Self-Assessment in Second Language Teaching: Journals
María José Martínez Azorín
Universidad de Alicante
This paper stresses the importance of self-evaluation in the second language class today, and in particular, the advantages of having students keep a regular journal. Taking the methodological framework offered by the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching as a starting point, this essay discusses the dynamic interdependance of purpose, methodology and evaluation within the curriculum. In this sense, formative or ongoing evaluation becomes one of the most practical assessment techniques for controlling our students’ progress as well as the effectiveness of our teaching program. Self-evaluation has a number of additional advantages related both to the affective implication of students in introspecting about their learning processes and to students’ participation in class management. The essay goes on to discuss the characteristics of a particular self-assessment technique: journals.
If we had to define the present situation as far as second language teaching and learning is concerned, we could start by saying that today there is a clear awareness of the need to give equal attention both to language form, as has traditionally been the case, and to language use. In this sense, language learning is conceived as the process of mastering a set of social conventions governing language forms and behaviour within a particular sociocultural group in order to be able to negotiate meaning by means of them. In other words, in our teaching we try to cater to the development of all aspects of communicative competence and its four major components—grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence and strategic competence (Omaggio 7)—thus enabling our students to master the unity of ideational, interpersonal and textual knowledge which will allow them to communicate as members of a given social community.
In this respect, the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching provides us
with a teaching curriculum characterized by the dynamic interdependence of its three components—purpose, methodology and evaluation—those being designed to answer three interrelated questions: what is to be learned? how is the learning to be undertaken 92 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses and achieved? to what extent is the former appropriate and the latter effective? (Breen and Candlin 89-90). This paper will focus on the the third question and third component—evaluation—always keeping in mind that the term «third» is simply a result of our analytical and expositive needs. I will try to justify the actual relation of interdependence between evaluation and the other two components within this methodological framework, and I will devote the last part of this paper to journals, an activity that in my opinión responds to the current trends in assessing the effectiveness of our classroom teaching activities.
Today tests are concerned with evaluating real communication in the second language. Evaluation is not external to the purposes of the curriculum or to the actual process of learning and teaching. Since our judgements on the acceptability of communicative performance are the result of the conventions that we share, negotiate and change, I agree with Breen and Candlin when they state that «evaluation within the curriculum can exploit this ‘judging’ element of everyday communicative behaviour in the assessment of learners’ communication and metacommunication. The highly evaluative aspect of communication can be adopted as the evaluation procedure of the curriculum» (105 emphasis is mine). On the other hand, if that «judging» element of everyday communication is the basis of the learners’ progress, evaluation—of oneself, of others and of oneself by others—is obviously an intersubjective question, which means the communicative curriculum relies on shared and negotiated evaluation criteria. This statement raises two consequences which I regard as rather important to my purposes: first, a communicative use of evaluation will stress formative or ongoing evaluation, rather than summative or end-of course evaluation (the emphasis on formative evaluation does not mean a total abandonment of summative evaluation, whose function is to assess the learner’s progress in the development of some underlying competence, as we will see below). A negotiated evaluation within the classroom produces formative feedback for the teacher, who may make decisions regarding appropriate modifications in the instructional process, and for students, who can identify áreas of strength and weakness and perhaps suggest alternative learning activities (Bachman 83). This fact leads us to the second consequence: formative evaluation within the curriculum also involves an evaluation of the curriculum itself, for it can shape and guide decisions within the curriculum design
process: Evaluation within and of the curriculum can be a powerful and guiding forcé. Judgements are a crucial part of knowledge, learning and any educational process. By applying judgements to the curriculum itself, evaluation by the users of that curriculum can be brought into the classroom in an immediate and practical sense. Once within the classroom, evaluation can be made to serve as a basis for new directions in the process of teaching and learning. (Breen and Candlin 105) It follows from these considerations that a communicative curriculum will favour the use of an integrative type of test over a discrete-point one. The former is any test Self-Assessment in Second Language Teaching 93 that requires a fairly rapid processing of sequences of elements in the language that characterizes normal communication (Oller 486). It will involve more than one of the traditionally recognized four skills—listening, speaking, reading and writing—and the simultaneous use of all the components of the communicative competence we mentioned above. Within this category we could include dictation, cloze procedure, essay writing, oral interviews of various types, role-plays, telling a story, etc.
Nevertheless, Omaggio (309-11) shows her growing concern about a fact that is still frequent: the existence of a widening gulf between our course goals—often stated in communicative terms—and their measurement. Many tests still tend to be discretepoint in nature, that is, that type of test in which, according to behaviouristic languagelearning theories, only one point of grammar, or only one skill is assessed at a time. As defined by Oller, the discrete-point test is «somewhat like a series of well-aimed rifle shots pointing at particular targets» (481). ítems are presented in single-sentence frames, ut of context. Students do not even nave to process the meaning of the individual sentences on the test to do the tasks that are required of them. As Omaggio holds, many students have learned to «short-circuit» grammatical exercises of this type, which gives the impression that «success on language tests involves learning a iew grammatical ‘tricks’ rather than processing language for some authentic purpose» (311). In this sense we can understand the recent creation of American organizations (i.e. the Princeton Review) aimed at preparing students to succeed on the standard exams (TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, and SAT) required by American universities in order to enroll in their programs. Such preparation is based on the fact that these tests are «llenos de trucos, y hay que aprender a combatirlos,» as they are elaborated with «preguntas no aptas para nerviosos, que parecen creadas para calibrar el nivel de agudeza más que para comprobar los conocimientos de inglés» (El País 9, 381, 8). If learning some «tricks» will allow a student to pass a test, we can certainly doubt its effectiveness as a measure of his/her linguistic competence, not to speak of his/her communicative competence.
If we take the learner’s point of view, foreign language skills can be assessed along two different lines: (a) by means of examinations or tests, in other words, assessment as an external activity (usually carried out by a teacher or trained examiner), and (b) by means of self-report or self-assessment, that is, assessment seen as an internal or selfdirected activity. We have traditionally been more familiar with the first type of assessment. Yet during the last decade there has been an increasing interest in methods for self-assessment of foreign language proficiency, and several techniques and materials have been developed in this respect, such as progress cards and other record keeping devices, questionnaires, rating scales and check-lists, and, in much • more sophisticated environments, videos, audio cassettes and computer-assisted assessment (Oscarson 5-10). It is my purpose to stress here the advantages of involving learners in evaluating their courses by means of a technique fairly wide-spread in the American university context, for instance, but rarely used in our educational environment.
1 mean the use of journals in which students are required to reflect about their learning processes, so that a sort of dialogue can be established with the teacher. Furthermore, students are also encouraged to write about any free topic they are interested in at any particular moment, in an attempt to increase their ability to express communicative thoughts, to promote individual expression. Through this activity, then, we set out to achieve two goals: to assess the progress of our teaching programs, on the one hand, and to control 94 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses the development of our students’ underlying communicative competence in the second language, on the other.
2 This technique, though, is not without several disadvantages. As A. Waters suggests (5-7), the fact that the teacher asks students to judge the course may give the impression of certain lacle of competence on the teacher’s part. The chance to give their opinions about the way a course can be improved could genérate some expectations in the students which may not always be fulfilled, thus creating a feeling of disappointment. Some students, particularly in those contexts characterized by a teachercentered situation, may feel uneasy about «criticizing» the teacher, whereas in other contexts the reverse case, that is, irresponsible criticism out of all proportion, is also possible. Finally, we will always have doubts about the most correct way to interpret such criticism. Nevertheless, journals also provide us with several positive sides which can compénsate for the previous shortcomings. I will try to expose them by defining the different features that characterize journals as an evaluative tool. In order to do so, I will adapt the model proposed by Bachman containing five distinctive features for classifying different types of language tests (97), and I will apply it to journals. These features are: the intended purpose, the contení upon which a test is based, the specific technique or method it employs, the frame of reference within which its results are to be interpreted, and the way in which it is scored.
(1) The intended purpose. Any given language test is usually developed with a particular primary use in mind, either for an educational program or for research. In research, language tests can be used to provide information about language teaching and acquisition, or to verify or refute hypotheses about the nature of language proficieney. In educational settings, language tests provide information for making a wide variety of decisions regarding selection, placement, progress, achievement, etc. We could say that journals have a function in both cases. As was pointed out earlier, in these journals, students are expected to make judgements about the way they face a particular educational program, as well as to write about any free topic they are interested in. The teacher, in his turn, can both judge on the student’s individual progress and consequently make modifications, if necessary, in the teaching and learning process. On the other hand, if during the 1970’s a great deal of work in Communicative Language Teaching focused on syllabus design, to the detriment of other phases of language programs, nowadays researchers are beginning to examine the links between evaluation and innovation in language-related development programs, and, in this respect, journals can be a valuable source of information. Numa Markee, for instance, describes the use of MATESL students’ journals as evaluative tools for the management of language education-related innovation.
(2) Contení. The content of language tests can be based on either a theory of language proficieney or a specific content área, generally as provided in a course syllabus. According to Breen and Candlin, in communicative evaluation some criteria for eventual success—in some particular task—can be initially negotiated, and the degrees of success or failure can themselves be further negotiated on the basis of the original criteria. Negotiation on those criteria is, therefore, a matter for communication (105). Self-Assessment in Second Language Teaching 95 In accordance with the use of journals I have proposed so far, the only negotiated criteria upon which any further negotiation could be based would be precisely the contents and the effects of what students are expected to write about rather than a particular level of achievement based on an instructional unit. (Let us not forget that the successful use of journals depends on clearly stating the purpose of keeping a journal and making sure that students understand the benefits of initiating an honest dialogue with the instructor). This means journals can be regarded as instruments for formative evaluation, in the sense that they inform us about possible problems and appropriate modifications in our teaching process or in the curriculum as a whole. But from the point of view of the abilities we are measuring, they are also a type of summative evaluation, since they can certainly assess the learners’ progress in the development of some underlying competence. Nevertheless, if we decide that it is desirable, a rating scale for self-assessment can be negotiated between the teacher and the students, so that the learners can give concrete form to their judgements (this point will be further developed when dealing with scoring procedures). Another positive consequence derived from having our students write about their own learning process is that, as Waters points out (7), if serious difficulties are identified and students only «evalúate» behind the instructor’s back, «an increasingly negative groundswell of frustration and resentment will arise. A system that allows for consultation with all the parties concerned, however, can go at least some of the way toward resolving these conflicts.» There are some affective considerations involved in this statement which form the basis for our interest in requesting our students to write about any topic they choose. Krashen and Terrell (37-39) see the learner’s emotional state or attitude as an adjustable filter that freely passes, impedes or blocks the input necessary for language acquisition. Certain affective variables are related to second language achievement. Learners with a low affective filter receive more input, interact with confidence, and are more receptive to the input they receive, whereas anxious learners have a high affective filter—fear, embarrassment—which prevenís acquisition from taking place. In order to lower the affective filter of second language learners, Krashen and Terrell cali for the creation of a social community in the classroom, for which the target language is the médium of social exchange: the instructor not only directs but participates in the social interaction, and anyone who wants to particípate in the social exchange must do so via the target language. In my opinión, journals are a more than adequate way of creating this special atmosphere that enhances language learning. Habitual free entries, accompanied by feedback from the teacher, are a means of communication and a source of information about the personalities and interests of our students. Showing some sound curiosity about them can give our students the comforting—and unfortunately infrequent—impression that they are more than mere numbers to the teacher, who can actually treat them with the tact and psychological insight that sometimes is missing when there is not a more personal relationship involved. On the other hand, asking our students to introspect about their learning process in their journals can also produce an effect in this respect: if a student raises a problem and’ it is resolved satisfactorily for both parties, that also lowers the affective filter, which brings us back to the idea that the way a student reacts to class management and to his learning process can also be a part of his interests. 96 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses I would not like to cióse this point without making reference to another positive aspect derived from involving the learners in course evaluation, and that is that some class management activities certainly imply some kind of «risk.» If the students’ suggestions and ideas are also used in class, the responsibility for the success or failure of the activities carried out in class is not for the teacher to bear alone any more: classroom management becomes a «joint endeavour,» one shared by the teacher and the learners, which means students are involved not only from a self-evaluative point of view, but also as far as class management is concerned. This makes Jefferson’s famous statement—«tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn»—doubiy true.
(3) Testing method. Asking students to express their reactions to the teaching method or to write freely can give the impression that journals are a kind of informal ongoing learner evaluation. Whereas a journal is certainly less «formal» than any type of external assessment, it is also possible to deal with it in a systematic, structured way. As Waters holds, «this is necessary since otherwise there is the likehood that the full range of important, differing issues will not always surface or be given sufficient attention, ñor will any subsequent decision-making be conducted in an appropriate manner. In addition, such an approach helps impart a sense of security to everyone concerned, which is very important if participation in this sort of activity is unfamiliar» (10). On the basis of my experience, it seems to me it is wise to require students to turn in a journal approximately every two weeks, from the very beginning of their second language instruction period. The number and extensión of the entries will vary, depending on the level of knowledge (something which also affects the scoring procedure, see below). The teacher will provide feedback on those journals in the form of individual comments in the journal margins (or, if feasible, by means of a tape where the instructor can record full individual responses to all the issues raised by students in their journals, a technique in accordance with the multidimensionality—of media in this case—that characterizes Communicative Language Teaching), and/or a «collective» journal distributed to the class containing a summary of those problems which deserve class discussion, and the solutions proposed. Further follow up activities, such as meetings in office hours, are also encouraged. If we take into account that one of the goals of Communicative Language Teaching is authenticity—of materials, of tasks—there is no doubt about the fact that the activity I am describing does encourage realistic communication practice, as it is the exchange of views about the reasons and consequences of a number of teaching and leaming techniques. Furthermore, in writing course evaluation reactions in English, «learners have an opportunity to use language for a realistic purpose in a normal way, involving a wide range of vocabulary, structures, functions, and so on typical of much educational and professional discourse» (Waters 8).
(4) Frame of reference. The results of language tests can be interpreted in two differentways, depending on the frame of reference adopted. When tests scores are interpreted in relation to the performance of a particular group of individuáis, we speak of normreferenced interpretation. If the results are interpreted with respect to a specific level or domain of ability, we speak of a criterion or domain-referenced interpretation. Self-Assessment in Second Language Teaching 97 The criteria mentioned above clearly apply to external means of assessment, but neither of these two cases is applicable to journals. On the one hand, we are testing a curriculum, the way a particular teaching program is being developed in relation to the students. On the other hand, we are also testing the development of our students’ communicative competence. This does not mean we are referring to a particular domain of ability as established in an instructional unit. If this were the case, a great deal of delibérate learning associated with the instructional syllabus—and therefore conscious mastery of native speaker forms—would be expected. Yet in journals we test what has been internalized—or acquired in Krashen’s terms—and therefore, we must expect interlanguage (Clark 14). If we have to speak of a frame of reference, it should be the student’s previous performance. Since journals are a periodic activity, we can control student progress in communicative competence as they move through the instructional program. In order to do so, we must refer to the students’ previous journals.
(5) Scoring procedure. I have already referred to some affective considerations which play an important role in learning. These affective matters are even more decisive in language testing, as E. Shohamy points out: «We know that learning a second or foreign language involves social and psychological factors such as attitude, motivation, self-esteem, and confidence. It is possible that such affective factors are even amplified in second language testing situations» (14). It has been found out that students prefer those tests which, in addition to resembling actual performance in real life, can also be used as learning instruments and créate low anxiety by providing a relaxed atmosphere. I believe the use of journals motivates students for several reasons: (a) there is a real exchange of views between the students and the instructor, (b) students’ opinions are taken into account and affect class management, so that they can share the instructional responsibility with the teacher and be aware of their own progress, (c) students write about topics of their own choice, etc. We could almost assure that journal writing provides students with a more than relaxed learning atmosphere. Even if we accept that anxiety can be a negative factor when learning is concerned, we must also recognize Brown’s notion of «facilitative anxiety,» by which he means a positive concern—some apprehension—over a task to be accomplíshed, since «otherwise, a learner might be inclined to be ‘wishy-washy,’ lacking that facilitative tensión that keeps one poised, alert, and just slightly unbalanced to the point that one cannot relax
entirely» (106). In other words, scoring the students’ journal entries can have a positive effect on their learning process and to such an extent that one feels certainly tempted to believe that scoring is necessary. Yet, applying a scoring procedure to students journals raises another question: Where does the difference between journals, as presented in this paper, and other external types of assessment—particularly essay writing—lie then? In this sense, we must set up a distinction between real scores and the feedback we provide our students. The former is a grade, the latter can consist of both personal reactions focused on the content of what the student writes about, and error correction, centered on problems of vocabulary, structure and functions. Whereas we can do without a grade, feedback becomes an essential íngredient in this type of self-assessment. Once again, it will correspond both to the teacher and the students to make decisions about the way, if any, in which journals should be scored. It is very likely that journal writing is an activity carried out simultaneously with other external types of assessment, both formative and 98 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses summative, which will account for the students’ level of achievement of the domains established in the syllabus and which will probably be scored. If this is the case, we can concéntrate on using the journals for the purposes previously stated, that is, making judgements on the educational process and controlling our students’ internalized competence in the second language, which we can help to improve by making adequate corrections. In addition to this purpose, some teachers may also wish to use this information as the basis of a grade. If so, a sort of compromisesolution can be suggested: since journals are conceived of as instruments for self-assessment, a rating scale can be negotiated between the instructor and the students—let us not forget the negotiation of this criteria as the basis of further communication in the second language—so that students themselves can evalúate their progress and give it concrete form. As far as correction is concerned, the teaching methodology we are advocating encourages us to follow a «correction for content principie,» a communicative type of correction which Johnson holds «should assess whether information content has been correctly conveyed» (171). Further on he adds, though, that «The correction for content principie argües that at some stage the student’s language production should be judged on its communicative efficacy in relation to a specific task. But the principie does not negate the utility of teacher correction for grammatical accuracy at some other stage . . . It may often happen that the student succeeds in getting his message across (in a grammatically imperfect way) to a peer who may share his grammatical imperfections. For this reason teacher correction is also important. In the ultímate analysis he is also ‘correcting for content’ because grammar expresses content» (173 emphasis is mine). Omaggio, in her turn, points out that «some type of error correction may be useful in helping learners both to avoid early fossilization and to develop higher levéis of competence that will make their interlanguage acceptable to native speakers» (291). The key questions can be stated like this: When should correction and feed-back be provided, what errors should be pinpointed, and how do students react to error correction? Omaggio offers a deep analysis of the answers to these questions as reported in the useful publication Error-Correction Techniques for the Foreign Language Classroom (Walz). I will focus here on some procedures for correcting written work. There seems to be general agreement among researchers about the fact that correction of every single error on the student’s written work is not always very useful to provide corrective feedback. On the one hand, the student may feel discouraged; on the other, by supplying all of the corrections, the teacher may be hindering the learner’s progress in building proficiency in writing. We can propose, instead, a type of selective approach and the use of discovery techniques. Lower-level students, who may not be able to find their own errors and correct them, can be given specific clues about the location and correction of their errors, whereas more advanced students can be given a cuing system by means of which their errors are located, but tíiey are responsible for finding the solutions. We can use two types of correction techniques: indirect, through the location of errors indicated by a variety of symbols (underlining incorrect spelling, circling inappropriate vocabulary, inserting an arrow for missing words, or placing a question mark next to confusing phrases or structures), and direct (underlining the word and providing a tip, such as «use a past tense,» bracketing a misplaced word or phrase Self-Assessment in Second Language Teaching 99 and indicating with arrows the proper placement, crossing out an unnecessary word, or providing the correct form or structure). Celce-Murcia (2) holds that there are more effective and. Jess effective ways of correcting ESL students when formal accuracy is desirable. In this sense, at least five dimensions should be kept in mind when doing correction. These dimensions can be represented by means of this grid:
gives rule or explains
-Teacher corrects directly
-Teacher gives indirect,
diffused cues on type and location
of correction needed
-Teacher conducís mechanical
drill of problematic form
-Teacher corrects everything
– Teacher elicits information
– Teacher elicits peer or self correction
– Teacher gives focused,
specific cues as to what correction
is needed and where
– Teacher conducts meaningful
practice of problematic form
– Teacher corrects selectively
As for the possibility of assigning a grade to our students’ journals, we must keep in mind that the goal is to test exp/essive performance skills, which means that complete objectivity is not possible. As Chastain puts it, Identifying all the linguistic choices a student makes during the writing of a one-page composition and the difficulty level of each in the evaluation of the final product lies beyond the realm of practical qualities. The task is too complex to be reduced to discrete points of linguistic elements. A global, subjective evaluation is more appropriate from the point of view of the skill being rated and more realislic from the point of view of the grader. We must not forget that the question of evaluating communicative competence is one that each teacher must address depending on his/her own teaching circumstances. We can only focus—and negotiate, an element, I insist, not to be left out—different aspects of student performance as a basis for evaluation, and select a scale for rating that performance. Whatever the rating system we choose, the quality of written work consists of several factors, such as naturalness of expression, variety and appropriateness of vocabulary used, variety and complexity of structures, grammatical correcteness, sentence length and complexity, amount of information conveyed, fluency, etc. Taking these factors as a basis, the teacher can devise a scale composed of different grades, having made clear to and with the students—for ultimately it is for them to judge their own performance—the quality of work each grade represents as far as highquality, good, in need of improvement, and unacceptable work. It is my opinión that such a procedure, together with the error correction system proposed and the very nature of this method of assessement, allows us to regard journals as a communicative type of assessment: both in form and content, they resemble actual performance necessary in life, they are perceived by students as learning tools, and they créate a moderately relaxed atmosphere. 100 Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses
Taking the methodological framework proposed by the Communicative Approach to Language Teaching as a basis, I have pointed out the dynamic interdependence of its three components—purpose, methodology and evaluation—and I have focused on evaluation. The highly evaluative nature of our communicative performance—we keep making judgements on the acceptability of the utterances we utter and hear—can be transferred to the evaluation procedure of the curriculum, which means evaluation becomes a negotiated and intersubjective matter which allows us, in its turn, to evalúate the curriculum itself. Within this new methodological set, self-evalúation emerges as a powerfulassessment instrument. Self-assessment can be carried out in different ways, one of these being journals, to which I have devoted the main body of this paper. In addition to fulfilling the traditional function of evaluating the learners’ progress in the course of an instructional program, together with the complementary function of evaluating the curriculum, journals have the advantage of involving students in different aspects of their teaching environment, such as the negotiation of the content and the grading scale, if necessary, and sharing responsibility with the teacher as far as class management goes. Journals help to lower students’ affective filter, and, above all, they are regarded as a real life performance task. And finally, they provide evidence about the fact that an assessing technique does not necessarily have to be only an evaluation tool, but can also—and should actually always be—perceived by students as a learning tool.
