With the challenge of globalization, technological change and rapid economic development in Malaysia, this country is undergoing radical transformations in its political, economic and particularly educational systems. As the growing global economy has entered the information age, the English language has become a bridge across many borders in international communication.
All teachers know that language plays a vital role in education. Language is not only the means of communication and expression, but also the medium of thought and central tool for learning (Richards, 2005). English is the dominant international language in many fields of development such as trade, commerce, tourism, research and technology. Most current information for these areas is available only in English.
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Advanced English proficiency not only benefits many people during their schooling, but later also helps with promotion and career development. All of these factors make English teaching crucially important. Because of the spread of information and technology, the goal of English education in Malaysia has undergone rapid changes recently (The Star, 2007). For an instance, the promotion of communicative skills that include all four language modes; listening, speaking, reading and writing, are becoming an urgent requirement in schools, colleges as well as universities. This is a big challenge for English teachers.
The English teachers have to develop approaches or strategies that suitable for the students who differ in their backgrounds, ways of learning, achievement and thinking as well as interests. Different students will react differently in the classroom. The critical issues are how teachers can take a good care of each and every student plus construct a well-integrated, facilitating and effective environment for the students.
Hence, cooperative learning is claimed to be an effective teaching method in second language learning by scholars abroad and at home (Jonhson & Jonhson, 1990). It is generally asserted that cooperative learning is the best option for all students because it emphasizes active interaction between students of diverse abilities and backgrounds (Olsen, 1992) and demonstrates more positive student outcomes in academic achievement, social behavior, and affective development.
However, although most research findings point to the positive influence of cooperative learning on academic achievements, social behavior, and affective development, there is still little attention has been given to the investigation of the perceptions of teachers and students towards cooperative learning.
Statement of Problem
Based on my experience during the practicum days, I noticed that even though 200 minutes per week are allocated to English subject, it is still not sufficient and many major problems continually exist.
The first problem is that teaching is too teacher-centered. Richards in his book entitled Language Teaching Awareness (2005) has suggested that a teacher’s role should include organizing, motivating, counseling, providing accurate language models, developing materials and acting as a friend. However, in most schools particularly in rural areas, the teacher’s role is mainly to act as an instructor, explainer and corrector of errors (Liang, 2001). Meanwhile, the students’ role is to do what the teacher says. Consequently, students tend to be over-dependent on their teachers and always think that teachers as knowledge givers. Teamwork between students is seldom used as a teaching strategy. In class, teachers usually initiate the discussion, whereas students are passive learners and recipients of knowledge. Therefore, interaction is hindered since there is only one-way communication (Harel, 1992).
The second problem is that the classes are very large. It is difficult for a teacher to manage a class of over thirty students and design a teaching strategy which will meet each student’s needs. Through my observation, normally, teachers are not able to cope with so many students as an individual basis due to the time constraints. Therefore, a teaching strategy should be found to enable teachers who have to teach large classes to better meet individual student needs.
The third problem needs to be considered is that students have a range of motivation towards their learning. As English is a compulsory subject, whether students are interested or not, they have to learn English and excel in it. However, students with different level of proficiency are often placed in the same class. Some teaching strategy or materials are suitable for some students and inappropriate for the others. Students with different level of proficiency might have different level of motivation toward the English language teaching and learning. In my experience as practicum teacher, a lot of students with low level of proficiency feel that learning English is difficult and hence they just surrender. Therefore, teachers should seek teaching strategy that can create an effective environment that promotes high motivation among the students.
One way to address the three problems discussed above is to cultivate students’ potential for independent study through group work and set up a suitable environment for the students in order to learn the target language. Cooperative learning groups encourage student-student communication where oral language is emphasized (Harmer, 2003). It could also move the focus of the source from the teacher to the students. Group work enables students to help each other. Thus, it could be a useful teaching strategy for a large class.
Besides, cooperative learning has been found to increase motivation and achievement in classroom performance (Greenhawk, 1997). Therefore, some teaching and learning activities based on cooperative learning might help to alleviate the three problems outlined earlier that have existed in English language teaching and learning in Malaysian school generally.
Research Aims and Objectives
English language teaching and learning in Malaysia needs to get special attention from the educators. Three problems associated with the common teaching strategies have been outlined earlier. Thus, the purpose of this study is to investigate teachers’ and students’ perceptions towards cooperative learning in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pengkalan Chepa 2, Kota Bharu, Kelantan.
