23 Mar 2015 13 Dec 2017
Abstract: The Task-based Teaching and Learning mode has been enjoyed a lot in nowadays English education process. Not only because it has specified the aims of both teaching and students' learning, but also during the process of reaching the goals, it will help stimulate teachers' inspiring abilities and students' creativities, thus to develop the interest in learning and the state of studying to their best. However, there are various problems occurring in class teaching, of which standout and influential are the low class participation rate and students' low efficiency in acquiring the required knowledge. To find out solutions to these problems, the author has studied different materials as well reflected from the teaching experience (case study method), suggesting that applying cooperative study, or teamwork spirit into class teaching will be the most effective.
Key words: cooperative study, Task-based English Teaching, participation
It is not easy to reach better education goals when a class has encountered problems like low participation rate, meaning that not all the students are interested in asking or answering questions and participating in activities, simply because the activities are not intriguing at all. And the other problem is students' low efficiency in acquiring the required knowledge. There are many factors influencing the quality of a class teaching. Owning better constructions of teaching facilities, like advanced multimedia, is far from enough to make a class get its expected goals. As for this, many teachers and experts have been trying to work out ways to promote students' desire to know and willingness to do, for example, having more out-of-classroom activities and setting up more innovative topics to talk and research. But how to make the best of these is still left to explore. By studying previous researches and doing teaching practice in Deyang Foreign Language School, the author believes cooperative study, which is also called team-work should be more used in teaching and educating. In the following part of the thesis, the causes for these problems mentioned above will be explained. Following that, the concept of Cooperative Study and its positive relationship with Task-based Class Teaching will be introduced as well as how we can actually apply it into real teaching. The research the author has done in Deyang Foreign Language School will be discussed in the last part.
Task-based teaching is to master the language by using language in the activities rather than simply training for language skills and knowledge of the language learning outcomes. In teaching activities, teachers should focus on specific communications and language projects, design of specific and practical tasks. Students are to complete the learning tasks through expression, communication, negotiation, interpretation and other language in the form of inquiry. Task-based teaching method is to absorb the advantages of the past formed of a variety of teaching methods, while it does not exclude other teaching methods.
It was first put forward in the 1980s, stressing on "learning by doing" in the language teaching method and communicative approach is the development of language education in the world. This has provided teaching theoretical basis for the gradual introduction of English teaching in China, foreign language teaching reform in China as a trend.
The features of Task-based Teaching Method include focusing on finishing the tasks instead of manipulating some sort of meaningless language form, and aiming at raising students' resounding and interests by providing interactions which are closely related to real life and experience.
Cooperative study (or cooperative learning) is an approach to organizing classroom activities into academic and social learning experiences. Students work in groups to complete tasks collectively. Everyone succeeds when the group succeeds.
There are 5 basic elements of cooperative study. They are Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Face to Face Interactions, Social Skills, and Benefits. First, Positive Interdependence requires that group members feel connected to each other in the process of accomplishing the goal. Second, Individual Accountability means that every group member is responsible for being able to demonstrate understanding and comprehension of the learned academic expectations and social goals. Third, Face to Face Interactions suggest that the group must participate by communicating and discussing the goal. Fourth, Social Skills include listening, body language, sharing, accepting ideas and differences, etc. These are the skills needed prior to or being developed during the group work. And fifth, Benefits include higher self esteem, achievement and retention of academic information
From a chart, we can see the co-relation between cooperative study and task-based teaching: (chart 2.1)
When all the teaching goals are assigned as group work, those proper activities are needed to be fulfilled by all the students with cooperative spirit applied into the process and with the guidance of the teachers. The features of cooperative study fit the measures taken to finish task-based teaching.
Before actually getting to know how Cooperative Study can be fully applied into teaching, it is necessary to get to know the causes for those problems (low participation rate and low efficiency in learning) mentioned above. Why not all the students are willing to participate, and what are the obstacles for leveling up students' efficiency in acquiring knowledge?