1. Journals are a common practice in intensive writing classes and in foreign language classes for both native and non-native speakers of English sludying at US universities. Regardless of other purposes journals can be used for, or other approaches to this technique, the way I design them here is directly based on my experience as a Teaching Assistant of Spanish at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Fall 1988 and Spring 1989.
2. It may give the impression that in these journals I establish a distinction between an «academic» and a «personal» part, so to speak. Yet it is my opinión that asking students to express their reactions to the class and letting them know that their opinions will have an actual effect in class management has in their minds the power of turning this learning introspection into a «personal» question which merges with their everyday interests.
3. I am using the term «learning» in a generic sense. I am not suscribing here to Krashen and TerrelPs distinction between «learning» and «acquisition.»
4. It goes without saying this mutual knowledge is only possible in those classrooms with an operative number of students, something which, unfortunately, is not always the case in the real academic world.
5. The first possibility describes the way I dealt with journals during my American experience. The feedback I provided my students consisted of my opinions about the content of their writings, and some error corrections, which varied according to the level of instruction. However, in the long run I detected in some of my students that sort of «wishy-washy» attitude we referred to before. In my opinión, a self-scoring procedure as suggested here would have Self-Assessment in Second Language Teaching 101 introduced that «facililative anxicty» element which would have prevcnlcd thcsc students from lowering their guard.
6. As our course objectives will vary according to Ihe Icvcl of knowledge, the same type of grading scale can be uscd for different levéis of proficiency.
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Student Response Criticism:
Any Influence in the Literatures Class’
María José Martínez Azorín
Departamento de Filología Inglesa
Universidad de Alicante and
Volkshochschule Braunschweig, Gerrnany
Unlike some other academic disciplines in the field of humanities solidly backed up by a theoreticai and practical teaching Corpus (i. e., language teaching), literature teaching has not developed as such, for all discussions to this respect are primarily focused on theory, with- out any type of practica1 concern. Taking the changes developed within the discipline itself and within society as a starting point, this paper sets out to describe the potentials of a particular literary theory -Reader Response Criticism- as a valid and adequate frarnework from which a practical application in the literature class could be inferred.
Key words: Literature teaching at university level, Reader Response Theory.
Like many other language teachers concerned with offering their students as
broad a view as possible of the various aspects related to the culcure (or cul-
tures) of the countries where the target language is spoken, 1 have tried to
follow a recent trend in second language teaching focused on incorporating
into the teaching of a language -English, in my case- the use of literary
texts (Brumfit 1985; Brumfit and Carter, eds. 1986; Hill 1986; Collie and
Slater 1987; Murdoch 1992). My interest somehow ovenvhelmed me, in the
sense that, as a result of this pedagogical strategy, 1 suddenly becarne fascinated
by what seemed to be a side effect of my initial interest: 1 mean the teaching
of literature itself.
My way of tackling the study of language teaching methods is based on
the scheme proposed by Richards and Rodgers (1986: 28). According to these
scholars, we can study a method by establishing three levels of conceptualiza-
1. This title is taken frorn Reader Response Theory, which puts forward the view that the full weight of the interpretation of a text lies with the reader. As a useful guide for literature teachers, the author has recornrnended the following practice-oriented text, published after she cornpleted the present article: R. Beach (1993). A Teacherj Introduction to Reader- Response Theories. Urbana, 111: National Council of Teachers of English. 20 Links & Lerters 2, 1995 María Tos6 Martínez Azorín tion: approach, which refers to theories about the nature of language and lan- guage learning that serve as a source of practices and principles in language teaching; desi@, which is the level where we consider issues related to sylla- bus and roles played by teachers, students and materials; and procedures, deal- ing with classroom techniques, practices and behaviours observed when the method is used. Driven by my background as a language teacher, 1 wondered then to what extent it would be possible to describe a literature teaching me- thod on ttie basis of such a model, always keeping in mind that at the first
level -approach- we should change the term language for literature, that is, we should speak of theories about the nature of literature and literature learn- ing. In other words, just as a language teacher chooses a particular method or a combination of several assuming a particular conception of language and language learning, any comment a literature teacher makes on a literary text, no matter how intuitive or spontaneous it sounds, does presuppose a theo- retical conception of what literature is or should be, which aspects of a work should be emphasized, and how a text should be approached. The result of our reading does not depend on what we read but on how we read it, this being a question which aiso affects the way we teach it: «. . .if texts do not fully inter-
pret themselves, they do not teach themselves either. How they are taught will
depend on theoretical choice~ (Graff 1 989: 250; my emphasis) .
The conclusion 1 have come up with after my readings on this topic can be very briefly summarized: the precise and exhaustive description of language teaching methods that we know and can use for our pedagogical purposes does not have a counterpart in literature teaching, as al1 discussions to this respect cease at the first level, namely, approach, and even here there is only place for the theory of literature, rather than for the theory of literature learn- ing or teaching. B. Bergonzi points out that the university teacher of litera- ture is in a peculiar position in relation to his colleagues in other departments: Philosophy Departments produce philosophy, Sociology Departments pro-
duce sociology, and so on. For these academics, teaching and research are two aspects of a unified activity. The situation happens to be very different in liter- ature departments, where they produce criticism and scholarship, instead of literature: «If the academy cannot itself produce literature, and if even criti- cism can be written outside by novelists, poets, and literary journaiists, then what it, and only it, can produce is theory)) (Bergonzi, 1990: 168-169), to such an extent that in practice literary and criticai theory have become auto- nomous subjects. In other words, we can say with Bergonzi that ((theory be- comes literature)) (ibid., 168-169).
The current situation can be partly the result of the deep changes develo-
ped within the discipline itself, on the one hand, and within society, on the
other. The weakening of the traditional values -nationaiistic, religious, ethi-
cal, aesthetic and rhetorical- once attributed to literature in Britain (Bergonzi
1990: 28), runs parallel to the decline of the intrinsic reading method advocated
by the so-c:alled New Criticism in the United States. Such transformations have
given way to a new conception of humanistic learning based on a scientific Student Response Criticism Links & Letters 2, 1995 21
model of learning, a knowledge which is ((progressive, rendering earlier ver-
sions of it obsolete, and it circulates quickly and visibly through the accepted
professional channels, like journals and conference papers. It is also subject to
quantifiable assessment, in terms of volume of publication, frequency of cita-
tion, arnounts of research funding, and the calibre of referees)) (Bergonzi 1990:
166). Hence the proliferation of critical approaches -sometimes incompati-
ble2-, and the speed with which they have followed one another: structur-
alist, poststructuralist, semiotic, deconstructionist, feminist, Marxist, Lacanian,
New Historicist, dialogic, and Reader-Response Criticism: ((When a multi-
tude of conflicting critical theories cal1 for attention (. . .) and when in addition
there is confusion over the canons and the curricula of literature, as at the pre-
sent time, then literary theory, rather than being something that can more or
less be taken for granted, becomes overt, exigent, even, some would say, stri-
dent» (Hillis Miller 1988: 88).
The changes within society (and by society 1 mean the context in which
literature studies take place, where we include students, parents, school boards,
media, etc.) can be exemplified by mentioning the result of an experiment
carried out at two Arnerican university centres a decade ago: surprisingly, first-
year students could not distinpish the narrative voice in a poem produced by
a human being from that in a poem produced by a computer (Strenski and
Esposito 1980: 149). M. Godlin describes the situation in more radical terms:
While we may create classes that seem to voice our values and our standards of
judgement in our preferred language, what we are often creating is only an
extremely cynical pragmatism, students who do not think of their work at
universitv as a serious ex~loration of ideas and values but who see it as a mani-
pulation of teachers. They give us what we want. In return for an A, they will
say whatever we wish them to about everything from their own lives to
Shakespeare’s (1 987: 9 16).
Students are less and less prepared, not only in literature but also in any
type of basic language skills, this being a phenomenon which is taking place both
in Anglo-American universities and in the Western academic world by and
large. Hillis Miller (1988: 91) brings to our attention the demand made by
Arnerican society that schools and colleges do something about the inability
of young people to read and write, whereas Bergonzi warns about the current
general decline in cultural literacy, and in ski11 and practice in reading (Bergonzi,
1990: 155). In a more general sense, it could be said that we live at a time
when the pre-conceived and accepted vaiues of nineteenth century rationalism
have given rise to an aever-flowing, metamorphic, open, ambiguous, synthe-
tic sociality, instead of a classical, linear, closed, transparent, analytical one»
2. «…it is impossible to combine them eclectically, taking a bit from one and a bit from anot-
her, unless one is willing to settle for a large measure of incoherence in one’s thinking about
literature and one’s teaching of itr. (Hillis Miller, 1988: 92). 22 Links & Letters 2, 1995 María José Martínez Azorín
(Vidal Claramonte, 199 1 : 105). No doubt, the breaking-down of these values
affects the field of humanities, producing what Hillis Miller calls shaking of
the canon, that is, a breakdown of the assumption that humanistic education
is primarily aesthetic (has to do with pleasure) and thematic (has to do with
values). This does not mean, however, that we must stop reading the classics
. . .surely they (the classics) are read differently now, partly as a result of new ways
of reading which have shown that they are far more problematic than perhaps
they once seemed, far less the secure and stable repositories of the values and
ideas of our cultural tradition than some defenders of the canon still seem to
think they are.. . canonical works are read differently now because they are
read in a different context, by students brought up on television, cinema, and
popular pop music, for example, or in courses in which they are set side by
side: with non canonical works (1989: 1 10).
The solution Hillis Miller proposes is a return to the teaching of reading,
that is, he considers that in the present context of our multilingual, multiracial
society, a society whose cultural traditions are shaped by the mass media, cour-
ses in the literature department should focus on training in reading the great
works of literature, and writing about them. We must not forget, though, that
our students are children of our time, children of the context we have just des-
cribed, which means we must teach them to read with a much broader notion
of the canon, «. . . and along with that training in reading ail the signs: paintings,
movies, television, the newspaper, historical data, the data of material culture.
An educated people these days, an informed electorate, is a people who can
read, who can read al1 the signs, no easy thing to learn» (ibid., 11 1).
R. Barthes, a critic who holds a key position in the transformation of con-
temporary literary theories, devotes a considerable part of his work to deter-
mining the role of the reader in the act of reading. So far the author has been
regarded as the eterna1 owner of the work, whereas readers have been mere
profiteers. We have tried for a long time to establish what the author meant,
always ignoring the reader’s role. Barthes presents the reader not as consumer
of the text but also as producer (1987: 49). A very different position is that of
New Criticism, whose members, far however from a general consensus in their
ideas3, are usually associated with doctrines of the text’s objectivity, its self-
sufficiency and ‘organic unity’, with a formalist intrinsic approach to the text,
with a resistance to paraphrase and to the separation of form and content, and,
particularly, with the technique of close redding, a mode of exegesis that pays scru-
pulous attention to the rich complexity of textual meaning. They believe that
literature tells its own truths, that the literary object should be understood
3. The term New Criticism is commonly used to refer to the literary theory and criticism that
began with the work of I.A. Richards and T.S. Eliot before the Second World War in
England, and was continued by scholars such as John Crowe Ransom, W.K. Wimsatt,
Clean Brooks and Allen Tate in the United States during the forties, fifties and sixties. Student Resvonse Criticism Links & Letters 2, 1995 23
neutrally, and that interpretation should appeal neither to the writer’s intention
nor to a reader response but to a description of the thing itself.
Despite the pedagogical success of this method, if we believe with Hillis
Miller in the necessity to re-teach our students how to read, we obviously need
a theory of reading. Although Barthes did not seem to be aware of the exist-
ente of such a theory, it is my opinion that one of the contemporary theories
mentioned above could be of some pedagogical help to this respect, particularly
those studies centered on the role of the reader. 1 refer to Reader-Response
Critichm, which has moved away from the positivistic assurnptions of Formalism
and New Criticism with respect to the objectivity and self-sufficiency of the
literary text. It seems to me that a deeper knowledge of the act of reading
(questions such as: Why do we read! What are the deepest sources of our
engagement with literature? What does reading have to do with the life of the
psyche, or the imagination, or our linguistic habits? What happens -con-
sciously or unconsciously, cognitively or psychologically- during the reading
process?) could guide teachers in the process of re-teachingour readerlstudents
how to read.
The term Reader-Response Criticism is almost as broad and diverse as the
concept of literary theory, in the sense that under such a heading we can find
a wide variety of approaches, and each of them, in its turn, presents several
trends. As a matter of fact, almost al1 the movements that have been men-
tioned above are characterized by a greater concern for the reader, to such an
extent that in E. FreundS opinion even New Criticism still hides «a supressed
and acknowledged reader-oriented criticismn (1987: 42)4.
Al1 tendencies considered here are focused not on the autonomy of the text
itself, but on the recognition of the relevance of context. This relevance, how-
ever, can be defined in different terms. Two of them concentrate on describing
techniques of persuasion, narrative or thematic structures, that is, those aspects
of literature that are rather related to textual anaiysis. The first of these ap-
proaches would be the rhetoricalapproach, according to which a text is a form
of communication. The transmission and reception of any message depend
on one or more shared codes of communication benveen sender and receiver.
Reading is, therefore, a process of decoding which tries to study the means by
which authors attempt to communicate certain intended meanings or to pro-
duce certain intended effects. This movement focuses mainly on the ethical
and ideological content of the message. Two concepts that can be attributed to
W. Booth are keys to this theory: the implied author, an ideal writer responsi-
ble for al1 values and beliefs that determine the meaning of the work, and
whose image is constructed in the act of reading, and which has a counterpart
4. According to this scholar, both Richards and Empson, for instante, do not hold a clear position as to whether the phenomenon of ambiguity is a property of language or of response: «Despite its ostensible endeavours to hypostatize the objectivity or autonomy of the lite- rary work, the ghostly presence of “readers” enacts a continuing resistance to its own dicta from within the project itself» (ibid). 24 Links & Letters 2, 1995 María José Martínez Azorín
in the implied reader, the work’s ideal interpreter. A successful reading would
be that in which both find an agreement in order to enjoy, understand and
appreciate the work.
A second tendency within this first approach would be the semiotic and
structuralist approach, which attempts to read texts not with the intention of
interpretirig or assigning a meaning, but with the aim of anaiysing the codes and
conventions that make possible a text’s readability, that uncover a text’s sys-
tem. Some of the questions on which this approach tries to focus refer to the
codes by which the audience is inscribed within the system of a text; to the
way the iriscribed audience contribute to the work’s readability; or to the aspects
of the work, whether formal or thematic, which determine readability or in-
telligibility. Some important names that could be included under this term
are structural semanticians such as Greimas (1966, 1970) or Coquet (1973),
structurai ~t~listicians, such as Riffaterre (1978, 1990), or Barthes (in his early
works). A final question -the codes and conventions, whether aesthetic or
cultural, to which actual readers refer in trying to make sense of texts, and to
which actual authors refer in facilitating complicating or even frustrating, the
reader’s sense-making activity- is addressed by scholars such as Bakhtin (1989),
U. Eco (1979, 1990), S. Fish (1980a, 1980b, 1980c, 1989), J. Culler (1980,
1982) and the latest works of Barthes (1980, 1987). An important concept
related to this issue is that of interpretive strategy, which can be only und-
erstood as a collective phenomenon, a set of shared conventions within a
community of readers, that is, within a particular interpretive community, in
A trend centered on the question of aesthetic perception is the pheno-
menologicalapproach, of which W. Iser is an outstanding representative. This
approach tries to account for the mental processes that occur as a reader advan-
ces through a text, and derives from it a pattern. The act of reading is, there-
fore, a sense-making activity through which a reader appropriates the work
of art and realizes, concretizes it. In other words, the convergence of text and
reader brings the literary work into existence. The act of reading consists of
complementary activities such as selection and organization, anticipation and
retrospection, and the formulation and modification of expectations. The
text, however, resists our synthesizing activities with gaps or indeterminacies
(omissiori of information, ambiguous wording, sentences which modify pre-
ceding ories, contradictions and conflicts, etc.) that hinder the reader’s act of
comprehension. These activities are different from reader to reader, that being
the reason why there is a wide spectrum of acceptable realizations for any one
text. Yet, it is here where S. Suleiman (1980: 23) points out a certain con-
tradiction inherent in this approach, as Iser also claims that it is ultimately
the text itself which directs the reader’s realization of it. Furthermore, he con-
siders some realizations of it more complete, more true to the intentions of
the text than others. Although he tries to describe the experience of the indi-
vidual reading subject, he is actually referring to an abstract and generalized
reader. Student Response Criticism Links & Letters 2, 1995 25
That is precisely the gap that a fourth approach, subjective and psychoana-
lytic criticism, has come to fill, as it focuses on the actual reading experiences
and responses of speciJc individuals to specific works. After Lacan’s thorough
revision of Freud’s texts, this type of criticism offers an explicit pedagogical
contribution to literature teaching. The critics associated with this approach
-among which we can mention D. Bleich and N. Holland- are mainly inte-
rested in the influence of personality and personal history on literary
interpretation, and in the potential application on their theories to the class-
room. The traditional role assigned to the teacher, as the subject who is sup-
posed to know, is openly questioned. As long as the student knows by virtue
of identification with the position of the teacher, there is no knowing in any pro-
ductive sense. Like the analyst, who tries to disclose the patient’s unconscious,
to change the patient’s reading of himself in order to alter his relation to the pro-
duction of his symptoms, utterances and behaviours, the teacher must bring to
discourse the student’s unconscious thoughts. The teacher does not know the
content of this unconscious, but helps to articulate it. Pedagogy should aim
to undo the subject of certainty, including both the teacher and student’s sub-
jective positions. We are then teaching the partiality of knowledge, its incom-
pleteness and its dependancy on values: ((Education becomes subjective in the
sense that the student experiences his or her existence as being subjected to
various discourses, including that of the teacher (. . .) Like p~ychoanal~sis, edu-
cation can only begin with self-doubt, and its disciplinary self-analyses should
be interminable)) (Jay, 1987: 790).