It aims to evaluate whether cooperative learning activities enable students to foster positive attitudes in learning the target language. This study will help teachers to understand the potential of effectiveness of cooperative learning and acquaint them with techniques for applying it to their teaching. Apart from that, the study will provide evaluative data regarding teachers’ and students’ perceptions towards the cooperative learning and then provide useful information on a comparative study to both researchers in the field and English teachers.
This study seeks to answer the following questions:
What are the teachers’ perceptions towards cooperative learning?
What are the students’ perceptions towards cooperative learning?
Definition of Term Used in the Study
Cooperative learning is defined as a system of concrete teaching and learning techniques, rather than an approach, in which students are active agents in the process of learning through small group structures so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning. There are five characteristics that feature cooperative learning in this study: (1) positive interdependence, (2) face-to-face interaction, (3) individual accountability, (4) interpersonal and small group skills, and (5) group processing.
Traditional teaching, or traditional method of teaching, refers to the method that incorporates lectures on grammatical rules and translation of grammatical terms and sentence structures in the teaching English as a second language.
Perceptions refer to teachers’ and students’ insights and views towards the cooperative learning.
Significance of the Study
This study brings together the fields of cooperative learning and second language teaching to create optimal schooling experiences for the students. It is hoped that this empirical study can propose guidelines for the teachers who wish to implement cooperative learning to enhance their students’ language. By carrying out this study, the researcher hopes that cooperative learning can receive more attention and enjoy more popularity among teachers.
REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
This chapter will review the literature that is related to cooperative learning. The researcher provides views of the theoretical basis, the features of the approach and its application in English language teaching and learning.
In recent years, many academic pieces have been written regarding employing cooperative learning as a technique in the classroom. Slavin (1995) suggested that cooperative learning promotes academic achievement, social and personal development and language learning. The cooperative group processes can provide opportunities for frequent and extended interaction in the target language among students. Contrary to teacher-centered instruction, cooperative learning techniques are student-centered.
The literature offers a variety of definitions for cooperative learning but some features are common. In the language learning contexts, cooperative learning is a within-class grouping of students, where groups learn together interactively while working on common tasks and projects (Kessler, 1992). Cooperative learning is also broadly defined as an approach to organize classroom activities so that students are able to learn from and interact with one another as well as the teacher and the world around them.
Besides that, cooperative learning is a group learning activity that relies on the socially structured exchange of information between students in group whereby each of them is held accountable for their learning and are motivated to increase the learning of others (Olsen, 1992).
Consequently, students are giving freedom to engage themselves in their groups actively instead of placing students into a teachers’ directed classroom. In the cooperative learning environment, student need to be active participants and through this builds a learning community who support each other’s learning.
Cooperative Learning Versus Group Learning
Some teachers might argue that they had used cooperative learning in their class, but the effects were not as positive as the literature demonstrated. The secret lied in the distinguishing features between cooperative learning and group learning. Cooperative learning succeeded while group learning usually perished. In principle, cooperative learning sticks to the following five elements; (1) positive interdependence, (2) individual accountability, (3) quality group processing, (4) explicit teaching of small group skills, and (5) teaching of social skills.
On the other hand, group learning simply put students to sit and work in groups without further assistance or careful structure to make group work become teamwork. In practice, the differences between cooperative learning and traditional group learning were illustrated in the following table.
Table 1: Differences between Cooperative Learning and Group Learning
Positive interdependence with structured goals.
No positive interdependence.
A clear accountability for individual’s share of the group’s work through role assignment and regular rotation of the assigned role.
No accountability for individual share of the group’s work through role assignment and regular rotation of the assigned role.
Heterogeneous ability grouping.
Homogeneous ability grouping.
Sharing of leadership roles.
Few being appointed or put in charge of the group.
Sharing of the appointed learning task(s).
Each learner seldom responsible for others’ learning.
Aiming to maximize each member’s learning.
Focusing on accomplishing the assignments.
Maintaining good working relationship, process-oriented.
Frequent neglect of good working relationship, product-oriented.
Teaching of collaborative skills.
Assuming that students already have the required skills.
Teacher observation of students’ interaction.
Little, if any at all, teacher observation.
Structuring of the procedures and time for the processing.
Rare structuring of procedures and time for the processing.
(Adapted from Johnson & Johnson, 1990)
In addition, another reason for cooperative learning to be successful in the classroom is because it maximizes the students’ learning, which would be better explained through the Learning Pyramid.
