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5 Jun 2007

CASE STUDY: Conducting a cooperative learning task

Mr. Figueroa has been teaching high school English for ten years in the San Rafael School. His approach to teaching English has been a traditional grammar- based one and he has not changed many aspects of his teaching since he began his career His classes are teacher-centered: he presents grammar rules, has students do mechanical exercises to learn the structures, and does some communicative practice as time permits. Approximately every other week, his students read a short text dealing with some aspect of English culture and answer comprehension ques­tions. Mr. Figueroa uses little spoken English in the classroom except for conduct­ing the grammar practice.
Midway through the year, however, Mr. Figueroa decided to try out some new ideas he had learned at a recent workshop for language teaching. The workshop presented various techniques for teaching communicative language use and involv­ing students more in creative self-expression. Since the unit students were working with included vocabulary dealing with family Mr. Figueroa decided to have students interview one another in pairs in order to find out certain information about each other’s families. He presented the task in Spanish “Choose a partner and interview one another in English to find out: how many people are in the immedi­ate family; what their relationships are; what their occupations are; and what they look like.” He gave them fifteen minutes to complete the interviews. However, as Mr. Figueroa began to circulate around the room, he found that students were con­fused: they had no idea how to form the questions in English; they were madly going through verb charts and vocabulary lists in their textbooks; and they seemed to dislike the idea of working together in pairs.

Explore the following alternatives that Mr. Figueroa could have used:
  1. He could have asked students to write out the questions for homework and use them in class the next day to conduct the interviews.
  2. He could have introduced the activity by giving examples of some ques­tions students might form for use in the interviews.
  3. He could have integrated grammar practice with functional use by provid­ing more opportunities for students to use each grammar point trough communicative use and interaction.
  4. He could have provided more input in English trough such strategies as presenting an authentic video of native speakers of English describing their families.

After having discussed the alternatives above, formulate your own list of probable causes for the difficulties Mr. Figueroa’s students are experiencing. Base your rationale on the theories dealing with the role of input/output and social Interaction.

To prepare the case:

1. Consult the sources dealing with pair/group work and students interactions.
2. Observe a language lesson in which students are interacting with one another.

Now imagine that you are Mr. Figueroa:

  1. What would you do as you sense that students are having difficulties with the interviews?
  2. What elements of your teaching would you begin to change as you learn more about current research in second language acquisition and implications?
  3. Interview an experienced language teacher and discuss the kinds of changes that he or she has made over the years to update his/her approach to teaching. Describe these changes.

Taken from: SHRUM J. L. & E. W. GLISAN. 1994. Teachers Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction. Boston: Heinle and Heinle Publishers.
Adapted by: Victor Hugo ROJAS B. Associate professor of Language Education at UNE & UNMSM. 2004