Whereas the determining factor of this approach is the individual perso-
nal history, the sociologhl-historical variety of reader-oriented criticism regards
reading as a collective phenomenon, which means its focus of inquiry is essen-
tially the relationship between specific reading publics (varying with time,
place and circumstances), and specific works or genres that belong to the artis-
tic tradition of a particular society. In other words, it seeks to investigate the rea-
sons why membership in a given social group influences one’s reading habits
and tastes. That is the aim that characterizes a group of German critics whose
activities are referred to as Rezeption~~eschichte or Rezeptionsüsthetik, and among
which we can mention H. R. Jauss (1971, 1986, 1987), H. Weinrich (1971),
W. Iser (1978, 1980, 1989) and K. Stierle (1980, 1987). A notion essential
to this approach is that of horizon of expectations, which Jauss defines as «the set
of cultural, ethical and literary (generic, stylistic, thematic) expectations of a
work’s readers in the historical moment of its appearance)) (Suleiman 1980:
35). This notion allows for a systematic study of the history of reception, as
it examines the historical conditions and changes in the way a writer is und-
erstood, changes which are the result of literary, cultural, political and social
evolution which, in turn, transform the readers’ horizon of expectations. This
concept is also useful in order to analyse the relationship between works that
appear simultaneously, but are received differently. Finally, it allows us to set up
evaluative categories, in the sense that the distance between the familiarity of
previous aesthetic experiences and the horizon change required by the response 26 Links & Letters 2, 1995 María Josd Martina Azorin
to new works determines the artistic nature of a literary work. That helps to
understand why some masterpieces may be ignored, as their distance from the
horizon of ex~ectations of a given time is so great that it may take decades or
even centiiries before they are incorporated into the literary canon.
The last approach considered here is the hemzeneuticvariety, which deais with
the very nature and possibilities of reading and interpretation itself, when cri-
ticism turns to reflect on its own intentions, assumptions and positions. We
can understand hermeneutics in two senses, one traditional, the other modern.
The first one (Dilthey (1 968), Betti (1 962) and Hirsch (1 967, 1976) ) aims at
establishing the notion of universally, objectively valid interpretation, as the
basis of al1 historical certainty. Modern hermeneutics, on the other hand,
(Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer) takes as a starting point the assumption that
the very notion of a universally valid interpretation is untenable, that al1 the-
ories which claim to speak the truth should be distrusted, that being the rea-
son why tlhey focus on those aspects of a text that reveal the vulnerability of
any absolute statement about its meaning, and why they turn the impossibi-
lity of a single interpretation into the main subject of criticism. The issues at
stake are therefore the determinacy of meaning, the privilege of authority and
the ontological status of understanding, in an debate that still occupies the
most acute critical minds of our time.
In this brief account of some of the most outstanding tendencies within
Reader-Response Criticism, three conceptions of the figure of the reader can
be distinguished: an ideal or abstract reader (rhetorical and phenomenological
approches), the reader as subject (subjective and psychoanaiytic criticism), and
the reader as a member of a given social community (sociological-historical
variety). When applying these theoreticai frameworks to the classroom, we may
feel forced to choose one of these standpoints. And some attempts have actually
been made in this sense. J. Rouse (1983: 535-548), for instance, describes the
teaching techniques of three well known scholars -N. Holland (1 970, 1977,
1980), D. Bleich (1975, 1976) and L. Rosenblatt (1978, 1983, 1993) – who
have tried to enhance a psychoanalytic type of reading in the literature class.
They three consider that any kind of preceptorial relationship requires an
erotic ingredient for its success, an impulse that urges an individual to reach
out to a challenge. Holland and Bleich guide their students analytically to
externalize their inner reactions to a text, and in both cases the reading
experienct: is essentially retrospective: students relate the text to their past
experiences; Rosenblatt, however, does not regard the individual as finished,
completed, but as still in the process of evolving, becoming. Her goal is,
therefore, to discover the changes that a person goes through during the read-
ing process. In al1 three cases, the underlying principle is the relationship
between reader and text as the basis of literary meaning. N. A. Greco (1990:
33-40), on the other hand, proposes some writing techniques based on
W. Iser’s work, al1 leading to the interruption of the reading process -writing
to explore points of view, to reflect upon silences, to explore oneS reading pro-
cess, cloze procedure, etc.-, so that both teachers and students can come up with Student Response Criticism Links & Letters 2, 1995 27
some conclusions about their interaction with the text, in order to modify or
enrich it. Finally, l? A. Muldoon (1990: 34-40) suggests an activity aimed at
sharing the different viewpoints that students have on a particular work. During
or after the reading process, students are requested to write down the questions
arising from the text that they are unable to answer, questions that will be
discussed with the rest of the class later on. The objective of this technique is
three-fold: to foster in students the ability to hold and examine various points
of view; to improve the critical ski11 towards other students’ comments; and to
increase the degree of tolerante for a text’s arnbiguity or lack of definite meaning.
However, 1 quite agree with S. Suleiman when she points out that «The
vitality of audience-oriented criticism depends (. . .) on the realization that
various dimensions of analysis or interpretation are possible and that a com-
bination of approaches is not a negative eclecticism but a positive necessity))
(Suleiman 1980: 7). If our goal is to re-teach our students to read in a new
context, we are regarding them as members of a particular social group who
live at a particular historical time. Their subjective reactions to the texts they
read are bound to be influenced by the era in which they live, a time when
the mere concept of authority in many aspects of life is being challenged, a
time when within a new hermeneutical frarnework we are beginning to accept
that different viewpoints generate different interpretations of an event, and
that making sense of something is not the same as finding what it means in
any definite sense. Maybe the concept of interpretive community is at the the bot-
tom of these statements, as Suleiman suggests when she claims that it is around
this topic that a «most fruitful combination of critical approaches to reading and
interpretation can be realized)) (1 980: 2 1).
My intention through these pages has not been to design a methodologi-
cal framework based on Reader-Response Criticism, but rather to offer a gene-
ral description of the various trends that today integrate this theory, and to
suggest some of the lines that the literature teacher could follow on the basis
of such an approach. The next stage of the study should focus precisely on the
two interrelated stages of a literature teaching method where discusions have
not reached, that is, design and procedure, those moments of the academic acti-
vity directly related to students and class techniques. It is my opinion, how-
ever, that such a study should be preceded by some kind of empirical assessment
of the effect that those tendencies have had in the literature classroom, if any.
This starting point would be, to my mind, a much more useful contribution
to the still new field of literature teaching than a theoretical methodological
proposal without any realistic basis.
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Cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts: Ways
to improve Students’ Competences in the foreign Language Classroom
Sonia Casal. Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla-Spain)
CLIL is a pedagogical project implemented in foreign language learning and which has been subject of global approval because of its many advantages for creating a suitableenvironment for learning. Research has shown, however, that while comprehension skills(reading and listening) are really boosted in a CLIL environment, this may not be the caseof productive skills (speaking and writing). Students seem not to have enough chances to speak or initiate a conversation, affecting their speaking and writing outcomes negatively. Cooperative learning may help enhance CLIL contexts, catering not only for the development of comprehension skills and better reasoning, but also for interaction and communication. Students are given chances both for input reception and output production. This paper will address how teachers can improve their students’ competences in the foreign language classroom by implementing cooperative learning structures in content-based environments.
Key words: cooperative learning, content and language integrated learning, interaction, negotiation, competences, L2
CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) describes that school situation whereby a foreign language is the vehicle to teach certain subjects, belonging mainly to the areas of history, geography and social studies and in a lesser degree, to science and the arts (Wolff, 2007). Sharing their focus on the integration of language (second or foreign) and content, CLIL diverges from Canada’s immersion programmes and USA’s content-based instruction. In Canada all subjects are taught in a second language (the other official language of the country) without the presence of explicit second language teaching. In the USA, content-based or theme-based instruction is used as a means of promoting second language learning in students with limited English proficiency, content-based instruction being the bridge into the mainstream.
The pedagogical project CLIL embodies aims at materializing the European guidelines of the 2 + 1 formula: Europeans should be able to speak two languages apart from their native tongue (Eurydice 2006: 8). In Andalusia (the largest region in Spain), the education regional ministry has published a plan to promote plurilingualism (Plan de Fomento Cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts del Plurilingüismo, 2005) where CLIL is strongly recommended. As Dalton-Puffer (2007:
1) states: ‘CLIL is regarded on the political level as a core instrument for achieving policy aims directed at creating a multilingual population in Europe.’ In France, CLIL is named ÉMILE, in Spain, AICLE and in Germany, CLILig.
The integration of content and L2 in the classroom has been worldwide acclaimed. According to Snow, Met and Genesee (1989: 202), this integration provides a motivational and cognitive basis for language learning. On the one hand, learning content (inherent in naturalistic language learning) represents a meaningful, contextualized activity which increases interest and encourages students. On the other hand, being able to speak and reason about academic content in a language different from their own, gives students the chance to expand their cognitive skills and use more sophisticated language. As Kasper (1997: 318) states: ‘Each time students read a discipline-based text, they learn
something new about the English language and the academic discipline.’ However, the mere integration of language and content in the classroom is not a synonym for success. Specification of language objectives and careful and systematic planning as well as coordination of the language and content curriculum and / or teachers must be also carried out. (Snow, Met and Genesee, 1989: 204). All in all, changes must be favoured in the language and content curriculum so that language and content objectives are simultaneously taught. The most important point is, as Cummins (1994) remarks, that all teachers
are teachers of language and content.
At this point, it must also be stated that the integration of language and content in the classroom is not without its shortcomings. Authors such as Kinsella (1997: 50-51) have objected to this approach being too focussed on the teacher, responsible for rendering input comprehensible for students. According to this author, in classes where content and language are integrated, the excessive emphasis on material simplification acts to the detriment of the development of the necessary skills for students to become independent learners. Other authors, such as Genesee (1994), Dalton-Puffer (2007), point out that, in contexts
where an L2 is learnt through content, students are not offered enough chances to speak or initiate a conversation, hindering their speaking and writing outcomes. As DaltonPuffer (2007: 11) puts it: Simple arithmetic tells us that with 25 students in a class, if each has a say in a 50 minute lesson, their speaking time must be less than two minutes since the leader of the discussion also has to speak. If follows, by simple power of logic, that CLIL students are listeners most of the time.
Finally, authors such as Mewald (2004, quoted in Dalton-Puffer 2007: 11) also emphasize this lack of opportunities for students to initiate or be engaged in a conversation, stating that in CLIL lessons, students use much less English as a foreign language (contrary to what would originally be expected); that the situations where students use English arevery limited and that their creative use of English is also scarce or even ‘non-existent’. Cooperative learning, for its part, has been defined as “a body of literature and research that has examined the effects of cooperation in education. It offers ways to organize group work to enhance learning and increase academic achievement.” (Olsen and Kagan, 1992: 1). Cooperative learning, used systematically in primary and secondary
levels, has shown to improve students’ self-esteem, their understanding of tasks and of others as well as their teaching skills. Cooperative learning has also proved favourable to social cohesion and collaboration within the group, allowing students to overcome fear in front of other students or teachers. (Johnson, Maruyama, Johnson, Nelson and Skon, (1981).Cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts In the area of L2 teaching and learning, different studies and works feature cooperative learning activities and methods that have been successfully implemented in the classroom. Casal (2005) provides a detailed account of the evolution of studies on cooperative learning in relation to L2. Some of the most outstanding works are: Bejarano (1987), Coelho (1992), High (1993), Crandall (1999), and more recently, McCafferty, Jacobs and DaSilva Iddings (2006) (for a review, see Casal 2005). According to Barnett (unpublished manuscript), cooperative learning’s success lies on the synergy which is created within groups. The concept of synergy is defined as that situation where the overall result of actions in a group is higher than the sum of actions in the group individually considered. Barnett tells of an experiment carried out by Holt in 1987 where, before pulling from a rope, the four men belonging to the same group had
the chance to talk to each other for about ten minutes. The outcome was astonishing: group pulls were higher in force than the sum of individual pulls, proving the strength of the concept of synergy. These experiments, applied to the educational realm, Barnett states, show that a teaching methodology which trains students to work in groups will be able to create an atmosphere where learning achievements will be more notable than those of a traditional classroom.
With its focus on structured group work, cooperative learning may help enhance CLIL contexts. The underlying assumption is that communication among students working in groups rises as they have a need to exchange information. The result is higher participation, lower level of inhibition and more possibilities for oral practice. Likewise, by engaging in face-to-face interaction with their peers, students use the L2 in a more creative way than when they have to speak in front of the whole class. Groups cater for the integration of reading, listening, writing and speaking by means of interaction and communication. Finally, cooperative learning ‘promotes among students the ability and the inclination to work together beyond the classroom by making cooperation not just part
of the how of learning but also part of the content’ (Jacobs, McCafferty and DaSilva Iddings, 2006: 17). The next sections in this paper paper will tackle the benefits for teachers and students in CLIL contexts presenting Kagan’s structural approach as a possible way (although not the only one) to implement cooperative learning in their classes.
Benefits of cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts The benefits of working in small structured groups in the L2 classroom have been praised in the L2 literature. Already in 1977, Long referred to the advantages of groups, basing his statement on five main points: 1) group work increases opportunities for practising the target language; 2) it improves the quality of conversations among students, since face-to-face communication in a small group is a natural communicative situation; 3) it is the first step towards individualization in education; 4) it promotes a positive affective atmosphere; 5) it is a source for student motivation.
One of the most elaborate models of cooperative learning applied to L2 teaching and learning is the one by Bejarano (1994) An Integrated Groupwork Model, successfully carried out in an experiment involving thirty groups (Bejarano 1994: 200). Following Spolky’s model, Bejarano claims that results in an L2 context are affected by factors such as: previous learning experiences; matters related with personal abilities; affective factors such as personality, attitudes, motivation, anxiety and finally, the opportunities for learning offered to the student. Taking these elements into account, Bejarano places the basis of this model on a combination of cooperative learning methods such as STAD, Jigsaw, discussion groups, pair work and individual work.
Different learning theories have influenced the philosophy of education underlying cooperative learning. These theories reflect on how learning is best achieved and cooperative learning makes the most of all of them. That is why the introduction of cooperativeCooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts learning in CLIL contexts may be beneficial: reflecting on the factors that intervene in the learning process, better decisions will be taken and both teacher and student will profit from this. The most important points of these learning theories – Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, constructivism, humanistic psychology and group dynamics- are mentioned here (for a detailed review of learning theories in cooperative learning, see Casal 2005).
Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which states that learning is facilitated if observed as a social process, is implemented in cooperative learning lessons thanks to the frequent opportunities students have in their groups to speak and listen to the L2, limiting this way teachers’ talking time and focussing on content and fluency rather than on correction. Quoting Crandall (1999: 242):
Possibilities of uncorrected or miscorrected student contributions are less important in the overall development of second language competence than opportunities for negotiation of meaning and interaction….[E]rrors are natural when learners are focused on making themselves understood…
Students are compelled, this way, to use language in real communication contexts, boosting the variety of speech acts normally used in class. By increasing the time students are using the language, their listening and speaking skills are also enhanced. With the help of language and supporting the Vygotskian language-thought connection, students develop higher level cognitive strategies: they are asked to plan activities, organize and defend ideas, find information, take decisions or solve problems.
Constructivism claims that learning an L2 involves negotiation of meaning, present in cooperative learning classrooms thanks to the input and output modifications students are obliged to make in order to understand and be understood. In a lesson organized under cooperative learning principles, students ask for clarification, provide the necessary vocabulary or grammar structures and explain key words or concepts, aiding their learning in general and language fluency (oral and written) in particular. Through this process of negotiation, students have the chance to relate the new information received with the information already acquired provoking, in some cases, the appearance of cognitive conflict: ‘the conflict that arises when one person’s ideas, information, conclusions, theories and opinions are incompatible with those of another, and the two seek to reach an agreement.’ (Johnson, Johnson and Smith, 1990: 200).
Humanistic psychology upholds the creation of a climate where anxiety is reduced. In effect, students learning an L2 in a cooperative learning context have the possibility of discussing the correct answer with their classmates before speaking in front of the whole class and the teacher. Likewise, less participative students are encouraged to contribute to their groups, promoting thus participation of every member in the group (Equal Participation, one of the principles of cooperative learning). This relaxed atmosphere, where the student feels safe, fosters respect for opinions or points of view different from one’s
own as well as tolerance towards ambiguity. In this same sense, humanistic psychology supports the promotion of self-esteem, achieved thanks to the Positive Interdependence and Individual Accountability (two other principles of cooperative learning, together with Equal Participation) created among
members of the same group. This higher self-esteem pushes the student forward to make a bigger effort to learn the language, mitigating fear to make mistakes or explain their point of view. Motivation is also raised, since students are considered active participants and individually accountable for their part of the task. This active participation offers the student the opportunity of building a deeper understanding of concepts, procedures and attitudes in lesson plans. The classroom becomes a social context where ideas and
strategies are exchanged and shared.
Autonomy, also important for humanistic psychologists, is strengthened through peer interaction. Students become more independent in relation to their own learning sinceCooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts they perform tasks originally fulfilled by the teacher (planning tasks, finding sources, explaining difficult points, summarising a text or providing feedback to a classmate).
Finally, group dynamics make cooperative L2 classes focus on the student and their interaction with peers. Through different cooperative learning techniques, students learn to develop social skills (active listening, turn taking, praising, giving opinions, encouraging others) which have interesting effects on students’ attention and on the teacherstudent relationship.
Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, constructivism, humanistic psychology and group dynamics, each emphasising different -though interrelated- aspects present in learning and teaching, cater for the students’ overall maturity as human beings. In this maturity, intelligence -understood as a blend of different abilities- plays an essential role. Prior analyses have studied intelligence as an abstract, individual, gradable and uniformed entity that some were lucky enough to have while others, less fortunate, lacked. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Gardner (1993), however, analyses intelligence as a box full of tools with which we take part in the game of knowledge (Lefrançois 1997: 239). We may not have the same tools in our boxes but we can improve their use and, what is more important, we can learn from the use others make of theirs. As it has been stated before, through the implementation of cooperative learning in CLIL contexts we are promoting not only better L2 and content learning and teaching but also the development of the individual as a whole. The Spanish government has recently (2006) passed a law (Ley Orgánica (2/2006) de Educación de Enseñanzas Mínimas en primaria -R.D. 1513/2006- y en secundaria -R.D. 1631/2006-) where it advises teachers
to develop eight different competences in students throughout their school years as a means towards a more globalised kind of teaching: linguistic / communicative competence; mathematical competence; knowledge and interaction with the physical world competence; dealing with information and digital competence; social and citizenship competence; cultural and artistic competence and learning to learn competence. These eight competences remind us of the eight intelligences defended by Gardner (linguistic intelligence; logical-mathematical intelligence; musical intelligence; spatial intelligence; bodily kinaesthetic intelligence; intrapersonal intelligence; interpersonal intelligence; naturalistic intelligence) and show that the move in education nowadays is towards global education, education of the individual as a whole. In Troncale’s (2002: 1) words: ‘…
teachers need to address their students’ whole education.’ This can be best achieved by the union of CLIL and cooperative learning.