Being not interested in the class is the reason why they don't want positively thinking and talking, which directly influence their quality of acquiring knowledge. Maybe it is because of the materials are boring, the way the teacher teaches is boring, or it is their own problems. Students in middle school are in the teen ages, during which many physical and psychological problems will happen to them. Based on the teaching practice done in Deyang Foreign Language, the author has found out that there are mainly three aspects of influential factors listed out as follows: on the aspect of students, on the aspect of teachers, and on the aspect of school.
Chai Lujing (2006), who has wrote about how to applying cooperative spirit into technical schools, says that, on the one hand, middle school students are during their teenage period time, in which they are struggling for psychological independence. The embodiment of which is they tend to cut away the attaching emotions from parents and teachers. And thus they need to build other relationships as substitutions either with the outside world, such as social relationship, or with their teen mates, like childhood pals or classmates. Since a lot of middle school students are living on campus, it is an opportunity for them to establish new relationships with more people out of known relationships and realize their life value through their own efforts and endeavors. On the other hand, all those activities to be carried out in classes need the spirit of willingness to share and cope with others, but this is what the students nowadays are lacking. What also should be responsible for is the "one child policy". Being the only child and the center at home, they have been spoiled by their families. And their self-consciousness has always made them proud of themselves, contributing to the growing blind acknowledgement of themselves. This is why they are lacking the consciousness and motivations to cope with others. She has also stated that the "only child" has a strong desire to attack, making them offensive and critic, more seriously, making them take no joy in making friends with people they don't like but to revenge them thus to protect themselves. All these indicate that these kids lack cooperative spirit, making them bear no understanding, compassion and respect towards others. So it is not hard to conclude that this will be obstacles for them to adjust to the society and have a self-acceptance of one self. Therefore, even there are activities and tasks set in a Task-based Class, without students' willingness and openness to offer to do, nothing can be achieved. Accordingly, the class participation rate will not be as high as expected.
Not all the teachers are making an outline of a class elaborately, for lacking of time or thought of necessity. As we all know "cramming teaching and learning" has incredibly existed in history and influenced our education for decades. The emphasis of result and grades has made teachers focus more on the results, whatever the process is. Doing more exercise and bending their heads among the books are always what a diligent student should be. Whenever there is a new class, students are burdened with a mass of new knowledge, which should be gained by repeatedly reinforcement and examined through tests. Though the task-based teaching and learning method is been developing, the idea that simply repeat message and "cramming knowledge" are hard to get rid of. Teachers seldom do investigations on each student's personality. Therefore students' likes and dislikes are usually carelessly ignored, and their being asked about questions they are not interested in and not able to break the tension of a serious class, has definitely influence students' zeal in participation. Because of lack of properly organized activities, which means it is the teacher who is talking and cramming, a class is hard to reach the goals, harmoniously and enjoyably. And this will definitely influence student's efficiency in gaining knowledge.
In the concept of traditional education, it is more focused on the individual's development and competency instead of a group's. In middle school, this has been reflected by pursuing of high grades. The quality of a school is usually judged by its rate of students' acceptance to a higher education. Since all the people are struggling to their own personal success, the sharing of knowledge and the joy of being working together have been ignored. Being fretful and jealous of other people's achievements, many students have become more self-acclaimed and self-closing, never wanting to shares knowledge with others, never wanting to exchange ideas with others. But things have changed. The new requirements of curriculum claim quality education, aiming at developing a student's all-aspects abilities. And more specifically, many useful types of teaching methods are demanded, like Task-based Class Teaching. As for a school itself, the failures of working on harmonious studying teams and social practices have influenced the most. Because it is often the competitiveness are highlighted more than the cooperative study. Such as in a sports meeting, classes are accordingly a group for a series of competitions. Another factor is the need to make cooperative spirit as an important social value to be popularized and educated has not been fulfilled
To find solutions to these problems (low participation rate and low efficiency in learning), many teachers have been trying to put as many activities as they can in a class teaching, and use multimedia facilities. But consider this: if a class is full of activities which are just to warm up the atmosphere and the teacher is the leading role, can the class really inspire the students to participate? If the teachers have put all the information on a computer, voices are taped and descriptions are pictured, can they help the students develop their innovative spirit to think and to discover? And these flaws are exactly many scholars are arguing about. As æŸ¯ç¾¤å¸†[Ke Qunfan] (2003) has written in "getting out of the new cramming teaching method" that to make a class vivid and live, many teachers have done too much, one-sidedly thinking that more activities will be better. However, it then becomes "new cramming method", which has simply occupies much time of a class.
