LANGUAGES WITHOUT LIMITS
The classroom can be thought of as a resource base for learning. While clearly the teacher is the most important human resource available to learners, he/she is not the only one. Learners themselves are resources for each other, not just because some of them are cleverer or know more than others, but also because by working together they can all arrive at a deeper understanding of whatever was the learning goal.
In some classes this major resource is unrecognised, learners being more readily perceived as distractions for each other; and this indeed may be the case. Learners will interact; whether those interactions are supportive or distracting may depend on whether collaboration is valued by teacher and learners, or only by learners and how it is managed,
In collaborative working the task, once introduced and under way, becomes the focus of attention, freeing the teacher to monitor the work of individuals and groups and to intervene or provide help as required, thus making a more personalised approach more feasible.
Developing collaborative skills, therefore, has potential to change the nature of classroom relationships, making them more productive, more effective as far as learning is concerned, and ultimately more rewarding for both teachers and learners.
Developing collaborative skills
There is no doubt that collaborative skills have to be taught formally, just like any other skills. In classes where collaborative learning has not been the norm, learners must be carefully prepared for their new responsibilities well before the first collaborative task is set.
Teaching for collaborative learning may be new for teachers too, so where to begin? Some possibilities:
o Collaborative learning is often used in primary schools but not followed up in secondary schools, so skills once learned are ignored and soon lost. Through liaison with primary feeder schools, find out what skills pupils may be expected to have acquired before transfer, and try to retain and build on those.
o Collaborative learning may be common in other subject areas. Find out who uses the technique and ask for opportunities to observe. This way you will be encouraging pupils to transfer their existing skills to another subject area, rather than learning new ones.
o Colleagues who have trained in learning support may well have ideas about how to prepare classes for collaborative learning. As for advice. If time and institutional policy permits, they may even be able to offer some training directly to pupils in the classroom.
Advantages to learners, or teachers, or both
o Discipline: Learners are usually keen to interact. If interactions are sanctioned and are businesslike and valued, the occurrence of 'negative interactions' should be reduced.
o Individual attention and personalised feedback become more feasible.
o Teachers who have successfully developed collaborative approaches report improved relationships between pupils and between pupils and teacher.
o Mixed ability classes are more easily managed because learning becomes more flexible; pupils can learn from and assist each other; different groups can be directed to different aspects of the work.
o Being able to take responsibility for their work, being able to work collaboratively, to be effective 'team players': these are skills that pupils will require throughout life, so encouraging and supporting them to work in this way for at least some of their time in your class contributes to their personal skills and competences.
An approach to collaborative writing
[Links last checked 30.7.11 unless otherwise indicated]
Co-operative and collaborative learning
Cooperative and collaborative learning
Workshop: Cooperative and collaborative learning
Partnership working in modern languages using collaborative learning and ICT This project illustrates how St Margaret's High School in North Lanarkshire has developed a partnership with a school in Majorca as a context for developing the Curriculum for Excellence capacities and for making learning more relevant. In particular, this project highlights the use of information and communications technology (ICT) and collaborative learning as a means of engaging pupils actively in their learning while addressing the three Introductory Statements of the Modern Languages Framework (Interconnected nature of languages, Cultural Awareness, Communicative Competence). http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/sharingpractice/p/collaborativelearningandict/index.asp
Collaborative learning in the classroom
'Does collaborative learning improve EFL students' reading comprehension?'
E Momtaz & Mark Garner, Aberdeen UK, in Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching Vol 1, Issue 1 (2010), pp 15-36.