Task Specialization Methods: the structural Approach to cooperative Learning by Kagan Damon and Phelps (1989: 11) state that cooperative learning is ‘… an umbrella term that loosely covers a diversity of team-based learning approaches.’ The different tendencies grouped under the same common term of cooperative learning together with their most relevant features and authors are included in the table below (from Casal, 2006 and based on Sharan, 1994, Slavin 1995 and Johnson and Johnson, 1999): As can be seen in the table on the following page, Kagan’s approach belongs to ‘Task Specialization Methods’. In this group, the key point is the way these methods organize tasks and distribute information among their members. Coelho (1992: 131-133) describes three possible ways of organizing tasks in the classroom: 1) tasks where all group components work on the same material using the same information; 2) tasks where each group member gets different information about a topic which is common to the group;
3) tasks where each group in the class works on a different topic.Cooperative Learning in CLIL Context METHODS NAMES & AUTHORS KEY FEATURES
Student Team Learning (In common: group rewards andopportunities of success for all)
TGT: Teams-Games-Tournaments. (De Vries and Edwards, 1973) Teams compete with other teams to get points for theirgroup.
STAD: Student TeamsAchievement Divisions. (Slavin, 1994) Students learn new material in teams but take individual tests weekly to ensure individual accountability.
TAI: Team-Assisted Individualization. (Slavin, Leavy and Madden, 1982) Implemented in Maths. Each student in each group worksin a different unit and changesunit when exercises are correct. Other members help
CIRC: Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition. (Stevens, Madden, Slavin and Farnish, 1987) Heterogeneous groups work with different reading levels, reading to each other, predicting, practising spelling and
vocabulary.Task Specialization Methods (In common: task organization and information distribution)
The Structural Approach to Cooperative Learning. (Kagan, 1989) Based on structures (‘contentfree ways of organising social interaction in the classroom’) aimed at different educational objectives.
Jigsaw. (Aronson, 1978) The task is divided into as many parts as members in the teams. Group Investigation. (Sharan and Sharan, 1976) Based on four components: investigation (analysing the problem from different points of view), interaction (activities and skills) and interpretation (presentation of findings in front of the class).
Complex Instruction. (Cohen, Lotan, Scarloss and Arellano, 1999) Students work in heterogeneous groups to achieve a common task.
Cooperative Learning and Teaching Scripts Dansereau (1987) Students work in pairs on twodifferent texts. Students read them aloud, summarise them
Learning Together Johnson and Johnson (1994) Importance of cognitive conflicts and controversy. Face-to-face promotive interaction; interpersonal and
small group skills and group processing are its basic components.Cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts In the first case (where students work on the same topic using the same information and material), the teacher introduces the topic, which is followed by structured group work.
Each group member must be an expert in the subject so that when asked about that topic, any member must be able to answer on behalf of the team. Coelho (1992) suggests implementing this kind of task organization in classes where group composition is not stable due, for example, to discontinuous class attendance. This is the procedure adopted in the structural approach to cooperative learning by Kagan and which will be discussed in more detail later.
In the second case, the task is structured in such a way that each group member has different information about a given topic. However, students in each group find students in other groups with the same information as theirs. In other words, the classroom is made out of groups with a similar composition with respect to the division of information. This distribution of information allows students to group with members of other groups with the same information forming expert groups in order to study material.
Once this stage has been completed, students go back to their original home groups and, since every component has different information, they share it with the rest of members in the group. Every student must prove that they master not only the information they have but also other members’ information by means of a class presentation, a test, or any another kind of assessment criteria. This kind of organization is implemented in Jigsaw, developed by Aronson and colleagues (1978).
The last procedure to organize a task is when the topic is different from group to group. Here, students from different groups have to look for information about their different topics using different sources such as the library, oral interviews or audiovisual methods. Students summarise the information they find and present it orally or in written form to the whole class. Students need to be trained to carry out the task in a structured and effective way. This is the bases of Yael and Shlomo Sharan, Group Investigation (1976, 1992) and Elizabeth Cohen, Complex Instruction (1994).
The Structural Approach to cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts The basic premise in the structural approach, carried out by Kagan in California since 1991, is that there exists a close relationship between what students do and what they
learn. In other words, interactions in the classroom influence the social, cognitive and academic development of students. With the objective of promoting this development in a full sense, the structural approach provides teachers with a series of structures which aim at attaining different educational objectives. The structural approach is based, therefore, on the creation, analysis and systematic implementation of these structures, defined as ‘…content-free ways of organising social interaction in the classroom.’ (Kagan 1989: 12). The structures in Kagan’s approach perfectly fit CLIL, which derives content from the academic disciplines or culture in the target language.
Mastering the structural approach involves correct understanding and manipulation of the elements in the different structures. Likewise, the combination of structures unifies lessons presented in class and may complement other cooperative learning methods. Kagan and Kagan (1994: 118) state that three issues must be taken into consideration before choosing the structure: the type of cognitive and social development the structure implements; the moment in the class where it best fits and the kind of content it involves. In this sense, structures are divided into different groups: 1) teambuilding structures, to consolidate groups; 2) classbuilding structures, to consolidate the class as a
single group; 3) mastery structures, which involve an advanced knowledge of structures; 4) structures which help develop thinking skills; 5) structures which promote information sharing and finally, 6) structures which help develop communication skills.Cooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts When structures, pillars in this approach, are loaded with content they originate activities. In other words, an activity is a structure plus content. In the case of CLIL lessons, the content will stem from subjects (history, geography, etc.) or from cultural aspects of the L2. Among the best known structures in this approach are: Numbered Heads Together, Roundtable, Roundrobin, Talking Chips, Three-Step Interview and Think-Pair-Share.
Numbered Heads Together contributes to develop Positive Interdependence in CLIL contexts by giving all the students the opportunity to reflect, give their opinion and know the answer before the teacher asks anyone to answer. It works like this: the teacher numbers students off. Next, the teacher poses a problem or a question related to the topic being dealt with. Students put their heads together to think in order to find the answer and finally, the teacher calls a number. All the students with the same number raise
their hands and the teacher asks one of them to answer the question or solve the problem.
Roundtable is a structure which promotes writing skills and, at the same time, a sense of collaboration among the members of the team. In this case, every student has a piece of paper and a pen. The teacher dictates the beginning of a text (which could be about any topic, or even an invented, more creative text) the group must write. Each member writes one paragraph and when the teacher claps hands, students pass their piece of paper on to the student on their right, who reads the paragraph and continues the text.
This way, the piece of paper rotates until reaching the person who started the text, who writes the final paragraph. This structure asks for reading comprehension as well as for writing skills.
At this point, the group decides which text is more suitable for the objectives of the task and present it to the rest of the class. With this aim and in order to foster Individual Responsibility, roles are assigned: the secretary will write the final version; the spokesperson will read the text aloud in front of the class; the artist will visualize the text with a drawing and the language controller will be responsible for everybody’s participation. In the structure named Roundrobin, the procedure is the same, but students contribute orally instead of doing it in a written manner. Talking Chips aims at promoting Equal Participation developing, at the same time, discourse abilities. Talking chips works as follows: once the group has been established, each member gets different chips that they must use whenever they want to speak.
These chips include different strategies to use in discourse, as the following table shows:
Talking Chips (Kagan, 1994)
EXPRESS A DOUBT
ANSWER A QUESTION
ASK A QUESTION
GIVE AN IDEA
ASK FOR CLARIFICATION
CLARIFY AN IDEA
RESPOND TO AN IDEA
SAY SOMETHING POSITIVE ABOUT SOMEONE’S IDEACooperative Learning in CLIL Contexts 9/12
Students place one of these chips on their desks before speaking. When they finish speaking, the other members think of different ways to continue the discussion. They cannot speak unless they use one of the talking chips they have. At the end of the discussion, students must have used all their chips, avoiding this way the risk that only some members in the group participate in the task.
Three-Step Interview is a structure used to develop oral skills and is divided into three steps (as its own name shows). It works best with groups of four. In step one, students work in pairs: one of them interviews the other. In step two, students change roles: the interviewee is now the interviewer and vice versa. In step three, students take turns to tell the team what they have learnt about their partners in the interview.
Finally, in Think-Pair-Share students are allotted some time so that they carry out the task individually. Once this time elapses, students are asked to work in pairs, sharing problems, answers, difficulties, etc. Finally, students share their conclusions with the other members of the group.
These structures are an easy and understandable way for content and L2 teachers to start introducing cooperative learning activities in CLIL classrooms. As stated before, these structures comply with the principles of cooperative learning: Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Equal Participation and Simultaneous Interaction and they can be loaded with any content, from history to mathematics. Content and L2 are developed simultaneously and students have a chance to be active participants and little by little more autonomous and independent learners.
Summary and Conclusions This article started off by describing CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) as
a pedagogical project that aims at integrating content and foreign language at primary and secondary levels. Its role as a means for building a multilingual society in the broader scenario of the European Union has then been pinpointed. The article proceeded to mention the many advantages (cognitive, such as better reasoning as well as affective, such as solidarity and tolerance) CLIL offered for students’ development as human beings, pointing out, at the same time, the shortcomings mentioned by different authors and which were mainly related to the lack of opportunities CLIL students were granted to speak and to develop autonomy as independent learners. Cooperative learning has been suggested as an instrument to overcome these drawbacks. The idea of the benefits group work may bring to learning in general and to learning an L2 in particular is not new in the L2 literature, but cooperative learning adds some specific features (Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Equal Participation and Simultaneous Interaction) to avoid the problems that may rise when students work
together in groups. The benefits that CLIL derives from cooperative learning are based on theories of learning and teaching. Cooperative learning constitutes the ideal framework for Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, constructivism, humanistic psychology and group dynamics. Each embodies a different dimension of learning and teaching present in any classroom.
Kagan’s structural approach to cooperative learning has been described as a possible method to first start introducing cooperative learning in CLIL contexts. Belonging to Task Specialization Methods in cooperative learning and consisting of structures which can be filled with content, Kagan’s approach proves a valid method where content and foreign language can be successfully integrated.
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SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AND ITS PSCYCHO-CULTURAL
Bilingualism or multilingualism may imply socioeconomic advantages. But a further literature study indicates that this may also affect psychological and cultural viewpoints. The acquisition of second language would significantly influence the mentality or perceptual framework of the language users. Consequently, this finding may inspire to the appropriate pedagogical methods in language acquisition.
Today many people are attempting to master more than one language. It is undeniable that acquiring two or more languages may gain some benefits. Being a bilingualist or multilingualist would imply social and economical advantages. They would be commonly regarded as a group of people that has higher social status since the acquisition of other language requires a tremendous effort. A part from that, this skill may bring on an income or extra income if the possessors apply it in particular occupations such as interpreters, translators, or language teachers. Moreover, in this article I would like to argue that second language acquisition also implies the acquisition of the
second world view. Then I will try to reveal how it happens. Furthermore, some suggestions on pedagogical methods to assist in the process of second language acquisition are presented.
2. Language, Culture, and Cognition
O‟Grady et al. (1997) defined language as “a system of communication, a medium for thought, a vehicle for literary expression, a social institution, a matter for political controversy, a catalyst for nation building” (p.1). Human beings as the users of language have skill and capacity in accepting input, manipulating, and then producing information about phenomenon in the world. The process
of producing words, arranging them into grammatical order that eventually form a unit that contains meaning involves cognitive means. Similarly, culture deals with the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
Kessing (1979) stated “a culture is, in a cognitive sense, a system of knowledge, a composite of the cognitive systems more or less shared by members of a society.” (p.13) Both language and culture share a general idea, i.e. a system associated with cognition. In terms of cognition, different cultures and languages, to some extent, may indicate different procedure of obtaining knowledge and comprehending through line of thinking, skills, experience, and the sensory faculty.
Kessing (1979) provided an evident of a particular phenomenon that \is viewed differently by people from different cultures. He stated “In, culture after culture, one‟s predecessors are viewed as having gone ahead (“before”) along a line of march we are following, and one‟s life experiences are seen as having “left behind” (“past” = passed). Kwaio culture permutes this model by conceptualizing the time periods associated with those who has gone before (ta?a I na?o „people in front‟) as being in front of and downward from the present”(p.31). This evidence supports the idea that different cultures may have different point of view of the same phenomenon. Another authentication of different cognition of culture and language variance can be observed from a
linguistic feature. In this case, the mindas-body metaphor (referred to Kessing‟s term) can be another hint of how people as users of a language perceive phenomenon in the world. For example,
to express that a child is intelligent or clever, English will say the child is bright. Meanwhile, Indonesian will say anak itu otaknya encer (the child‟s brain is liquid/watery). English views
cleverness as like light, but Indonesian regards it as fluid. The two differences of the use of body metaphor may point out that they have different perception on the same phenomenon. To sum up, a language and culture may indicate a particular way of thinking. People from the same language and culture are likely to have the same cognition. They will probably have similar perception and feeling on phenomena in the world. On the contrary, users of different languages and cultures may differ in expressing the phenomena in the world. It is strongly influenced by their ways of thinking.
3. Second Language Acquisition and
Cultural Norms The previous section may lead an idea that the mastery of a certain language may reflect the possession of knowledge on the culture that involves cognition of the people as the users of the language itself. It means that the process of language acquisition implies a transferring of culture.
Lyons (1981) stipulated “the process of language acquisition is such that the biologicaltransmission of whatever is universal in language is also dependent, for its success, upon the process of cultural
transmission” (p.322). Biological transmission refers to the genetically transmitted faculties of human mind. The latter means a system of knowledge and the cognitive systems. The two elements play an important rule in the acquisition of first language. Cultural transmission has more emphasis in the language acquisition. Some features in linguistic such as lexical and grammar may involve cultural entities. A word in a language can represent the perception of the Second Language Acquistion and Its Psycho-cultural Implications language users on the sign or phenomenon that is represented. Similarly, the perception of the language users on gender can be seen from the unit of grammar they use. For example, determiners in some languages distinguish an object by attributing
different determiners of gender. Therefore, the acquisition of a language naturally will imply the acquisition of its culture. Lyons (1981) stated that “If competence in a particular language implies the ability to produce and understand sentences of that language, then it is unquestionably a part of
culture: i.e. social knowledge” (p.323) Furthermore, it is summarized that full understanding of the several kinds of meaning that are encoded in the grammar and vocabulary of a language comes only with a full understanding of the culture, or cultures, in which it operates (Lyons, 1981). It means that
one cannot be regarded as having competence in a language if he or she has no comprehension on its culture. On the contrary, one who has competence in more than one language should possess
more knowledge on culture. This is a consequence of second language acquisition that requires the acquisition of cultural norms that exist in the target language.
The cultural norms may reflect the cognition of the people in the target language, and the cultural script of the second language. The norms include some notions in interaction that deals with content and form. The interactional norms naturally bear some aspects of culture that exist in a community or nation.
Liddicoat and Crozet (2001) studied the conversation of Australian students as second language learners of French on a particular topic. The learners were asked to make a conversation initiated by „Did you have a good weekend?‟ Lidicoat and Crozet found that the typical talk of French did not appear since the subjects did not have knowledge of interactional norms in French culture. This happened as the consequence of different interactional norms between two cultures.
Liddicoat and Crozet (2001) as cites in Beal study (1992) revealed that Australians perceive that the question does not have any purpose of finding detail information from their partner of talk, but French see it as the question that needs detailed answer. Australians tend to give facts rather than opinion while French prefer to give detail explanation including opinions. Dealing with conversational style or form Australian do not interrupt the person who is talking, but French do. This study has argued that differences in conversational style are linked to problems and misunderstandings in both intracultural and intercultural interactions. Lindicoat and Crozet‟s study
supports the idea that second language acquisition should involve the acquisition of the culture as to succeed in the process of communication. Since culture reflects cognition or the perception of how people in a community view the signs or phenomena in the world, second language acquisition implicates the acquisition of another world view.
Therefore, in this context a bilingualist or multilinguists should have benefit by
gaining such awareness. Second Language Acquistion and Its Psycho-cultural Implications
4. The Pedagogical Method
The introduction of culture to second language learners could be problematic. The learning goal would become clouded or lost by the emphasis on culture. To avoid such a deviation occurs, there should be an appropriate method or methods to teach the cultural norms.
Crozet (1996) proposed a method in transferring cultural or interactional norm to second language
learners. The method includes the activity that is divided into four phases: awareness-raising phase,
experimentation phase, production phase, and feedback phase.
The awareness-raising phase involves second language learners to identify a short list of stereotypes about people‟s learners and people of the target language. Naturally the learners identify negative stereotypes of the two cultures. Then the teacher suggests that stereotyping frequently results from
misunderstanding the different cultura norms speakers used in different countries to communicate with each other. Learners are asked to answer a question in the learners‟ language context then find out the equivalent answer in the target language. This activity is aimed to show that the answer
cannot be easily translated from one language to another without knowing the appropriate cultural norms in the target language. The typical answers along with the explanation are provided at the
end of this phase. In the experimentation phase, the teacher let the learners engage in a
multimedia task based on unscripted videotaped conversation between two native speakers of the target language. Then the learners are asked to reconstruct the correct sequence of the scrambled-order conversation, and to recognize the norms of interaction that had been brought to their attention during the awareness-raising phase. After this phase, the learners conducted role-plays of a conversation on fictitious similar topic using appropriate target language norms of interaction. During this production phase the learners‟ role-plays are watched by the others or they can be videotaped. Finally, in the feedback phase the learners comment each other about the conversation they have done. The discussion is established and eventually this lead to the understanding that learning to speak in a foreign language is not a matter of simply adopting foreign norms of behaviour, but about finding an acceptable accommodation between one‟s first culture and the target culture. Lidicoat and Crozet found that the learners who have undergone these phases for ten weeks showed the acquisition of the cultural norm or interactional norms for both contents and form.
Although this acquisition of form tended to lose after one-year completion of the instruction, but the contents still remained. Similarly, another method of transferring cultural norms through
second language learning is by giving the learners a chance to observe directly the behaviour of the target language native speakers. This method is called behavouristic learning.
La Forge (1983) recommended that “progress in second language acquisition took place in a Second Language Acquistion and Its Psycho-cultural Implications significantly different way from
behaviouristic learning” (p.113) These studies recommend us that both pedagogical methods can be
appropriate to transfer cultural norms to second language (L2) learners. At the same time, it means that this pedagogical method introduce the \cognition of native speakers in the target language to the L2 learners. As the result, the L2 learners not only gain the acquisition of the second language, but also the acquisition of second world view.
To sum up, the acquisition of a language gains a benefit to have knowledge of how people in the target language perceive and express a phenomenon. The acquisition of more than one language may involve the acquisition of cultural norms in the target language. In the other words, this
acquisition may lead on the understanding of cognitive process in the target language. Therefore, if one expresses a phenomenon in another language it means that he or she unconsciously attempts to see it from other‟s point of view. In the other words, the acquisition of second language implies the acquisition of the second world view. Considering the benefit of the second language acquisition, an implication on education of second language that explores cultural norms of the target language should be conducted. Pedagogical methods that involve awareness raising phase, experimentation phase, production phase, feedback phase, and behaviouristic learning are proved to be affective in reaching the purpose.