"New standards for English Curriculum" has claimed that "the development of a student" is the destination of teaching. It is essential to make students the active roles of a class. Cooperative study, asking for applying cooperative spirit, also called the team-work spirit, into study, has been approved and suggested by many scholars. Chen Jianhua (2004) has stated in thesis "A Little Talk on English Cooperative Study" that cooperative study is one of the teaching practices based on group work. Having the same ultimate goal and being valued by achievement of a whole group, cooperative study can stimulate teaching and learning by fully cooperation of each element. If taken into consideration, the requirements of a task-based teaching method will be fulfilled. Cooperating can bring students' activeness into play, and form the competitive as well as cooperative atmosphere between groups in class. During the process, face to face interactions are established while each student will have to carry a share of responsibility. And the expectations of making conversations can be reached which is exactly what an English class is aiming at, which is to make a student talk, think positively, and make language a live tool to communicate.
When people were interviewed why they had chosen to study abroad, they explained that it was because they could experience the "free thinking" or "free life". Though this is kind of sarcastic about China's education which has been traditionally focusing on getting a good grade, letting alone the deep cultural difference, American's free method of teaching is worthy learning, for which is full of free thinking, more importantly, asking for as much cooperation as possible in a class. Not only in finishing assignment but also interactions between teachers and students, between knowledge and students' minds. What "free method of American education" has impressed the author most were the personal experiences of studying in Plattsburgh College in State University of New York. Though it's in college class, it's valid to prove the effectiveness of cooperative study.
One of the cases was the FLL (Foreign Language and Literature) class. The students were required to do assignments after they finished the literary works (short story and novels). There were 2 parts included in the assignment: answering questions and blank-fillings. Every class, the teacher would form groups of 2-3 students. One of them would do the presentation, and all the group members would have to work on the assignments together. The student who did the presentation was always the one liked to talk, and could vividly explain the answer to the questions, while the answer should be the combined ideas of all the group members.
The other example was also cooperative study applied in one of the General Psychology class carried out in Plattsburgh College. The professor asked the students to do preparations for new class in groups of 4-6 people. All the students in a group needed to prepare at least one session of the material, and one of them would act as the leading role to connect the whole presentation. After those classes, several personal interviews have been held of those who conducted the activities. They held positive views about that. One of the students from FLL class said that it was fun for they could easily get the detailed information of a novel when they were mentioned by their classmates. The knowledge became more impressive and they could use to display their point of view freely and creatively. "I love that class." she said. This was exactly what teacher and the class wanted. The other student from GP class said he usually sat silently in some other classes, just taking notes. But in GP class, he had to prepare his own speech well and went up to the stage. "Though I don't often talk, I will simply go there and tell what I have done, and then I remember all the materials concerning with our lessons." He also said this.
It can be seen from these two examples that when students' have experienced, they will find interests in doing things. They will study better and more efficiently. Dialectical Materialism has the theory that interaction is one of the ways human beings exist. School's being a social group, enables interactions and social communications between teacher and students. This also provides explanations for the improvement of students' acquiring knowledge in the cooperative study atmosphere, for experiences provided by classmates are easy to be understood, and the activities students have played will depict the meaning of social roles. Nevertheless, students will develop a sense of social value, task awareness, cooperation consciousness, and their social responsibilities as well as team-work spirit. Based on the acknowledgement that students should be the main role, cooperative study has created the chance to interact between students, and distinguished the roles of "guiding" and "playing" between teachers and students. Therefore, students can have the opportunities and time to exchange their ideas, pursuing improvement together. More importantly, during the process, the subjectivity of students is fully reflected, their desire for knowledge, enthusiasm will be aroused and happy and effective learning will be achieved.
Teaching practice in Deyang Foreign Language School:
Based on the cooperative learning research and practice, the author has carried out a teaching practice in 2 classes of high department in Deyang Foreign Language School, aiming to explore the effectiveness of cooperative study's increasing student classroom participation and their efficiency of student learning in the process of teaching.