The notions of maximizing learning through cooperating with other partners mentioned above were congruent with the Learning Pyramid. The pyramid was the result of the research undertaken in Maine, USA and made available by Professor Tim Brighouse at the University of Keele. It quantified retention in relation to the teaching method.
As Slavin (1995) stated that there was a strong correlation between the ways we learned and the retention of the material learned. As illustrated in Figure 1, the move down the pyramid from “lecture” at the top to “teaching others” at the bottom paralleled with the move from passive observation to active participation and a corresponding increase in retention (Kagan, 1992).
The message was clear in which higher involvement in the learning process yields higher retention of the material learned. The implication was that teachers should coordinate and facilitate, but the students should by all means did the work themselves.
According to this Learning Pyramid, retention rates increased with the amount of student involvement. The rates were the highest with teamwork which included (a) discussion groups: 50%, (b) practice by doing: 75%, and (c) teaching others/immediate use of learning: 90%. As a sharp contrast, the retention rate of the traditional ways of individual and passive learning like lecturing (5%), reading (10%), and demonstration (30%) lasted no more than 30 percent. In contrast, the retention rate of the long existing method of lecturing was as low as only five percent.
Figure 1: Learning Pyramid
Group Discussion 50%
Practice by Doing 75%
Teach Others/Immediate Use 90%
With such low retention rate fewer than five percent, the long existing method of lecturing was indeed in need of more effective teaching methods that involved higher student participation like cooperative learning. From the illustration of the learning pyramid, we could see that the implementation of cooperative learning was not just an alternative to the teacher-centered lecturing method of English language teaching, but a must if teacher was aiming at quality English education in the current wave of education reform.
Theories Underlying Cooperative Learning
The theories related to the rationale of this study came from at least three nations: Vygotsky from Russia, Piaget from France, and Albert Bandura from the USA.
22.214.171.124 The Vygotskian Perspective
The Vygotskian perspective related to cooperative leaning was the Zone of Proximal Development and the ensued affect on Krashen’s Input Hypothesis.
According to Vygotsky (1978), all good learning was in advance of development and involved the acquisition of skills just beyond the student’s grasp. Such learning occurred through interaction within the student’s zone of proximal development. Vygotsky defined the zone of proximal development as the discrepancy between the student’s actual developmental level (independent achievement) and his or her potential level (achievement with help from a more competent partner).
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Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development had many implications for those in the educational milieu. One of them was the idea that human learning presupposed a specific social nature and was part of a process by which children grew into the intellectual life of those around them (Vygotsky, 1978). According to Vygotsky (1978), an essential feature of learning was that it awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that were able to operate only when the child was in the action of interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers.
Therefore, when it came to language learning, the authenticity of the environment and the affinity between its participants were essential elements to make the learner feel part of this environment. Unfortunately, these elements were rarely present in conventional classrooms.
By explaining human language development and cognitive development, Vygotsky’s theory served as a strong foundation for the modern trends in applied linguistics. It lent support to less structured and more natural, communicative, and experiential approaches and pointed to the importance of early real-world human interaction in foreign language learning (Vygotsky, 1978).
126.96.36.199 The Piagetian Perspective
In contrast to Vygotskian perspective that learning which resulted from social interaction leads cognitive development, Piaget’s theory suggested that cognitive development leads to learning. A central component of Piaget’s developmental theory of learning and thinking was that both involve the participation of the learner. Knowledge was not merely transmitted verbally but must be constructed and reconstructed by the learner. Piaget asserted that for a child to know and construct knowledge of the world, the child must act on objects and this action would provide knowledge of those objects (Cohen, 1969).
Piaget’s approach to learning was a readiness approach. Readiness approaches in developmental psychology emphasize that children cannot learn something until maturation gives them certain prerequisites (Bruner, 1990).
The ability to learn any cognitive content was always related to their stage of intellectual development. Children who were at a certain stage cannot be taught the concepts of a higher stage. Piaget promoted active discovery learning environments at schools. Intelligence grew through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. Therefore, experiences should be planned to allow opportunities for assimilation and accommodation.
Piaget thought that teachers should be able to assess the students’ present cognitive level, strengths, and weaknesses. Instruction should be individualized as much as possible and students should have opportunities to communicate with one another, to argue and debate issues. He saw teachers as facilitators of knowledge; guiding and stimulating the students, also allowing students to make and learn from mistakes. Learning was much more meaningful if the students were allowed to experiment on their own rather than listening to the teacher lecture. The teacher should present students with materials and situations and occasions that allowed them to discover new learning. In active learning, the teacher must have confidence in the student’s ability to learn on his own.