Kessing, Roger. 1979. Linguistic knowledge and cultural knowledge: some doubts and speculations. American Antropologist 81. 14-36. ISSN 0002-7290 0065-6941
La Forge, Paul G.1983. Counseling and culture in second language acquisition. Oxford : Pergamon
Institute of English.
Liddicoat, Anthony J., and Crozet, Chantal. 2001. „Acquiring French interactional norms through instruction‟. In Rose, Kenneth R., & Kasper, Gabriele (eds). Pragmatics in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP.
Lyons, John. 1981. Language and Linguistics. London : Cambridge. O‟Grady, W., Dobrovolsky, M., and Katamba, F.1997. Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction. Longman: London
International Journal of
Cooperative Learning in Cultural Context
B. J. Shwalb and D. W. Shwalb
COOPERATIVE LEARNING IN CULTURAL CONTEXT
BARBARA J. SHWALB and DAVID W. SHWALB
GUEST EDITORS’ PREFACE BARBARA
J. SHWALB and DAVID W. SHWALB
Organization of the Volume
Work on this special edition on Cooperative Learning (abbreviated throughout this volume as “CL”) began in 1991, and proceeded with the encouragement of the editors of International Journal of Educational Research. Our contact with this journal began in 1985, when we and Hiroshi Kida edited a volume about socialization processes and academic achievement in Japanese schools (Kida, Shwalb & Shwalb, 1985). As always happens in cross-cultural enterprises, the process of organizing these papers far
exceeded our original time line — we sincerely thank the contributors and the editorial board of the journal for their patience.
The societies represented in the following seven chapters are not representative of
the nations of the world, in a United Nations sense. Therefore we should explain how the seven cultures were selected. Most researchers who now study CL are associated with the International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education (IASCE), which has published several papers on global perspectives on CL (e.g. Cooperative Learning, 1990). Seeking a sample of cultures, we counted 22 societies that were represented in IASCE conferences and publications. We looked over the work done in these 22 cultures, and selected nine based on two criteria: (1) apparent availability of CL research in the culture; and (2) geography — papers were solicited from cultures on every continent. Contributions from Australia and Canada were promised but not delivered, somewhat narrowing the geographical focus. The U.S.A., which has been the locale of most CL research, was excluded from the sample because American CL has already been discussed in a cultural/historical context by Kohn (1992). High quality CL research has also been conducted in other cultures not included here (e.g. )
The Netherlands and Scandinavia); these cultures were excluded for reasons of space limitations alone.
The Goals of this Volume
This volume has two purposes. First, the papers will show how, in diverse cultural
settings, CL methods enhance learning and reduce frictions among learners with
different racial, cultural and ability backgrounds. There is a global recognition that education is one key to international progress and understanding. And while in the post-Cold War world tensions between and within cultures continue to be ferocious, 195 196 B. J. SHWALB and D. W. SHWALB
any educational tool which promises to reduce frictions should be examined carefully, to see if and how it works in different cultures. This volume should therefore be of interest to practitioners and theoreticians alike. The second goal is to indicate how CL “fits” or does not fit in several societies. One might say, “CL may work in the U.S.A., but it couldn’t work here.” By sampling a variety of contexts, we will see what historical conditions and cultural norms have been most conducive to the goals of CL, and thereby suggest to the reader whether “it could work” across cultures. Readers seeking extensive reviews of empirical research may be disappointed by some of the chapters. The quantity and quality of statistically oriented research varies widely between cultures. Considering the volume as a whole, however, we think it succeeds in introducing readers to numerous studies not previously published in English. The overall positive findings regarding CL use suggest that it can be an effective instructional
approach. Reviews of CL research are numerous (see Davidson’s “Overview”; Johnson, Maruyama, Johnson, Nelson & Skon, 1981; Slavin, 1990), but what is different about this volume is that it provides cultural analyses which help readers to judge the true value of CL. In any given school or in any single culture, a researcher may achieve a statistically significant effect showing the value of CL for pupils. But without an analysis of cultural contexts, we cannot know if research generalizes beyond the targeted school.
The following seven chapters are case studies of how one type of educational method has interacted with culture and history.
Acknowledgements — This work was facilitated by faculty development grants from Nagoya Shoka University and Koryo Women’s College (Hiroshi Kurimoto, President), and previous support from the University of Utah Department of Educational Studies (Ralph Reynolds, Chair) and the Westminster College of Salt Lake City Psychology Program (Mark Jones, Chair). We also thank our colleagues Herbert Walberg and Masao Tashiro for their inspiration and encouragement.
Cooperative Learning (1990). Cooperative learning around the world: A special convention report.
Cooperative Learning, 10(4), 22-43. Johnson, D. W., Maruyama, G., Johnson, R., Nelson, D., &
Skon, L. (1981). Effects of cooperative,
competitive and individualistic goal structures on achievement: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin,
89, 47-62. Kida, H., Shwalb, D. W., & Shwalb, B. J. (1985). School achievement and
socialization in Japan:
Implications for educators. Evaluation in Education: An International Review Series, 9(3), 217-299
(Whole Issue). Kohn, A. (1992). No contest: The case against competition (Revised edn). Boston,
Slavin, R. E. (1990). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall.
COOPERATIVE LEARNING IN CULTURAL
CONTEXTS: AN INTEGRATIVE REVIEW
BARBARA J. SHWALB* and DAVID W. SHWALBf
*Nagoya Shoka University, Nagoya, Japan
IKoryo Women’s College, Nagoya, Japan
This chapter critiques the previous seven chapters, summarizing key points and leading to general conclusions about contextual influences on CL. First, considering the seven reviews of research literature, it appears that there is an imbalance in the quantity and quality of CL research conducted in different societies. Yet the chapters converge on the point that CL is effective regarding both social and cognitive outcomes. Despite this consistent finding, it was apparent that because of historical factors CL runs against the mainstream of all educational systems described. Researcher bias and advocacy of CL were considered as obstacles to the fruitful dissemination of cross-cultural CL research.
The Research Findings The seven chapters varied significantly in terms of the quantity and quality of research they presented. For instance, the chapters from England and Israel both reviewed extensive bodies of classroom research, often comparative and experimental in nature, while the chapters about Africa and Latin America made clear that little objective research was available from those regions. And most of the German and Japanese research appeared to utilize either case study or survey methodologies. In general, the research findings seem to transcend both culture and research methodology, and the gist of all the chapters is that CL has the potential to be more useful than traditional or competitive learning.
Germany Huber presented several examples of how team or group learning has proven to be effective with German children. For example, the team-kleingruppen-modell 293 294 B. J. SHWALB and D. W. SHWALB
(team/small-group model) utilized team-teaching, peer-tutoring and other means to break away from the typical competitive or individualized model of German instruction (e.g. Affeldt, Ratzky, & Wensky, 1977). Under this system, students were usually able to develop social skills and raise their academic achievement. However, other research (Brandt & Scholmerkemper, 1985) showed that for pupils and teachers whose personalities favor certainty over conflict, it is particularly difficult to function in a group learning setting. This research led Huber to conclude that CL must be implemented in a way which does not alienate individuals who have grown up accustomed to noncooperative education.
Japan Sugie reported that research on buzz instruction (Sugie & Ito, 1990), small group instruction (Sueyoshi & Nobukawa, 1965), and collectivistic education (Zenseiken, 1990), all indicated how CL can be of value for the cognitive and social development of Japanese children. In one case study, for example, buzz instruction was used to build a whole-school environment which fostered mutual understanding and internationalization of the school curriculum (Kasugai, 1988). Sugie also noted that in recent decades there has been a decline in the amount of CL research compared with in the 1950s.
England Cowie, citing two decades of experimental research, demonstrated that in England CL has had a positive effect on pupils’ personal growth, cognitive abilities and to general social outcomes. For instance, CL was related to improvements in social acceptance (Silveira & Trafford, 1988), the ability to think for oneself (Barnes, Britton, & Rosen, 1969), concern for global issues (Pike & Selby, 1988), increased selfawareness and self-confidence (Hopson & Scally, 1981), improved academic work and personal independence (Dunne & Bennett, 1990), and friendships across gender and race (Smith, Boulton, & Cowie, 1993). Most recently, however, she and her colleagues observed that for CL to succeed teachers must share a value system congruent with the goals of CL.
Sub-Saharan Africa Taylor noted how little formal research has been conducted on CL in Africa, although investigations have begun in a few countries including his own South Africa. For example, CL techniques have been successfully applied with South African pupils, facilitating positive inter-racial relationships (Du Plooy, 1993). In other South African studies, the use of the Jigsaw (Aronson, Blaney, Stephen, Sikes, & Snapp, 1978) method had a positive effect on social and ethnic attitudes, and peer tutoring helped increase academic achievement among Blacks (Du Plooy, 1987). Similar positive achievement findings have also been reported from Nigeria (Okebukola, 1984). Most recently, Cooperative Learning in Cultural Context 295 Taylor (1993) used CL in moral education to promote interpersonal relations among white and black youth. So in South Africa, research on CL has just begun to appear with frequency, suggesting that it may be an important educational and social tool in post-apartheid society.
Latin America Brown and Brown began their chapter with the strong statement that “Research about CL in Latin America is nearly non-existent.” They reported a few case studies in which CL or cooperative games have been used (e.g. Bohrer, 1993; Brown, 1990). But rather than CL as we know it in the North American context, the Browns chose mainly to focus on alternative education, a Latin American movement or philosophy which incorporates the goals of CL. They introduced examples of projects in Costa Rica, Venezuela and Columbia, labeled as process-centered educational programs which all indicated that cooperation in education has a potential place in Latin American societies. They also mentioned several adult education programs in Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, which emphasize critical thinking through
the use of alternative education.
Israel In their two chapters, Hertz-Lazarowitz and Zelniker, and Shachar and Sharan, concur that CL techniques can be quite valuable for Israeli pupils under certain conditions. They both cite a long and extensive research literature which showed the efficacy of group investigation (GI) and student group teaching (SGT) techniques. These techniques were related positively to cognitive, social and affective outcome measures (Sharan & Hertz-Lazarowitz, 1981). In particular, GI was found to be a valuable means of improving the performance and interpersonal relations of students in heterogeneous classrooms (Sharan, Kussell, Hertz-Lazarowitz, Bejarano, Raviv, and Sharan, 1984). On the other hand, Hertz-Lazarowitz and Zelniker claim that methods which were directly transplanted from the U.S.A. (i.e. highly structured instructional packages) were not as effective in Israel as native-developed techniques. In summary, the research reported in this volume suggests that CL can have a wide variety of positive effects on students worldwide. The caveats cited above include that to maximize these effects students and teachers must want CL to succeed and have values in congruence with -the goals of CL. In addition, as Hertz-Lazarowitz and Zelniker
point out, simply exporting American or European CL packages produces limited
effects when the methods are not suited to the norms and values of each culture.
Finally, as the chapters by the Browns and Taylor show, formal research on CL is
rarely conducted outside the most wealthy of industrial nations, where research funding is most plentiful. Cooperative Learning in Cultural ContextLatin America
297 Alternative education, the nearest thing to CL in Latin American education, was viewed by Brown and Brown as a reaction to “oppressive” formal educational systems.
They contrasted alternative education and CL by stating that alternative education takes place mainly in informal community settings, while CL takes place mainly in schools. But this seems a historical rather than an inevitable development. They also highlighted the recently dominant values of fatalism and conformity, and claimed that social change based on the philosophy of Freire (1973) would be more in fitting with native Latin American values. That is, while Latin Americans were said to be forced to adapt to noncooperative norms, traditional popular culture might favor CL.
Sub-Saharan Africa Similarly, Western-style education was reported as transplanted artificially in Africa, and Taylor observes that pre-colonial African values and thinking were neither competitive nor individualistic. But Taylor conceded that in the history of post-colonial Africa formal schooling became the vehicle to social success, so that one must be competitive or individualistic to “succeed.”
Israel Shachar and Sharan disagreed completely with Hertz-Lazarowitz and Zelniker, who claimed that there were native roots for CL in Israeli society. They stated that “Group Investigation is totally unrelated historically and theoretically to any political ideology, orientation or Group in Israel . . .”, which contradicts the position taken throughout this volume that CL is a product of history and culture. Meanwhile Hertz-Lazarowitz and Zelniker found the roots of their CL work in Judaic and Zionistic educational and social philosophy. Whatever the resolution of this discrepancy, both chapters tend to converge on the point that the mainstream Israeli educational system hinders the approach taken by the CL movement.
The trend which emerged throughout the volume was that CL, while shown by
researchers to have a wide variety of potential benefits for children across cultures, is not the norm in any society. For instance, Huber (citing Dichanz & Schwittmann, 1986) stated that under 10% of German classroom interactions involve group work. In Japan, Sugie described the predominance of the “talent first” notion, such that diversity is not tolerated among Japanese pupils. In South Africa, the over -burdened school system must accept booming numbers of new students, straining its crowded classrooms and education budgets. Everywhere CL seems to have become a counterpoint to mainstream formal education, and is studied by a small but very competent minority of enthusiastic educators. Yet nowhere has it become the norm. 296 B. J. SHWALB and D. W. SHWALB
Cultural Contexts Without exception, the contributors seemed to see CL not only as an instructional technique but also as a cause or movement. And invariably, the cause of CL faces an uphill battle given the cultural, economic, social, historical and educational contexts in which children attend schools. Although the traditional value systems of Japan, SubSaharan Africa and Israel were reported to be conducive to the successful implementation of CL, in all seven chapters societal currents seemed to oppose the aims of the CL movement. The following examples show how in each culture social norms make it very difficult to advocate and implement CL.
Germany Huber stated that filling societal roles has taken precedence over the societal goal of developing individual personalities. To perform its selective functions, a tripartite school system developed in Germany, and competitive examinations apparently became the favored route to economic success. As a result of these tendencies, Huber concluded that CL is a rare event in the average German classroom. This is despite several decades of active research on CL and school reforms intended to accentuate the value of fulfilling children’s personalities.
Japan Sugie observed that during one historical period (the years following World War I), group learning and humanitarian goals were emphasized by educators. However, the goal of national efficiency took precedence following Japan’s total defeat in World War II, and the government built a school system which encouraged individualistic competition. Given the various strains experienced by Japanese teachers who must teach a very demanding curriculum geared toward preparation for entrance examinations to high schools and colleges, there is said to be strong resistance to CL in Japan among both teachers and parents.
England Cowie noted that from the late 1970s, CL became an alternative approach to traditional U.K. education. Reflecting a highly stratified society, English education varies according to social class, and as in Germany and Japan, standardized testing is used to select those qualified for different occupational strata. The educational system which emerged in this context favored mainly teacher-centered education and independent achievement. Apparently teachers who themselves were educated in such a climate are difficult to convert to the philosophy of CL. 298 B. J. SHWALB and D. W. SHWALB
Research vs. Advocacy
While we personally admit to favoring CL ourselves, it seems that the evidence,
much of it based on objective inquiry, shows that when implemented correctly CL
improves human relations in heterogenous classrooms. Therefore CL should be a
useful educational method in all societies facing human relations problems between minority/majority groups, as in the case of all of the cultures represented in this volume. The current reality, though, is that while all contributors were convinced of the efficacy of CL, they are going against entrenched forces in their societies. Competitive Western-style formal education always seems to be the enemy, and stymies the CL movement.
As scientists the contributors have all produced evidence to back up their beliefs
and advocacy of educational and social changes. Of course, as in Latin American
alternative education, CL can also have political implications. In such a case caution is warranted because if CL is perceived as simply an extension of a political viewpoint, the significance of quality research findings may be rejected or ignored. It is not surprising that CL researchers favor CL, and this bias colors their cultural interpretations. For instance Kohn (1992), in order to prove that competition is harmful, states that “the United States appears to be uniquely competitive . . .” (p. 33) which seems to us to be an overstatement. In support of this notion he cites various cultures which seem to be “more” cooperative than the U.S.A. Stating that “Japanese education is said to be far less competitive than ours, he quotes Benedict (1946) as stating “The Japanese have always been inventive in devising ways of avoiding direct competition …” (p. 37).
However, Benedict’s research data was based on mainly on pre-World War II materials and Sugie’s chapter proved that Japanese education has become extremely competitive.
And regarding the U.S.A., as we recently read in a Japanese guide to studying in
the U.S.A. (Japan/U.S.A. Educational Commission, 1993), “Americans are generally competitive” (p. 248), and “Americans are generally cooperative” (p. 249). Perhaps the view that one must choose either cooperation or competition as an educational philosophy is a limitation of the CL approach. It was to their credit that authors such as Huber, Cowie and Hertz-Lazarowitz/Zelniker took a more even-handed view of culture, noting that it is sometimes difficult to implement CL. Another example of a trouble point in the CL viewpoint is the idea that teachers or society are in a sense “not ready for CL”, as in Huber’s conclusion that some teachers or children may favor “certainty” too strongly. Personally, we can appreciate the value of certainty in this world of uncertainties. And to those favoring traditional education, the view that CL is a superior approach may easily be misinterpreted as indicating that “people aren’t smart enough to appreciate the value of CL”. Therefore, reviews of research findings are most potent when data are presented as evidence rather than as “the truth.” Implications
Formal schooling was referred to in all the chapters as a historical product of Western philosophy and thinking, but the educational and psychological research they reported was also a product of Western science and culture. As Azuma (1995) observes, research is always influenced by cultural biases, and as researchers we may be even more Cooperative Learning in Cultural Context 299
culturally-blinded than the human groups we study. Therefore as we observe CL or any educational research from an international perspective, we must be aware of our culturally-based assumptions. CL researchers are influenced and biased not only by their cultures, but by their training as Western-style scientists and by their association with pro-CL colleagues. The historical analyses presented in this volume can help us to uncover the contexts in which each CL researcher was raised, so that we can view the merits of CL more objectively.
The implication of the preceding is short and simple. All educational researchers,
practitioners and policy makers have personal preferences concerning educational
methods. And only by admitting such biases can we objectively evaluate such educational practices. As CL pioneer Ted Graves (personal communication 5 July, 1991) once mentioned to us, it is curious that the use of CL became most widespread in cultures where it seems to be least welcomed, i.e. in the most powerful, competitive and individualistic cultures, and least common in places where it should have been most welcomed, i.e. in collectivist African cultures like those described by Taylor. Could it be that this historical irony forces some CL specialists into the position of becoming advocate-researchers?
As researchers we should reflect upon why we advocate a certain methodology. Can we truly look objectively at data which does not support our favorite techniques? As practitioners we should also ask why others resist CL in the face of all our supportive evidence — is it because the research is wrong or because it is incongruent with aspects of our cultures which we personally dislike? And as policy makers we should rethink our own cultural and intellectual assumptions before passing judgement on educational methods. CL is only one of numerous approaches to teaching and learning. This volume showed how human assumptions about education influence our choices of educational practices, and why we must carefully study our own cultures and histories.
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Cooperative Learning in the Social Studies:
Balancing the Social and the Studies
Robert E. Slavin
Johns Hopkins University
Eric A. Hurley
Success For All Foundation
Walk through any educational environment, from preschool to postsecondary, and you are bound to see examples of cooperative learning in action. Cooperative learning is applied in a wide range of settings, with all age groups, in diverse disciplines. A national survey of US teachers conducted in 1993 found that 79% of elementary teachers and 62% of middle school teachers reported making some sustained use of cooperative learning (Puma, Jones, Rock and Fernandez, 1993). In social studies, the use of cooperative learning predates John Dewey’s Project Method of the 1920’s. In present-day social studies classrooms, cooperative learning appears especially frequently, in a wide variety of forms.
The popularity of cooperative learning methods in social studies classrooms is due, at least in part, to their effects on the social development of students. In addition to strengthening and expanding students’ grasp of the formal curriculum, they impact affective outcomes inherent to social studies –outcomes beyond curriculum mastery. These include empathy toward other peoples, in other cultures (and eras), ideas of citizenship, and critical thinking.