Method: case study
Basic information of subjects:
Class 7 is a science class, with 21 boys and 23 girls, middle rank in comprehensive abilities.
Class 5 is an art class, with 10 boys and 29 girls, middle rank in comprehensive capabilities.
The requirements of English curriculum for both classes are the same. Their English tests grades are of little difference.
Content: Warming Up and Speaking in Unit 5
Textbook: Senior English for China Student's Book 2A
For class 7: There were all together three main teams grouped according to students' personalities.
Group 1, active students (talkative, and very quite)
Group2, less talkative, over reserved students
Group3, reserved student (will take part in the class when needed)
For class 5: three groups as well, assigned according to their seats.
Step2: assign the tasks
Part one: Questions based on the textbook, page 33.
a. Give pictures that they are interested in
b. Give information about each part of UK on different aspects.
Part two: students get to know each other and distribute the assignments by themselves
Step3: the process of the class
manage the information they have collected
Step4: evaluation (5 score for each)
1. Students were valued as a whole group.
2. Presentations should be displayed vividly, including every ones' message, reflecting their grouping style, which consisted of balanced distribution of work, in-between trust.
3. Accuracy of knowledge is also valued.
Step5: testifying the efficiency of learning. All the students are asked to finish the pre-reading tasks on the textbook.
For class 7 (chart 4.1)
Accuracy of knowledge
For class 5 (chart 4.2)
Accuracy of knowledge
Group presentations' description of Class 7: Group one, which is made of talkative persons and very quiet students, talkative students naturally had very flexible minds and they took the job of presentations, while others had shared information collected by them and supported their teammates. Group two, students were less talkative and over reserved. They tended to hold back when promoted to stand on the stage and give a presentation representing their group, which made a loss of their scores of "presentation". Group 3 had the highest score.
During the process of teaching, the author has found that in Class 7, students in each group made preparations elaborately. They distributed the assignments according to everyone's abilities and advantages, for some of them were good at computers, which was important for information collecting, and some had better oral English, which could make the presentation clear to be understand. The reason laid much in their personality, for these properly reserved students usually stand out when they were needed, and always had a clear clue of what to do and what to say. In this group, they had given the information very accurate and presented steadily. The author had consumed that to achieve the ultimate goal that the group to get the best score, the students needed cooperate with each other well. During the process, obedience and compromise were needed but more importantly, the support towards others. What had come out as a result was after each presentation, other group members had given a first yet loud applause to their teammate, and they had constantly complete the partners' speeches on the stages by providing more supplement.
Group presentations' description of Class 5: Group 1 happened to consist of several students who were better at English. Group 3 was of students with ordinary abilities, and the second group owned several backward students, whose study results were below average. And group 2 had relatively higher score in the "overall column" because when it was their turn to do the presentation, they seemed active. Though not much information required was provided, these students were fully participating. And the students in the other average group were just as withdrawal as what some students had seemed in class. The research result was slightest different. Starting from free grouping, which they did according to their seating arrangement, the students tended to cooperate with friends or closed seat classmates. However, this might be influenced by the students' gender portion, meaning more boys preferred talking while girls were more reserved.
Necessity of proper grouping: these illustrations prove that in order to facilitate cooperative learning, proper classroom grouping and organization will play a crucial role. Their groups turned out to be three groups as well. However, there are more problems necessary to be discussed. First, in class 5, due to the random assignment, students had lost a sense of mutual benefits, which is one of the basic elements, less effective assignment distributions were made, which had lead to students to merely wait for answers from others or they ended up mixing information for lack of group negotiation and full preparation. Second, they tended to escape from responsibilities, for depending on students who were relatively better at talking, while the others were just taking notes or listening. But there were some active students demanded to tell their findings as an individual. These two issues have affected the effectiveness of cooperative study.
Through these two cases, the importance of grouping has been signified.
The efficiency of learning: in class 7, students appeared easier to find the detailed information and have a better understanding of the context, for the descriptions given were more accurate and were based on what they had known or mentioned by their classmates. In class 5, students were less active to answer questions and appeared less interested in learning and their replies were slightest vague and less in quantity. From this, we can predict that after a self-experience of analyzing and studying materials and sharing with others, students can have a relatively better grasp of the knowledge, which is important for teaching and essential to improve their efficiency in acquiring knowledge.