The independent theories of Vygotsky and Piaget complimented each other. The former advocated social interaction in learning while the latter promoted active learning of the learners. Both were essential elements in the realization of cooperative learning in real life classroom.
188.8.131.52 Bandura’s Social Learning Theory
The social learning theory of Bandura (1971) emphasized the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. Social learning theory explained human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences. The component processes underlying observational learning included: (1) attention, including modeled events (distinctiveness, affective valence, complexity, prevalence, functional value) and observer characteristics (sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement), (2) retention, including symbolic coding, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal, (3) motor reproduction, including physical capabilities, self-observation of reproduction, accuracy of feedback, and (4) motivation, including external, vicarious and self reinforcement.
Because of the social learning theory encompassed attention, memory, and motivation, it covered both cognitive and behavioral frameworks. The connection between Bandura’s theory and the practice of cooperative learning would be discussed later in the elaboration on the Student-Team Achievement Division.
Being student-centered by nature, cooperative learning owed much credit to constructivism. To date, a focus on student-centered learning might well be the most important contribution of constructivism (Cheek, 1992). Constructivism, or constructivist approach, was a holistic approach to the teaching and learning process developed by incorporating concepts from Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bandura, as discussed in the previous sections.
Like cooperative learning, constructivism was not a new concept. It had its roots in philosophy and had been applied to sociology and anthropology, as well as cognitive psychology and education (Yager, 1991). Immanual Kant (Yager, 1991) further elaborated this idea by asserting that human beings were not passive recipients of information. Learners actively constructed knowledge, connected it to previously assimilated knowledge, and made it theirs by constructing their own interpretation (Brooks & Brooks, 1999).
A major theme in constructivism was that learning as an active process in which learners constructed new ideas or concepts based upon their current and past knowledge (Bruner, 1990). The learner selected and transformed information, constructed hypotheses, and made decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so. Cognitive structure like schema and mental models provided meaning and organization to experiences and allowed the individual to go beyond the information given to them (Bruner, 1990).
As far as instruction was concerned, the instructor should try and encourage students to discover principles by themselves (Bruner, 1990). Curriculum should be organized in a spiral manner so that the student continually built upon what they had already learned (Bruner, 1990).
Bruner (1990) stated that a theory of instruction should address four major aspects: (1) predisposition towards learning, (2) the ways in which a body of knowledge structured so that it could be most readily grasped by the learner, (3) the most effective sequences in which to present material, and (4) the nature and pacing of rewards and punishments. These four aspects of instruction were compatible with the principles of cooperative learning.
Elements of Cooperative Learning
Active participation instead of passive listening in class distinguished cooperative learning from traditional lecturing. Sharan (1980) referred to this as decentralization of authority and classroom focus. However, it did not imply that the teachers switch their roles with their students: the students as active participant and teachers become passive recipients. It was very important for the teacher to plan and structure the strategy in the classroom. The teachers besides mastering the content knowledge of the discipline they teach. They should also know and put into practice the main features that lead to the success of cooperative learning (Olsen, 1992).
In general, there were five major factors that define cooperative learning and to make cooperative learning successful: (1) positive interdependence, (2) individual accountability, (3) quality of group processing, (4) teaching of cooperative skills, and (5) teaching of social skills. Each of these five elements would be discussed in the following sections.
184.108.40.206 Positive Interdependence
Positive interdependence was creating a sense of working together for a common goal and caring about each other’s learning. Within cooperative learning situations, students have two responsibilities: 1) learn the assigned material, and 2) ensure that all members of the group learn the assigned material. The technical term for that dual responsibility was positive interdependence (Sharan, 1980). When positive interdependence was clearly understood, it establishes that: (1) Each group member’s efforts were required and indispensable for group success; (2) Each group member had a unique contribution to make to the joint effort because of his or her resources, role and task responsibilities (Johnson & Johnson, 1990).
There were a number of ways of structuring positive interdependence within a learning group:
Positive goal interdependence: Students perceive that they could achieve their learning goals if and only if all the members of their group also attain their goals. The group was united around a common goal or a concrete reason for being. Positive goal interdependence might be structured by informing group members they were responsible for: (1) all members scoring above a specified criterion when tested individually, (2) the overall group score being above a specified criterion, (3) one product successfully completed by the group (Johnson & Johnson, 1990).