Although cooperative learning is a powerful tool with which to accomplish academic, social, and affective goals, it takes more than simply allowing children to work together in groups, an activity to which the cooperative learning label is often misguidedly affixed. More than twenty-five years of experimental research in schools indicates that outcomes, particularly achievement outcomes, are affected by how teachers structure and implement cooperative learning methods. One can think about effective use of cooperative learning in social studies as being attentive to both the social and the studies. This chapter begins with a review of those cooperative learning methods that have been most researched. Following this is a discussion of the elements of those methods proven to impact achievement and social goals, with an emphasis on strategies that have been applied in the social studies, and that have been researched in comparison with
traditionally taught groups.
Cooperative Learning Methods
Teachers have access to any number of cooperative learning methods, many of which are specific and come with training, manuals, or how-to materials, and many less formal variations. The most frequently researched methods used in the social studies are described below.
Student Teams-Achievement Divisions
In four-member heterogeneous learning teams, mixed by performance level, gender, and ethnicity, students work together to make sure that each team member has learned a lesson presented by the teacher. The cycle of activities that constitutes STAD (Slavin, 1995) begins with a teacher presentation and then involves a period of group study, in which students work to make sure that they and their teammates have mastered the content. The lesson concludes with quizzes on the material covered by that lesson. Students take the quizzes individually, without helping one another. Quizzes are scored, and each student is awarded points based on having met or exceeded his or her previous score. Team scores represent the sum of the members’ points. Teams earn certificates or other awards by meeting preestablished criteria.
STAD, a cycle of activities that takes three to five class periods, has been used in second grade through college classrooms, and in a wide range of subjects, including social studies. It is best suited to teaching well-defined objectives, and material for which there will be a single right answer. In the social studies, it could be used as a strategy to teach map skills, geography, events in history, or economic and government principles.
Teams-Games-Tournament (DeVries and Slavin, 1978; Slavin, 1995) resembles STAD, except that the quiz component has been replaced by weekly tournaments. Students compete with members of other teams to gain points for their own teams’ score.
In Jigsaw (Aronson et al, 1978; Aronson and Shelley, 1997), student teams of six work on academic material that has been divided into sections by the teacher. Each team member is responsible for a particular section. For example, if the material assigned were an historical event, one team member might be assigned a section on social context, one might be responsible for timeline, another might be responsible for long term effects, and the other teammates might each be assigned a section on key participants. Each student reads his or her assigned section, after which the class reconfigures into “expert groups”. Expert groups consist of the students responsible for a particular section in their respective teams. After expert groups discuss their sections, students return to their original teams, to teach that section to their teammates. This strategy encourages teammates to support each other’s work. It is only by listening carefully to each other that team members can learn about the other sections, and understand how their piece fits into a larger puzzle.
There have been many modificaions of Jigsaw, several of which are described by Spencer Kagan (1995). Jigsaw II is a modification made to Jigsaw by Slavin (1995). In this method, students work in four to five-member teams, as in TGT and STAD. All students begin by reading a common narrative such as a story, textbook chapter, or biography, before being assigned subtopics on which to become experts. Students reconfigure into expert groups based on common subtopics. Having discussed the subtopics, students return to their original teams to share what they have learned with teammates. Finally, students take individual quizzes. Improvement on quiz scores results in points, which are brought back to the team to determine a team score, as in STAD. Certificates or other rewards are made based on predetermined criteria.
A team-generated work product, as opposed to individual products, is one of the
distinguishing factors of the Learning Together model, developed by David and Roger Johnson (1994) at the University of Minnesota. In Learning Together, students in a heterogeneous, four- or five-member group work on a single assignment sheet, which can earn them praise and rewards. There is an emphasis on team-building activities prior to group work, as well as regular within-group dialogue to determine how well the students are functioning together.
A general classroom organization plan, Group Investigation requires students to work in small groups and to use cooperative inquiry, group discussion, and cooperative planning and projects. This method was refined by Shlomo Sharan at the University of Tel Aviv (Sharan and Sharan, 1992). A unit is studied by the entire class, and students in groups of two to six select subtopics from this unit. The groups then divide their subtopics into individual tasks, and work collectively towards a group report. These reports are presented or displayed for the benefit of the rest of the class. Kagan (1995) developed Co-op Co-op, a variation of Group Investigation.
Research on Cooperative Learning
Among alternative methods to traditional instruction, cooperative learning is perhaps the method most extensively researched. A 1995 review by Slavin summarized the results of ninety-nine studies that have rigorously evaluated the effects of cooperative learning. Sixty seven compared achievement among students taught in regular elementary or
secondary schools using cooperative learning, with students in traditionally taught control groups (with random assignment to cooperative or control conditions, or with controls matched on pretest achievement and other factors). All of these studies used measures of objectives pursued by both cooperative and control classes, and followed students over a period of at least four weeks. Although only a few of these studies involved social studies, other studies have clear implications for the teaching of social studies.
Academic Achivement Thirty-nine of the sixty-seven studies on cooperative learning and student achievement (58 per cent) found that achievement is significantly greater for students in cooperative learning classes, compared to control classes. No differences were found in twenty-seven of the studies (40 per cent). In the one remaining study, a control group outperformed the cooperative learning group.
The method of cooperative learning that is used has a considerable impact on the
effectiveness of cooperative learning. For example, if we examine studies of cooperative learning that included both group goals and individual accountability, we find significant positive achievement effects. Of these studies, thirty-seven out of forty-four (84 per cent) show significant positive achievement affects. Only four of twenty-three studies (17 per cent) of cooperative learning methods that did not use these components found significantly positive effects on student achievement. Group Investigation in Israel was the subject of two of those four studies (Sharan et al. 1984; Sharan and Shachar 1988). In this classroom organizational plan, students in each group are responsible for a discrete
part of the group’s overall assignment, ensuring individual accountability. It seems as though a group evaluation took the place of group rewards, and so Group Investigation was perhaps operating with both components. The evidence then, suggests that group goals and individual accountability are critical components of effective cooperative learning strategies. (Slavin, 1990; O’Donnell, 1997). In other words, groups must be working to achieve a common preset goal, reward, or recognition, and this recognition must rely on individual learning by each group member.
When cooperative learning is considered without group goals and individual
accountability, it becomes clear why these components are so important. For example, in some forms of cooperative learning, students work in groups to complete a single task or product. Under such circumstances, it is unclear what might motivate more able students to invest time and energy in explaining material to be learned to less able group members. It is unclear whether any mechanism would ensure that less able members participate or feel involved and valued. It is also unclear how teachers could be certain that learning was taking place for all students, when the sole purpose of the group is to complete
something. A number of scholars have argued that social and or cultural variables may under some circumstances foster group norms which motivate such ‘group centric’ behavior (Dill and Boykin, 2000; Boykin, Jagers, Ellison, and Albury, 1997; Johnson and Johnson, 1985), however, the evidence to date calls for a more pragmatic approach to motivating students.
When a cooperative learning group is tasked with ensuring that each member understands the material, there is incentive for each group member to invest time and energy learning from and explaining to other members. Research on student behavior in cooperative groups (Webb, 1992; Rosenshine and Meister, 1994) has found that in fact, those group members who gain most from cooperative work are those that give and receive expanded, or elaborated, explanations. Webb’s research consistently found that when students gave or received answers without explanation, there was a negative impact on achievement. When groups are given clear goals, and group members are individually accountable, students are motivated to take each other’s learning seriously.
All types of students benefit from cooperative learning methods. Teachers are sometimes concerned that cooperative learning will hold back their high achievers, however, research on cooperative learning does not support this belief. Although occasional studies have found particular benefits for high achievers or low achievers, boys or girls, etc., most studies find equal benefits for all students involved. Research has shown that in cooperative learning classes, high achievers gain as much as average and low achievers (Slavin 1991).
Most research on cooperative learning has involved students in grades 3-9, however, studies of outcomes at the senior high school level are generally as positive as studies at the earlier levels. Studies at the postsecondary level also generally show positive effects; however, there is a need for more rigorous studies of cooperative learning beyond the ninth grade, and in colleges and universities. In addition to showing positive results across educational levels, cooperative learning methods have proven to be equally effective in urban, suburban, and rural schools, and with students of various ethnic groups. Some studies have actually found particularly positive effects for AfricanAmerican students; see, for example, Slavin and Oickle (1981).
The positive effects of cooperative learning in social studies mirror those reported in other subject areas. In 9th grade geography, Allen and VanSickle (1984) found that STAD produced strong positive effects. U.S. history classes experienced similar effects when DeVries, Edwards, and Wells (1974) studied the use of TGT in this setting. Students in ‘Learning Together’ classes, studied by Yager, Johnson, Johnson, and Snider (1986) retained more information from a unit in transportation, than did students that were taught in a traditional setting.
Group Investigation has had particularly positive effects in the social studies. The most positive of this research followed Israeli 8 th graders studying geography and history in an eighteen week experiment (Sharan and Shachar 1988).
For Jigsaw, achievement effects seem to be related to the form of the program used. Few achievement effects were shown for the original model (see, for example, Lucker et al., 1976; Rich, Amir, and Slavin, 1996). Jigsaw II, which uses group goals and individual accountability, has had positive achievement effects. This research includes two social studies examples. Mattingly and VanSickle (1991) studied an integrated unit on Asia that was taught in a US high school in Germany. Ziegler (1981) studied the achievement of Toronto students on units about the Inuit people and the history and geography of Newfoundland.
Research has consistently shown that cooperative learning methods have a positive impact on intergroup relations. Most of this research involves students listing their best friends at the start of the study, and again at the end. Intergroup relations was determined by the number of friends that a student listed from outside his or her own ethnic group. STAD, TGT, Jigsaw, Learning Together, and Group Investigation have all shown positive effects on intergroup relations (Slavin, 1985). Improving intergroup relations is central to the overarching agenda of social studies. Social studies curricula are designed to foster better understanding among diverse communities and cultures around the world and among groups that exist side by side. Traditional social studies curricula promote such understanding through content and factual knowledge. According to current research on intergroup relations, improved relations among groups is best achieved through contact, and only through contact where members of different groups are of equal status and have shared goals (Battisch, 1994).
Traditional classroom practices allow for little direct, supervised contact, and where this contact exists, it is usually competitive in nature. Cooperative learning techniques can enrich social studies by encouraging children to develop skills and attitudes which facilitate understanding while providing then the opportunity to interact with others in the types of circumstances known to enhance intergroup relations.
Studies of cooperative learning and intergroup relations in the US have involved AfricanAmerican, European-American, and, in some cases, Hispanic students. In one of these studies, which focused on STAD, and in a Toronto study of Jigsaw II that involved
Anglo-Canadians and children of recent European immigrants (Ziegler, 1981), intergroup
friendships were determined several months after the studies’ conclusion. In both
studies, students who had been in cooperative learning classes continued to name
significantly more friends from outside their own ethnic groups, compared to students who had been in control classes. In two studies of Group Investigation conducted in Israel (Sharan et al. 1984; Sharan and Shachar 1988), friendship patterns between Jewish students of European and Middle Eastern backgrounds was examined. Results showed that the improved attitude and behavior of students towards classmates of different ethnic groups extended beyond just those classmates that had been involved in the cooperative group work.
Inclusion Research on academically handicapped children has been the focus of research on cooperative learning and inclusion or mainstreaming. In a study of STAD in which students performing two years or more below peer level were integrated into the classroom social structure, there was a significant reduction in the degree to which normal-progress students rejected their mainstreamed peers. In addition, academic achievement and self-esteem increased for all students (Ballard et al. 1977; Cooper et al. 1980). One study of social studies in a self-contained classroom for emotionally disturbed adolescents found that positive interactions and friendships among students increased when TGT was used as a teaching strategy (Slavin, 1977). Five months after the conclusion of the study, students who had been in TGT classes continued these positive interactions more often than in control classes. Janke (1978) conducted a study in a similar setting, in which he found that emotionally disturbed students in TGT classes were more often on task, better behaved, and had better attendance, compared with similar students in control classes. As with inter-ethnic/cultural group relations,
cooperative learning provides equal status shared goal interactions among normalprogress students and their academically handicapped peers. Thus, again an important social studies agenda can be served with the implementation of cooperative learning methods.
Not only has research found positive effects of cooperative learning on achievement, intergroup relations, and acceptance of mainstream students, but effects have also been found on other important outcomes. An increase in self esteem has been noted by several researchers who study cooperative learning methods. In particular, there have been significant improvements in self esteem or students in TGT and STAD classrooms (Slavin, 1995), Jigsaw classrooms (Blaney et al., 1977), and for classrooms in which the three methods were combined (Slavin and Kaarweit, 1981). Other outcomes affected positively by cooperative learning include enjoyment of school, developing peer norms in
favor of doing well academically, feeling that the individual has control over his or her own fate in school, time on task, cooperativeness and altruism (Slavin 1995). Research has shown that TGT (DeVries and Slavin, 1978) and STAD (Slavin, 1977; Janke, 1978) have positive effects on students’ time on task. One particularly encouraging study followed students in 7th
through 11th grades, with low socioeconomic status, and at risk of becoming delinquent. Results from this study found that those students who worked in
cooperative groups had better attendance records, fewer contacts with police, and more positive behavioral ratings by teachers, compared to control students (Hartley, 1976). Another study which implemented various forms of cooperative learning with students starting in kindergarten and continuing through the 4 th grade, found more effective resolution of personal conflicts, more support expressed for democratic values, and higher scores on measures of supportive, friendly, and prosocial behaviors among students who had participated in well-structured cooperative groups (Solomon et al., 1990).
Balancing the Social and the Studies in Social Studies Students in social studies as other disciplines can benefit from cooperative learning. Research on cooperative learning in social studies and other settings has demonstrated the
potential of this strategy to help students learn content and, at the same time, improve social skills and prosocial attitudes. It is important to note, however, that grouping students and telling them to work together is not enough. While a wide variety of cooperative learning methods have shown positive social outcomes, achievement gains appear to rely on group goals and accountability. It is imperative that group success depends on the learning and performance of every student.
Social studies is a particularly appropriate forum for cooperative learning, since explicit social goals are often included among desirable outcomes for this discipline. Teaching civic values and democracy to rows of passively listening students does not make sense. Different forms of cooperative learning can work in the social studies classroom to accommodate a wide variety of purposes. For example, STAD or Learning Together can be used to teach information and skills, Jigsaw can help students learn from texts, and Group Investigation can be used for group projects and reports. A creative teacher can develop any number of variations of these to align student learning with social studies objectives.
Cooperative learning, when used in a thoughtful and informed way, can fill a social studies classroom with students who are debating, exploring, questioning, teaching, assessing, and experiencing knowledge –who are actively engaged learners. A classroom like this embodies the social and the studies that are part of a comprehensive social studies curriculum.
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Yager, Stuart, Roger T. Johnson, David W. Johnson, and B. Snider. “The Impact of Group Processing on Achievement in Cooperative Learning.” Journal of Social
Psychology 126, no. 30 (1986): 389-97.
Yager, Stuart, David W. Johnson, and Roger T. Johnson. “Oral Discussion, Group-toIndividual Transfer, and Achievement in Cooperative Learning Groups.” Journal of Educational Psychology 77 (February 1985): 60-66.
Ziegler, Suzanne. “The Effectiveness of Cooperative Learning Teams for Increasing Cross-Ethnic Friendship: Additional Evidence.” Human Organization 40 (Fall 1981): 264-68.
‘IT’S THE VIBE’: FOSTERING STUDENT COLLABORATIVE LEARNING IN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW IN AUSTRALIA.
By MARK ISRAEL, ELIZABETH HANDSLEY and GARY DAVIS1
The Law Teacher: The International Journal of Legal Education (United Kingdom)
Collaborative learning rests on the belief that students can learn something from
working with each other. Apart from improving task-based performance in some
contexts, collaborative learning can help students develop group and conflict resolution skills. However, some group work initiatives have been troubled by institutional concerns about the reduction of competitiveness among students, a diminution of the authority of teachers, difficulties in assessing the contributions of individual students and increased costs in course delivery. Some students have complained that their motivation dropped as a result of group work, and that the delivery and assessment modes adopted to foster collaborative learning were unfairly penalising them.
Within law, documented use of collaborative learning has been largely restricted to clinical programmes. This paper reviews the introduction of the Collaborative Learning in Constitutional Law (CL2) Programme to a core non-clinical part of the law degree at Flinders University, South Australia, and explores student, staff and institutional attitudes to the collaborative learning programme.
‘It’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo… it’s the vibe’, so goes one of the most memorable lines of dialogue from Rob Sitch’s 1997 Ozfilm cult hit, The Castle. Now a hook of Australian popular culture as well as that nation’s legal consciousness, this phrase had been repeated, just as feebly, by scores of flummoxed law students from Toowomba to Tasmania grasping at constitutional straws in public law exams or essays, as it was in the film by the character of fly-by-night solicitor, Dennis DeNuto… (who) utters these immortal words before the Federal Court.2
Associate Professor Gary Davis is Dean of Law; Elizabeth Handsley is Associate Professor of Law and convenor of Constitutional Law in 2002; Dr Mark Israel is a Reader in Law and Criminology. They are all in the School of Law at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, GPO Box 2100, SA 5001, Australia.
Correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. The authors wish to thank Dr Chris Reynolds, Rebecca LaForgia, Pamela Wright and the students in the 2002 Constitutional Law topic at Flinders University for participating in the research project as well as Dr Janice Orrell for providing comments on earlier drafts
of this paper. Thanks also to David De Bellis (Flinders University Planning Services Unit) for providing statistical data on law students.
William P.A. MacNeil, “It’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo… it’s the vibe: The Common Law Imaginary Down Under – A Jurisprudential Reading of The Castle”, Griffith University Socio Legal Research Centre Working
Paper 1. http://www.gu.edu.au/school/law/slrc/pdf/workpaper1.pdf: 2. The Castle, dir. Rob Sitch, 1997. MI 2 12/10/2010
Students engaged in collaborative learning work together in groups to produce
something that is planned and developed and at least partly assessed as a collective endeavour. Apart from improving task-based performance in some contexts, collaborative learning can help students develop group and conflict resolution skills.
While many faculty members are enthusiastic about collaborative learning
programmes, some group work initiatives in the United States have been troubled by institutional concerns about the reduction of competitiveness among students, a
diminution of the authority of teachers, difficulties in assessing the contributions of individual students and increased costs in course delivery. In addition, some
students have complained that their motivation had dropped, and that they were
being unfairly penalised by delivery and assessment modes that had been adopted
to foster collaborative learning.
Within law, documented use of collaborative learning has been largely restricted to clinical programmes in the United States. This paper reviews the introduction of group work to a core non-clinical part of the law degree at Flinders University in South Australia and explores student, staff and institutional attitudes to the
Collaborative Learning in Constitutional Law (CL2) programme. It argues that
properly researched, resourced and monitored programmes can help create an
environment for staff and students within which group work and collaborative
learning might productively occur.
2. Theories of Collaborative Learning
Collaborative learning rests on the belief that students can learn something from
working with each other. Collaborative learning draws on several alternative
theoretical approaches, largely developed within psychology on the basis of
research with primary and secondary school students. For example, research on
various motivational perspectives has suggested that cooperative incentive
structures can be devised that mean that individual members of the group can only
achieve their own personal goals if the group as a whole is successful. Melanie L. Schneider, “Collaborative Learning: A Concept in Search of a Definition”, (1990) Issues in Writing 26.
It is therefore in the interest of each member to adopt norms that favour academic achievement – encouraging team members to complete tasks and praising them if they do them Robert E. Slavin, “When and Why does Cooperative Learning Increase Achievement? Theoretical and
Empirical Perspectives”, in Rachel Hertz-Lazarowitz and Norman Miller (eds.) Interaction in Groups: the Theoretical Anatomy of Group Learning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 145-173.