The author has consumed the research will throw more light on cooperative study's effectiveness on improving students participation and on their efficiency in acquiring knowledge, but because of lacking data, students' personality analysis appeared rough, which might influence the grouping. However, cooperative learning's function of mobilizing students' enthusiasm has been fully reflected. But, whether the cooperative learning can enable students to improve learning efficiency was not fully proved. Only by examining the students' understanding of related reading contexts was not sufficient. According to the principle of memories, even though the students gained a lot of knowledge points in the classroom, they would soon be forgotten if there is no effective ways to be practiced, such as quizzes, in-depth discussions.
As to improve the low class participation rate and students' efficiency in acquiring knowledge, the author has advocated applying cooperative study into task-based teaching. After studying the previous studies and doing teaching practice, more suggestions should be made as well. These suggestions are more likely made for teachers.
a. More suitable and thoughtful activities should be arranged.
Guarantee the equality of chances for each student to participate through the ways varied, as what the author has done in teaching.
Vary the study forms. Take more forms like group discussions, group debate, group searching, group role play, and if allowed, online seminar, since English is a live language class. The more intriguing the topic is, the more passionate the students will be and never make it a burden for students.
Scholars have proposed three methods of grouping: homogeneous grouping, heterogeneous grouping, and the free combination. In homogeneous group, students often own same features, like in grades, study ability, and study activeness. By combing them, they can find their interests in common and improve together. While in heterogeneous groups, things are opposite. It is better for students to help each other as well as learn from each other. Free grouping can stimulate students' passion and initiative to study by grouping them according to their own choices and has a strong cohesion. The grouping should be depended on teaching materials, teaching conditions, and students' actual situations.
Teachers should design the interactive activities based on real life instead of superficial content which requires no deep thinking, contains no profound meaning and bears no communicative necessity. Try to help the students to truly participate in the activities from the "perception - general - applications," and develop their abilities in identify problems and solving problems.
After a group work, it is helpful that the teacher provide the feedback and evaluation to the study, which will confirm group members' sense of equal importance to the group, give the encouragement and support.
a. To complete a variety of mission activities, help to stimulate students' interest in learning.
b. In the process of completing the task, teachers should combine the language knowledge and language skills together, helping to train the pupils of language proficiency.
c. To help students to actively participate in language communication activities, teachers should inspire their imagination and creative thinking. Students should play the main role.
d. In activities to learn knowledge, developing interpersonal communication, thinking, decision-making and adaptability, is conducive to overall development of students.
e. In the task-based teaching activities, being inspired by their teachers, each student has to think independently and active participation opportunities, keep the motivation to learn, and develop good study habits.
Teachers should respect the views of students to build a broad exchange of teaching background, create an innovative atmosphere, and promote the spirit of "ask for develop as a whole instead of succeeding individually".
It is also essential for teachers to conduct emotional communication, to develop students' spirit of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as their right sense of competition and social responsibility.
The internal value of cooperative study is necessary to be signified. As Ma Lan (2004) has stated, cooperative study is not only a teaching method, but also an positive attitude of life, showing people's appreciation and willingness of cope with others. Cooperative study is not only a method but also the content of a study, from which students learn the principles and social skills to develop. More importantly, cooperative study is not only about the interactions between teachers and students, but also the share of resources among them. And under the requirements of current curriculum, the knowledge base of a student includes knowledge from textbooks as well as from that of a teacher's teaching experience and the interactions among them.
Cooperative learning itself is a kind of profound spiritual essence, rich content and extensive operational theory of teaching technology strategy. U.S. cooperative learning experts Jacobs (2001) once said, "the shortest distance to reach a goal is not necessarily a straight line". As for English teaching, it is not to ask student to recite the English dictionary and teach them the merely forms of language, but the practical usage of English. Combining with task-based teaching method, cooperative study is effective to help students to experience the joy of learning, cultivate a sense of responsibility by sharing different assignments and learn to dedicate to a goal by making use of mutual complement.
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