Cooperative Learning in the Elementary ESL Classroom

We Can Talk: Cooperative Learning in the Elementary ESL Classroom. I love active learning (cooperative learning) assignments. It is great when the kids teach themselves and work together!

From the site:

Language acquisition is determined by a complex interaction of a number of critical input, output, and context variables. An examination of these critical variables reveals cooperative learning has a dramatic positive impact on almost all of the variables critical to language acquisition.


Language acquisition is fostered by input that is comprehensible, developmentally appropriate, redundant, and accurate.

"Comprehensible." To facilitate language acquisition, input must be comprehended (Krashen, 1982). Students working in cooperative groups need to make themselves understood, so they naturally adjust their input to make it comprehensible. The small group setting allows a far higher proportion of comprehensible input, because the speaker has the luxury of adjusting speech to the level appropriate to the listener to negotiate meaning--luxury not available to the teacher speaking to a whole class. The speakers can check for understanding and adjust the level of speech easily when speaking to one another, something not easily done when speaking in a large group. Input in the cooperative setting is made comprehensible also because it is often linked to specific, concrete behaviors or manipulatives.

"Developmentally Appropriate." Even if language is comprehended it will not stimulate the next step in language acquisition if it is not in the zone of proximal development (Vygotsy, 1978). The developmental level of any student is what he or she can do alone; the proximal level is what he/she can do with supportive collaboration. The difference between the developmental and proximal levels is called the zone of proximal development. The nature of a cooperative group focuses input in the zone of proximal development, stimulating development to the next stage of language development.

"Redundant." A student may receive comprehensible input in the zone of proximal development, but that will not ensure language acquisition unless the input is received repeatedly from a variety of sources. The cooperative learning group is a natural source of redundant communication. As the students in a small group discuss a topic, they each use a variety of phrases providing the opportunity for the listener to triangulate in on meaning as well as receiving the repeated input necessary for learning to move from short-term comprehension to long-term acquisition.


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