D.W. Johnson, G. Maruyama, R. Johnson, D. Nelson and L. Skon, “Effects of Cooperative, Competitive,
and Individualistic Goal Structures on Achievement: a Meta-Analysis”, (1981) 89 Psychological Bulletin 47; Robert E. Slavin, Cooperative Learning: Theory, Research and Practice (2nd ed.) (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995). well or, conversely, condemning teammates who fail to perform their assigned roles
effectively. On the other hand, advocates of social cohesion perspectives have argued that students develop affective bonds as a result of the process of working in groups.
They help each other to succeed because they care about each other. Research
supporting the impact of cohesion alone on achievement is not convincing. Finally, several researchers investigating cognitive perspectives have claimed that student interactions in themselves promote student achievement by stimulating mental processing and synthesis of new information, supporting the rehearsal and cognitive restructuring of material perhaps resulting from the need to explain
concepts, learn from mistakes or respond to challenges to their understanding from other group members. In doing so, students become more metacognitive in their learning processes, developing skills such as concept-building, problem-solving, higher-level reasoning, critical thinking, creativity, long-term retention and application.
Adoption of collaborative learning techniques can entail a series of fundamental
shifts for students, lecturers and institutions. Students are likely to experience a
transfer of responsibility for learning from teacher to students. Johnson et al.
argued that collaborative learning experiences were most likely to be successful
when students achieved various forms of positive interdependence – described in
terms of goal, resource, task and role interdependence.
Shlomo Sharan and Ruth Hertz-Lazarowitz, “A Group-Investigation Method of Cooperative Learning in the Classroom”, in S. Sharan, P. Hare, C. Webb and R. Hertz-Lazarowitz, (eds.) Cooperation in Education (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1980), 14-46; Shlomo Sharan and Hana Shachar, Language
and Learning in the Cooperative Classroom (New York: Springer, 1988).
This occurs when students believe that all members of their group must succeed and that success can only be achieved through collective action. Students engaged in collaborative learning have reported greater involvement in the learning process, often connected to an Slavin, n.4 1992
W. Damon, “Peer Education: the Untapped Potential”, (1984) 5 Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 331.
Donald F. Dansereau, “Learning Strategy Research”, in Judith W. Segal, Susan F. Chipman and Robert Glaser (eds.) Thinking and Learning Skills: Relating Instruction to Basic Research. Volume 1 (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1985), 209-239; Noreen M. Webb, “Student Interaction and Learning in Small Groups: a Research Summary”, in Robert E. Slavin, Shlomo Sharan, Spencer Kagan, Rachel Hertz-Lazarowitz, Clark Webb and Richard Schmuck, (eds.) Learning to Cooperate, Cooperating to Learn (New York: Plenum, 1985), 147-72.
K. Patricia Cross and Mimi Harris Steadman, Classroom Research: Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996).
R. Webb, “Working Collaboratively on Topic Tasks”, (1990) 20 (1) Cambridge Journal of Education 37.
David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson, Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive and Individualistic Learning (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1994).
Kris Bosworth, “Developing Collaborative Skills in College Students”, in Kris Bosworth and Sharon J.
Hamilton, (eds.) Collaborative Learning: Underlying Processes and Effective Techniques. New Directions for Teaching and Learning no.59 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994), 25-31; Elizabeth A. Reilly, “Deposing the ‘Tyranny of Extroverts’: Collaborative Learning in the Traditional Classroom Format”, (2000) 50 (4)
Journal of Legal Education 593.
D.W. Johnson, R.T. Johnson and K.A. Smith, Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4 (Washington DC: George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development, 1991).
increasing focus on deep rather than surface approaches to learning.
Students also need to develop new skills. There are very few studies of the perceptions among law students of their experiences of collaborative learning. David Chavkin found that students who had taken his legal clinics at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University had found collaboration in pairs to be:
…an acquired taste. It requires time and effort… The tangible and intangible
benefits of collaboration seem to become evident to students as they work
through the collaboration process. The more they collaborate, the better they
collaborate… even those students who are initially reluctant to collaborate
eventually find themselves appreciating the experience. (pp.209-210)16
Teachers tend to become aware of a move of authority from teacher to students, as learning changes from a teacher-focused to a student-focused approach to teaching. In an overview of approaches to teaching, Paul Ramsden18
described three different approaches that he believed were common among staff in higher education.
Ramsden’s first approach focused on the work of the teacher and portrayed teaching in terms of telling or transmission. In the second, student-focused approach, teachers saw their role as being to organise student activity. Ramsden’s final approach viewed teaching as the art of making learning possible. He linked teaching and learning in a “context-related, uncertain and continuously improvable” (p.116) approach that recognised individual differences between students in an effort to help all students to change their understanding. In the last approach, learning became a “…collaborative experience, calling for encouragement, structure, and support, but most productive when students push themselves, investing their own creative energy and sweat.”20
J.B. Biggs, “Approaches to the Enhancement of Tertiary Teaching”, (1989) 8 Higher Education Research
and Development 7; D. Kember, L. Gow, R. Chow, I. Siaw, P. Barnes and J. Hunt, “Approaches to Study of Students whose First Language is not English: Preliminary Findings”, in V. Bickley, (ed.) Teaching and Learning Styles within and Across Cultures: Implications for Language Pedagogy (Hong Kong: Institute for Language in Education, 1989), 198-206; L. Gow and D. Kember, “Does Higher Education Promote Independent Learning?”, (1990) 19 Higher Education 307; Carrie Menkel-Meadow, “Is Altruism in Lawyering Possible?”, (1992) 8 Georgia State University Law Review 385; Paul Ramsden, “Effective
Teaching in Higher Education”, in John Bain, Eva Lietzow and Bob Ross (eds.) Promoting Teaching in Higher Education: Reports from the National Teaching Workshop (Brisbane: Griffith University, 1993), 39-45; Paula Baron, “Deep and Surface Learning: Can Teachers Really Control Student Approaches to
Learning in Law?”, (2002) 36 (2) The Law Teacher (United Kingdom) 123.
Of course, teachers still have to identify learning goals, design the learning environment, prepare students, establish groups and provide feedback.
David F. Chavkin, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker: Student Collaboration in Clinical Programs”, (1994) 1 (2) Clinical Law Review 199.
Kenneth A. Bruffee, Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Kenneth A. Bruffee, “Sharing our Toys: Cooperative Learning versus Collaborating Learning”, (1995) January/February Change 12; Cross and
Steadman, n.10 1996; Diana M.R. Tribe, “An Overview from Higher Education”, in Lin Thorley and Roy Gregory, (eds.) Using Group-based Learning in Higher Education (London: Kogan Page, 1994), 25-31.
Paul Ramsden, Learning to Teach in Higher Education (London: Routledge, 1992).
Mark Israel, “Teaching Criminology through Interview-Based Assignments”, (1997) 8 (2) Legal Education Review 141.
Elizabeth Reilly, a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Akron, described her experience as a facilitator of collaborative learning as follows:
I became an expert class member, a moderator who ensured equal access to the
floor, a guide who encouraged and prodded them down paths that would be
productive to explore and pointed out the trail markers when they lost sight of
In addition, institutions themselves have to grapple with resource-related issues
arising from changes in educational delivery. Among other matters, they have to
consider how to equalise workloads across staff teaching in different modes, and
how they might fund innovation. Several institutional bodies have also voiced
concerns about the difficulty of grading individual students.22
3. Use of Collaborative Learning
While theoretical investigation of collaborative learning has developed largely in the discipline of psychology, practical application has extended far beyond that realm. Collaborative learning in its various guises has been used in schools and in the workplace as well as in various parts of universities including liberal arts, scientific and professional courses. In many cases, segmented literatures have developed that make scant reference to practices outside their specialist field.
In Australia, in an effort to move legal education away from its conventional
exclusive focus on ‘what lawyers need to know’ and orient it around ‘what lawyers need to be able to do’,23 university legal educators have been encouraged to train law students in the development of ‘high level professional skills’.
Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, “Mad Midwifery: Bringing Theory Doctrine and Practice to Life”, (1993) 91 Michigan Law Review 1977, 1981.
Jay Feinman and Marc Feldman, “Pedagogy and Politics”, (1985) 73 Georgetown Law Journal 875;
Clifford S. Zimmerman, “‘Thinking beyond my own Interpretation’: Reflections on Collaborative and
Cooperative Learning Theory in the Law School Curriculum”, (1999) 31 Arizona State Law Journal 957.
Australian Law Reform Commission, Review of the Federal Civil Justice System, Discussion Paper No 62
(Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1999), para 3.23.
Australian Law Reform Commission, Managing Justice: A Review of the Federal Civil Justice System,
Report No 89 (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 2000), Recommendation 2 (p 142).
Although not specifically surveyed on group-work skills, Australian law graduates have reported that it is
generic, as opposed to strictly legal, skills, that are most frequently used in their post-graduation work
environment. See: Sumitra Vignaendra, Centre for Legal Education, Australian Law Graduates’ Career
Destinations (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Employment, Education, Training
and Youth Affairs, 1998), 38-40.
The Federal government has exhorted universities to use group work across their
Curricula as part of a drive to equip graduates with “higher level generic skills”.
These skills are seen as necessary not just for students to respond to current needs
but also for them to be able to accommodate change by acquiring, renewing and
upgrading their knowledge, skills and attitudes throughout their lives.
As a result, group work has been introduced in a range of professional and occupational courses including those serving current and trainee teachers,
accountants, doctors, community counsellors and in our own field of law.
As several academics and practitioners have observed, for many lawyers, legal
practice involves collaboration.
For example in Australia, as early as 1990, David Weisbrot identified a trend in legal practice of work carried out through ‘cooperative umbrellas’ and ‘project teams’. While most of the international literature on lawyering skills focuses on the problems faced by single practitioners, on the relatively few occasions that legal practitioners and professional authorities have identified those skills required by lawyers, group work has been featured. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Written Standards for the Law Society’s Legal Practice Course required that graduates be able to work ‘co-operatively with others in small groups’ and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s subject benchmark for law identified ‘teamworking’ as a key skill with which any student completing a law degree should be able to demonstrate a basic ability.
National Board of Employment Education and Training Higher Education: Achieving Quality Report of the Higher Education Council (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1992)
Again, when Boon asked 12 medium to large solicitors’ firms in the United Kingdom to identify the skills required of newly qualified solicitors, they said that the one of the two main deficiencies of students emerging from law schools was the ability to relate to http://www.detya.gov.au/nbeet/publications/pdf/92_37.pdf:
National Board of Employment Education and Training Skills Sought by Employers of Graduates.
Commissioned Report no. 20 (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1992)
National Board of Employment Education and Training Higher Education, n.25, 1992.
Judith MacCallum, “University Students’ Perceptions of Collaborative Learning and Assessment”, Paper presented at the annual conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, 1994.
http://www.aare.ed.au/94pap/maccj94.194; Lynne Leveson, “Small Group Work in Accounting Education: an Evaluation of a Programme for First Year Students”, (1999) 18 (3) Higher Education Research and Development 361; Antoinette Ackermann and Sandi Plummer, Examination into the Use, Place and Efficacy of Group Work in University Courses. A Work in Progress Report of a Current Research Project. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (1994) http://www.aare.ed.au/94pap/ackea94.306
Mary Twitchell, “The Ethical Dilemmas of Lawyers on Teams”, (1988) 72 Minnesota Law Review 697; Susan Bryant, “Collaboration in Law Practice: a Satisfying and Productive Process for a Diverse Profession”, (1993) 17 Vermont Law Review 459; Mark V. Tushnet, “Evaluating Students as Preparation
for the Practice of Law”, (1995) 7 (2) Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 313; Alan M. Lerner, “Law and Lawyering in the Work Place: Building Better Lawyers by Teaching Students to Exercise Critical Judgment as Creative Problem Solver”, (1999) 32 Akron Law Review 107; Zimmermann, n.22 1999, 957.
David Weisbrot, Australian Lawyers (Melbourne: Longman Professional, 1990), 254-258.
Bryant, n.29 1993. Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, “Law” (Gloucester: Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2000) http://www.qaa.ac.uk/crntwork/benchmark/law.pdf. The report also identified
levels of ability necessary to reach the standards of ‘pass’, ‘proficient’ and ‘very proficient’ as well as the standards expected in specialist, mixed, subsidiary and vocational law degrees. others in a team environment.
In 2002, Vera Bermingham and John Hodgson reported the results of a survey of the recruitment literature of employees of British law graduates.
The literature identified lateral thinking, commercial acumen, problem-solving ability and teamwork as desired qualities. In the United States in 1992, the Committee on the Future of the In-House Clinic saw the opportunities for
collaborative learning as one of the major advantages of in-house clinics.
A 1999 Canadian report included the following recommendation: In order to develop their negotiation, communication and conflict resolution skills, law students should be encouraged, through varying forms of evaluation, to carry out some team projects that develop the ability to reach solutions and resolve nterpersonal conflict effectively. There should be an opportunity for reflection on these exercises.
Various academics in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia
Andy Boon, “Skills in the Initial Stage of Legal Education: Theory and Practice for Transformation”, in Julian Webb and Caroline Maughan (eds.) Teaching Lawyers Skills (London: Butterworths, 1996).
have discussed how law schools are training students in those communication,
Vera Bermingham and John Hodgson, “Desiderata: What Lawyers Want from their Recruits”, (2001) The Law Teacher (United Kingdom) 1. When Bermingham and Hodgson sent a questionnaire to all main law firms and sets of chambers asking respondents to rank a list of attributes in order of importance,
team work was ranked tenth out of 16, below analysis, communication, evaluation, problem solving, drafting, advocacy, negotiation, research and time management, but above interviewing, numeracy, information technology, critiquing, autonomy and creativity.
Committee on the Future of the In-House Clinic, “Report of the Committee on the Future of the InHouse Clinic”, (1992) 42 Journal of Legal Education 508.
Committee Responding to Recommendation 49 of the Systems of Civil Justice Task Force Report, Attitudes-Skills-Knowledge: Proposals for Legal Education to Assist in Implementing a Multi-Option Civil Justice System in the 21st century, Discussion Paper (Ottawa: Canadian Bar Association, 1999), cited in Australian Law Reform Commission, Managing Justice: A Review of the Federal Civil Justice System, Report No 89 (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 2000), para 2.24.
James E. Moliterno, “The Legal Skills Program at the College of William and Mary: An Early Report”, (1990) 40 Journal of Legal Education 535; George W. Spiro, “Collaborative Learning and the Study of the Legal Environment”, (1992) 10 Journal of Legal Studies Education 55; Bryant 1993, n.29; Roark M. Reed,
“Group Learning in Law School”, (1984) 34 Journal of Legal Education 674; Chavkin 1994, n.16; Steven I.
Friedland, “How we Teach: a Survey of Teaching Techniques in American Law Schools”, (1996) 20 Seattle University Law Review 1; Catherine Gage O’Grady, “Preparing Students for the Profession: Clinical Education, Collaborative Pedagogy and the Realities of Practice for the New Lawyer”, (1998) 4 Clinical Law Review 485; David Dominguez, “Principle 2: Good Practice Encourages Cooperation among Students”, (1999) 49 (3) Journal of Legal Education 386; Zimmermann, n.22 1999; Reilly, n.13 2000; Louis J. Sirico Jnr, “Teaching a Collaborative Seminar” (2002) The Law Teacher(United States) Fall.
S. Prince and E. Dunne, “Group Development: the Integration of Skills into Law”, (1998) 32 (1) The Law
Teacher (United Kingdom) 64. In a survey of undergraduate and professional legal practice courses in the
United Kingdom in 1996, John Bell found ‘little evidence that students were specifically trained in how to
work more effectively in groups’, see Law Discipline Network, General Transferable Skills in the Law
Curriculum: A Survey (University of Leeds, 1997) http://www.leeds.ac.uk/law/lawdn/summary.doc
B. Dick, L. Godden, K. Healy and M.J. LeBrun, “A Case Study of the ‘Offices’ Project at Griffith
University Law School and the Use of Video as a Tool for Evaluation”, (1993) 12 Journal of Professional
Legal Education 149; Marlene Le Brun and Richard Johnstone, The Quiet Revolution: Improving Student
Learning in Law (Sydney: Law Book Company, 1994); Archie Zariski, “Lessons for Teaching using Group
Work from a Survey of Law Students”, in Romana Pospisil and Lesley Willcoxson, (eds.) Learning through
Teaching. Proceedings of the 6th
Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997
(Perth: Academic Services Unit, Murdoch University 1997), 361-366
http://cea.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/zariski.html and Archie Zariski, “Positive and Negative Impacts of
Group Work from the Student Perspective”, in Roz Murray-Harvey and Halia C. Silins (eds.) Learning and
Teaching in Higher Education: Advancing International Perspectives. Proceedings of the Higher Education
Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference, Adelaide, South Australia, 8-11 July 1997
(Adelaide, 1997), http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~zariski/zarisk01.pdf; A. Greig, “Student-Led Classes MI 8 12/10/2010
interpersonal, conflict management and task management skills necessary to
maintain successful groups. There may be other benefits in adopting collaborative
learning. Both Stephen Ripps and Susan Bryant have argued that programmes that
emphasise collaboration rather than competition are more likely to meet the needs
and value the insights of students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as other
Bryant and Chavkin have also suggested that skills in
group work are likely to improve eventual professional satisfaction.41
use of collaborative learning has often been limited to clinical programs.42
4. Problems with Collaborative Learning
Attempts to incorporate collaborative learning within American law school
programmes have not always proved successful. Nor have they always enjoyed the
support of students and faculty members.43
Various academics have identified
potential and perceived problems associated with an apparent loss of authority for
teachers, a reduction in competitiveness between44
and a lack of responsibility
Attention has also been drawn to student dissatisfaction, partly
explained by student and staff perceptions of unfairness in group assessment,46
partly related to lack of confidence in working in a peer group setting, a reluctance
to work with others and a sense of loss of control or individual accountability.47
Some of these claims have been partly substantiated by surveys of American student
experiences. For example, a few of the students interviewed by Chavkin reported
that their motivation to complete work had dropped as a result of the presence of
other students to act as safety nets.48
and Group Work: a Methodology for Developing Generic Skills”, (2000) 11 (1) Legal Education Review 81;
Grant Niemann, “Learning Team Skills at Law School using Problem Based Learning”, in Halia Silins and
Roz Murray-Harvey, (eds.) Improving University Teaching and Learning vol.6, (Adelaide: School of
Education, Flinders University, 2001), 71-81.