Role interdependence was structured when each member was assigned complementary and interconnected roles (such as reader, recorder, checker of understanding, encourager of participation, and elaborator of knowledge) that specify responsibilities that the group needs in order to complete the joint task.
Resource interdependence was structured when each member had only a portion of the information, materials, or resources necessary for the task to be completed and members’ resources have to be combined in order for the group to achieve its goal.
There were a number of ways of structuring positive interdependence. One way was to have a single group product; another was to assign roles for each student; providing a group reward also fosters positive interdependence. Without positive interdependence, students sometimes fall into the trap of “hitchhiking,” where they let one student did all the work for them, or of being “off task” (Cohen, 1994).
220.127.116.11 Individual Accountability
Individual accountability was the element, which provided for each student believing that it was important for him or her to learn the material. Each team member feels in charge of their own and their teammates’ learning and makes an active contribution to the group. Thus there was no ‘hitchhiking’ or ‘freeloading’ for anyone in a team; everyone is contributing (Kagan, 1992).
The teacher must have a way of determining what each individual had learned, as well as what the group had accomplished. There were a number of ways of accomplishing individual accountability; random selection of student papers if each student was doing work within the group, random oral quizzes of students, or written quizzes or examinations at the culmination of the work (Kagan, 1992).
18.104.22.168 Quality of Group Interaction Process
To provide abundant verbal, face-to-face interaction, where learners explain, argue, elaborate, and link current material with what they have learned previously was important in cooperative learning. Face-to-face verbal interaction referred to the physical set up of the group. Students needed to be clustered together in a tight group, facing each other, in order to have the kind of interchange necessary to accomplish the task. Johnson and Johnson (1990) proposed that groups should begin small, when students were just beginning to work together and develop their skills.
The quality of interaction would depend on a number of factors such as the grade and frequency in which the students cooperated among themselves in their academic tasks, giving feedback between each other in their learning activities, sharing learning experiences and life experiences, and supporting and engaging among themselves in their feelings and educational expectations. Under this perspective, Johnson & Johnson (1990) and Slavin (1995) stated that placing students in groups to work together, even under the name of cooperative learning or task structure, did not ensure that they would engage in the kinds of positive interactions that promote learning.
In addition, a positive classroom environment was also associated with the quality of group interaction. The implementation of an appropriate interaction process constitutes a major component that helped to improve the student outcome in many academic and behavioral problems, and helped to establish a greater academic environment in the classroom (Aschettino, 1993).
22.214.171.124 Teaching Interpersonal and Small Group Skills
The teaching of cooperative skills was essential. Placing socially unskilled students in a group and telling them to cooperate did not guarantee that they have the ability to do so effectively (Johnson & Johnson, 1990). Students must learn the task and maintenance skills for the groups to run smoothly. Students might not intuitively know those social skills; therefore, they must be taught explicitly how to cooperate with others. Johnson and Johnson (1990) suggest that the interpersonal and small group skills could be taught through a number of means. First of all, setting a social skills goal along with the academic goal lets students know it’s important to the teacher. Secondly, it could be established through role playing, modeling, and discussing the components of particular social skills (Cohen, 1994).
The teacher’s role in this teaching method was not that of someone who measures the capacities of the students in terms of a final product but in terms of the process. That was, someone who acted a friend, as a coordinator, as a director who guided his or her actors how to perform, and as an advisor in the academic tasks and in the psychosocial and cognitive development of the students (Cohen, 1994).
126.96.36.199 Teaching of the Social Skills
It was very important for students to have sufficient social skills, involving an explicit teaching of appropriate leadership, communication, trust and conflict resolution skills so that they could cooperate effectively. Harmer (2003) stated that social skills should be explicitly taught to the students so that students could work among themselves, not only in terms of cooperation but also without hostility and without the teacher’s authority. Under this logic, the scholar said that each student was motivated internally by need for freedom, love, and fun (Harmer, 2003).
Johnson and Johnson (1990) also stated that students must be taught these skills and be motivated to use them. If group members lack the interpersonal and small-group skills to cooperate effectively, cooperative learning would not be productive (Johnson & Johnson, 1990).
Cooperative Learning Classroom
A great number of tasks can be adopted in teaching English cooperatively. They include group discussion, scenario, role-play, solving mysteries, reading together, researching a subject, peer-teaching, and preparing study project from different sources of information (Harel, 1992). In a well-organised cooperative classroom, students take on a great deal of responsibility for the classroom
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