Mark Tushnet found that some students at
Georgetown University complained that they were being unfairly penalised for
adopting and – in their view – perfecting a lone working style. He suggested that
both students and law faculty had experienced difficulties seeing learning as
something other than an ‘essentially individualized phenomenon’ (p.324):
From the fact that, as we believe, the knowledge people have is inside the head of
each one, we infer that people learn by figuring out how to get ‘stuff’ – facts,
arguments, ways of thinking – from ‘out there’ into their heads. I have little doubt
that this theory of learning is completely wrong-headed, so to speak. (p.324)49
While supportive of the use of collaborative learning strategies, O’Grady was
concerned that collaborative groups developed in clinical law classes did not
resemble the hierarchical groups that were typically employed within American legal
She argued that clinical educators needed to prepare their classes for
practice by sensitising students to the consequences of power imbalances, threats to
professional autonomy and pressures to conform to corporate cultures.51
Several Australian evaluations of collaborative learning in law schools have already
been published. While broadly supportive of collaborative learning, two also reveal
some degree of ambivalence towards collaborative learning among Australian law
students. Dick et al. and Godden and LeBrun used interviews and questionnaires to
investigate the experiences of students who had been involved in the teacherless
group work or ‘offices’ at Griffith University in Queensland.52
Students were noncommittal when asked whether the learning processes in group work had facilitated
their learning. In Western Australia, Zariski also used a written questionnaire to
survey 120 students involved in group work as part of three topics taught at
Murdoch Law School.53
Zariski concluded that ‘group work is not universally
appreciated by students’54
– it could have a positive impact on classes but some
students had had negative experiences, leading to decreased trust towards other
students among 13 per cent of his respondents. The decline in trust was particularly
apparent among those who had previously had a high pre-existing level of trust.55
See also the recent teaching note on group work at Monash University by Adiva Sifris and Elspeth
McNeil, “Small Group Learning in Real Property Law”, (2002) 13 Legal Education Review 189, and the
articles by Kelley Burton, “Assessing Teamwork Skills in Law School: a Window of Opportunity” 10 E Law
– Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law
http://www.murdoch.edu.au/elaw/issues/v10n2/burton102.html , and by Anne Matthew, “Co-operative
Student Learning in Undergraduate Law: Fostering Teamwork Skills in External Students” 10 E Law –
Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law
http://www.murdoch.edu.au/elaw/issues/v10n2/matthew102.html on the development of teamwork
skills at Queensland University of Technology. MI 10 12/10/2010
Finally, some commentators – including a group commissioned by the Australian
Universities Teaching Committee – have suggested that the introduction of groupwork might result in an increase in demands on staff time and institutional
resources – largely because of the significant start-up costs in planning and
developing group work projects as well as the time spent in informal tutoring and
monitoring of groups.56
5. Flinders Constitutional Law Programme
The School of Law was established at Flinders University in 1992. It offers full-time
students a four-year undergraduate law degree (LLB), and a four and a half year
undergraduate law and legal practice degree (LLB/LP). The latter integrates a
practical legal training component that makes graduates eligible for admission to
practice in South Australia without the need for further practical study.57
School also offers graduates from other disciplines entry to streamlined versions of
these programmes that last three and three and a half years respectively. Students
can combine the law degree with a range of other courses at Flinders, adding about
one academic year to the duration of the programme. The University allows students
to switch between full-time and part-time status (defined as under 75 per cent of a
full time load) as long as the degree is completed within ten years.58
Fifteen and a
half per cent of students are currently studying part-time.59
The School had an
attrition rate of just over 5.1 per cent between 2000 and 2002, under half the
Flinders law students come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds – 12 per
cent live permanently in areas that fall within the 25 per cent of the national
population with the lowest socio-economic status (five per cent within the lower
quartile of the state), 42 per cent in the middle 50 per cent of the nation and 46 per
cent in the highest quartile. Women are over-represented and there are a significant Richard James, Craig McInnis and Marcia Devlin, Assessing Learning in Australian Universities: Ideas, Strategies and Resources for Quality in Student ssessment (Melbourne and Canberra: Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne and Australian Universities Teaching Committee,
2002). See also Roy Gregory and Lin Thorley, “Present Challenges”, in Lin Thorley and Roy Gregory (eds.)
Using Group-based Learning in Higher Education (London: Kogan Page, 1994), 179-186.
See Richard Johnstone and Sumitra Vignaendra, Learning Outcomes and Curriculum Development in Law: a Report Commissioned by the Australian Universities Teaching Committee (AUTC) (Canberra:
Commonwealth of Australia, Higher Education Group, Department of Education, Science and Training,
2003) provision of legal education
in Australia. Chapter five of the report includes an assessment of the extent and means of incorporation
of legal and generic skills within Australian law curricula.
See School of Law Website http://wwwehlt.flinders.edu.au/law/llblp/
Enrolments in Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice by Sex and Full-time/Part-time Status 2003.
Unofficial DEST 31 March 2003 Census Data, Revision 12 May 2003. MI 11 12/10/2010
number of mature age students (32 per cent of students are aged 25 or over; 20 per
cent are aged 30 or over).60
In introducing the CL2 programme in 2002, the Law School at Flinders had two
aims: first, to develop students’ skills at working effectively in groups; and, second, to economise on School resources. The two aims were linked because students, once skilled in group work, could be required to work in groups in later years, opening the way for further saving of resources.
Undergraduate and graduate-entry students typically take the topic, Constitutional
Law, in their second year, though many students enrolled in combined degrees leave it until their third year. It is a 13-week semester-long course and takes up one-third of a full-time equivalent load for that semester. Students have been expected to spend about four hours per week in class. Traditionally these hours have been taken up with three lectures and one tutorial.
In 2002, as part of the CL2 programme, tutorials were disbanded and students were taught in lectures and two-hour workshops.
Once students had chosen their workshop times, workshops were divided, randomly, into groups of between four and six. These groups worked together for the duration of the semester and at the end gave a presentation worth 30 per cent of each student’s overall mark for the topic.
Each group was provided with its own discussion area on the course WebCT
platform to which only the group, the workshop facilitator and – with the consent of the groups – the evaluation team had access. The discussion tool did not permit real-time chatting but did enable students to communicate with each other
asynchronously using a threaded discussion board enabling students with different
timetables and non-university commitments to make arrangements and collaborate, while providing a permanent record of all communication.
Enrolments in Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice by Sex and Levels of SES 2003.
March 2003 Census Data. Enrolments in Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice by Age, Sex and ATSI 2003.
Use of the discussion tool varied from brief postings in order to arrange a meeting to very lengthy accounts The reduction from ten cycles in the old teaching model to six in the new raised the possibility that several topics would be left out of non-lecture instruction completely. Moreover, as two of the workshop
cycles were taken up with introducing and assessing group work skills, a further two substantive law topics would be dropped from the non-lecture programme. We used a range of strategies to provide additional learning support to augment lectures and student reading. We combined three traditionally interwoven issues and presented them an ‘omnibus’ workshop. For two further topics, we used a
combination of sample questions worked in lectures and a non-assessed WebCT quiz tool to provide additional learning support.
See Paula R. Kaiser, William L. Tullar and Diana McKowen, “Student Team Projects by Internet”, (2000)
(4) Business Communication Quarterly 75; Jacqueline K. Eastman and Cathy Owens Swift “Enhancing of the group planning process. Many groups also used the tool to post study notes for each other, especially records of in-class discussion. Apart from supporting the development of group activities, WebCT may have played some role in limiting dominant personalities.
It is also possible that the level of debate on WebCT might have helped raise the tone of in-class discussion. We provided a selection of past exam questions for each workshop topic and required each group to select and work on one question. Prior to the workshops, students were expected to read the cases and attend the lectures, but not to attempt to solve the problems. Groups were instructed to produce a written product, but this was not assessed. In the two-hour workshop, each group could spend about minutes with its facilitator. Facilitators sat with each group in turn but were always available to answer short questions from any group. At the end of each workshop, facilitators also spent a few minutes reviewing key issues with the entire class.
Students were required to complete a short, simple WebCT quiz early in the
semester (ten per cent); a short reflective report on their group’s process half-way
through the semester (ten per cent); a group presentation of about 20 minutes at the end of the semester (30 per cent); and a final exam of two hours, consisting of a choice of one of three problems and one of three essay questions (50 per cent total, with weighting in favour of the problem).
The exam was structured so that every student would be able to answer one question on the topic covered in his or her group’s presentation, as well as one other topic.
Responding to Potential Pitfalls We were apprehensive about possible student hostility to innovation in general and group work – and group assessment – in particular. We had encountered students in the early days of the Law School who resented feeling like guinea pigs. In addition, we were concerned that, like students at Griffith and Murdoch universities, Flinders students would resent being assessed collectively. Some students may believe that it is their ability to out-perform their peers rather than their ability to demonstrate the skills required by a lawyer that will ensure that they have the best employment
Collaborative Learning: Discussion Boards and Chat Rooms as Project ommunication Tools” (2002)
Business Communication Quarterly 65: 29-41; Anne Matthew, n.55 2003, para
William L. Tullar, Paula R. Kaiser and Pierre A. Balthazard, “Group Work and Electronic Meeting Systems: From Boardroom to Classroom”, (1998) 61 (4) Business Communication Quarterly .
In 2003, the quiz was dropped and the marks reallocated to the exam. This reflected a diminishing need for providing training in WebCT to a student population now familiar with the technology as well as staff concerns about grade inflation. E-mail from Chris Reynolds to Mark Israel, 2 May 2003.
opportunities. In Australia, a ‘hierarchical, individualist and competitive ethos’65
among law students may have been accentuated by reduction in federal government funding for the sector resulting in larger class sizes, less staff-student contact time and a retreat to more traditional teaching practices. Moreover, given the cost-cutting aim, there was a danger that the experience would provide fuel to students’ general annoyance at being asked to pay more fees to a government that provided higher education with fewer resources.
We took great pains to demonstrate that we had given considerable thought to the
new package and we spent time both in written materials and face-to-face teaching explaining the potential usefulness of group work skills for future employability. We clearly identified any tasks that required new skills, provided training in those skills and communicated the criteria by which they were to be judged. However, we also emphasised the continuing need to acquire the traditionally valued knowledge base and skills, using past exam questions in workshops and a final exam similar in character to past assessment.
A second potential difficulty was that the groups would not work well together.
Clearly this concern would have been shared by the students and risked feeding
hostility to innovation, but the failure of one or more groups to coalesce could also cause both professional embarrassment and administrative headaches for staff. We designed and implemented a set of exercises to train students in effective group behaviours. In the first lecture, we invited students to reflect on the kinds of situations in legal practice where one might expect to work in a group. We reminded them of experiences they had already had of group work, and showed them that we had anticipated many of the anxieties that many of them might have about group work. We pointed out that we had had to work as a team to design and implement the project, so we were no strangers to those anxieties ourselves.
For example, we acknowledged to the class that group work makes it more difficult for lecturers to tailor marks to reflect the work of individual students. Lecturers are not always aware whether students who have engaged in collaborative work have een freeloading or ‘social loafing’,67
Helen Brown, “The Cult of Individualism in Law School”, (2000) 25 (6) Alternative Law Journal 279; see also Miranda Stewart, “Conflict and Connection at Sydney University Law School” (1992) 18 Melbourne University Law Review 828. depending on or dragging down the work of other more capable or motivated students. Anticipating this problem, early in the Eugene Clark, “Report: Australian Legal Education a Decade after the Pearce Report”, (1997) 8 (2) Legal Education Review 213; John Goldring, “The Future of Legal Education; Doubtful Assumptions and Unfulfilled Expectations” in John Goldring, Charles Sampford and Ralph Simmonds, New Foundations in Legal Education (Sydney: Cavendish, 1998), 15-26; Vivienne Brand, “Decline in the Reform of Law Teaching? The Impact of Policy Reforms in Tertiary Education” (1999) 10 Legal Education Review 109.
Tushnet, n.29 1995; Zariski “Lessons for Teaching” n.39. semester we negotiated a disciplinary process for groups. The procedures allowed groups to report freeloaders to the tutor. The tutor could agree to a ‘yellow card’, a 30 per cent penalty, being imposed on an individual student though the penalty would not be imposed if the student redeemed him or herself by negotiating and fulfilling a contract with the rest of his or her group. Persistence in the behaviour that led to the yellow card could lead to a ‘red card’ being issued resulting in the student receiving no marks for group work. It was not expected that this system would need to be used often but it was hoped that it would demonstrate to students
that lecturers were aware of the risks groups faced and willing to help groups
address these risks. As the main criterion for assessing group presentations was the demonstration of the quality of the group process, it was something for which all members of the group could take equal credit or blame. Groups were encouraged to see difficulties as opportunities to demonstrate their skills, rather than worrying that they would be hampered in their attainment of traditional learning goals. So, for example, groups did not suffer from the existence of a freeloader as such, but from failure to address the problem.
In the first lecture, we showed an extract from an American film (Reversal of Fortune) that depicted a real lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, gathering a team to work on an appeal on behalf of Klaus von Bulow for the attempted murder of von Bulow’s wife Sunny.
Dershowitz articulated the different things he wanted from each team member:
someone to assimilate facts, someone to analyse the judges’ past work, someone
familiar with the politics of the state where the appeal would be heard, and so on.
This was used to help students think about what their strengths were, what kinds of contributions they could offer to their groups, and what contributions they hoped others would make.
In the first round of workshops, students engaged in structured discussion about
past experiences of group work and watched an excerpt from another Hollywood movie (A Few Good Men) showing three military lawyers behaving hopelessly as a team. In temporary groups, students engaged in a non-legal problem-solving group exercise and reflected on those behaviours they had engaged in which had helped or hindered the achievement of the aim. They considered the advantages of stopping to take stock and summarise, leading off in a different direction and taking risks as helpful behaviours, and the disadvantages of inflexibility and allowing one member to dominate. In their permanent groups, each group was given time to decide on a name for itself – almost inevitably, one chose ‘It’s the Vibe’ and another ‘The Dennis
DeNuto Support Team’ – and required to act as a team in answering a short quiz
based on knowledge they should have had from the prerequisite course.
Programme The legal education literature contained no account of any other programme that combined substantial training on and assessment of group work skills with the use of groups to learn substantive law. For example, Prince and Dunne ran a sophisticated project to teach group work skills at the University of Exeter, but it was not attached to any particular substantive course. Reilly used team projects in a constitutional law topic at the University of Akron, but she did not give students training in group skills, nor did she assess on the quality of the group process. In this aspect our programme reflected a broader decision as part of a curriculum review at Flinders in 1998 to integrate the teaching of clinical skills into substantive compulsory law courses, teaching and assessing clinical skills against the backdrop of assessable doctrinal content.
The legal education literature also rarely discussed how new collaborative learning projects were funded. Often, they seemed to rely on the enthusiasm and time commitment of individual staff members or the existence of a very small class (the Akron project catered for only 18 students). Unusually, the initiative at Exeter was funded on an ongoing basis by private industry and Prince and Dunne expressed concern about what they might do if that source were cut. Our programme was funded on a one-off basis by a university grant obtained by the Dean of Law from the Vice-Chancellor. The money was used to free an additional member of the law staff to support the initiative by undertaking a literature review and troubleshooting.
While this lecturer may provide further support in future years, this will be funded
out of the savings made by the programme.
Value of Collaboration
The grant for the programme also supported an evaluation of the project. The
evaluation was devised to meet several aims: it should be independent of the
teaching staff in constitutional law; it should provide formative feedback to staff
during the teaching programme, alerting them to and diagnosing any problems that By the time it came to teach Constitutional Law in 2003, one member of staff believed that the practice of teaching group skills within the topic had been accepted by many students as a routine part of their degree – another new topic, another new skill. E-mail from Rebecca LaForgia to Mark Israel, 15 April
Richard Johnstone and Sumitra Vignaendra, n.57 2003, pp.155-156; see also Bobette Wolski, “What, How and What to Practice: Integrating Skills Teaching and Learning within the Undergraduate Law Curriculum”, (2002) 52 Journal of Legal Education 287. Might be emerging; it should also signal to students that the School believed that students had an important part to play in the ongoing improvement of the law course.
The evaluation received ethical approval from the university research ethics
committee and obtained informed consent from students and staff to sample a range of materials produced either in teaching (topic guides and other handouts) or as assessment (presentation videos, Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats analysis of groups) for the topic, or recorded by staff or groups as part of their electronic communication (either on WebCT or e-mail). With the help of an external facilitator, the reviewer also ran two focus groups each containing one member of each workshop. The focus groups were run once in parallel at the beginning of the semester (examining previous experiences with group work and expectations) and once jointly at the end (examining experiences of the programme, knowledge and skills attained, changes to attitudes to group work and calling for feedback to lecturing staff). These sessions elicited written and oral qualitative feedback, often on the basis of focus group discussion. In addition, several members of the focus groups completed a written questionnaire six months after the end of the topic.
The American literature on primary and secondary students has identified a range of possible advantages of collaborative learning. First, it has been suggested that
students pool their individual experiences, perspectives and knowledges through
interacting in a heterogeneous environment: The multiple perspectives that are brought to the substance and process of legal work allow the group to develop emergent knowledge that cannot develop when individuals work alone.
Second, researchers have argued that students benefit from developing group and
conflict resolution skills. Third, it has been claimed that each individual student can reach a higher level of understanding and thinking and develop greater self-esteem. Finally, in addition, students may gain a more positive view towards both the subject matter and the host institution.
In focus groups at the beginning of the semester, students at Flinders reported that they were looking forward to working with peers in collaborative groups that brought together students who might not normally work together, that drew on various Bryant 1993: n.29, p.473. See also David Dominguez, “Beyond Zero-Sum Games: Multiculturalism as Enriched Law Training for All Students”, (1994) 44 Journal of Legal Education 175.
Zimmermann, n.22 1999 students’ different learning and problem-solving styles, that displayed ‘high levels of cooperation’, ‘mutual respect’, and provided an efficient and ‘supportive learning environment’ where members listened to each other and worked towards solutions based on compromise. One student was particularly keen to work in a group because she thought that the skills and attitudes valued by group work might counteract the commitment to individuality that she believed pervaded legal practice. Part-time students also hoped that the programme would help them create informal study networks that would help them through their degree.
However, students also reported their fears that groups would prove to be
frustrating, where their colleagues would fail to work together either because
particular members dominated discussions or failed to participate, perhaps because they deliberately held back their expertise or because they were failing to prepare properly for workshops. Some students were also concerned that groups might display groupthink, careering off at irrelevant tangents unchecked by members or by tutors.
Pool their Individual Experiences In their SWOT analysis, several students noted that they had been able to capitalise on the varying skills and perspectives of different members of their groups. Working in this group gives us the opportunity to learn from each other. We are all very different people and each approach the problems in a different way. As well as seeing how other people resolve issues were are improving our communication, negotiation and mediation skills in trying to reconcile our different approaches. (SWOT analysis – opportunities).
I think group work helped me become more patient and willing to hear other
points of view and share the work load accordingly. I learnt more and more the
differences in learning styles as everyone in my group had a different outlook on
how to approach the subject and the presentation – some appeared to work more
but in the end everyone contributed in their own way. (Focus Group member,
Between 1997 and 1999, attrition rates for part-time students were between 1.2 and 2.2 times higher than for the full-time counterparts. In both 2000 (5.6) and 2001 (7.7) the disparity was even greater (Official DEST 31 March/August Census Data, prepared by Flinders University Planning Services Unit). It is difficult to reach firm conclusions on the data available as full-time students concerned about their capacity to complete their course may respond by changing to part-time status.
On the other hand, some groups consisted of students from similar backgrounds.
Sixty-four per cent of Flinders law students were female and 46 per cent were
women under the age of 25. Consequently, some randomly assigned groups were
dominated by younger women. Far from students in homogeneous groups reporting that it was easier for them not to have to explore differences and tensions, some members recognised that they might be disadvantaged. For example, one student noted that the ‘common background of group members may stifle perspectives… We are young females from similar backgrounds and therefore have the same “real life” experience to apply to group work’ (SWOT analysis – Threats). Developing Group and Conflict Resolution Skills
As we have noted, staff had been concerned that students would undervalue any
need for group skills compared to what they perceived as the real business of
learning law. However, we found that all students already had experience of group
work both inside and outside the university and were keen to develop skills that
they understood to be clinically relevant. Most students had engaged in group work as part of their first year studies in the Law School, though this work had not always been assessed. In some cases, students had also been involved in groups at school or at work – one member of a focus group told us that he had been involved in group work as part of his previous employment in the armed services and in criminal justice agencies. Given that the Law School at Flinders has a high proportion of mature-age first degree students as well as a graduate entry programme, it was not surprising that so many students had had some work experience prior to entering the Law School. In addition, most students who had come to university directly from school were engaged in part-time employment, sometimes in law firms. Some of these experiences of group work both inside and outside the university had not been positive. Students had found that groups had been troubled by an inability to respond to their members’ varying levels of commitment. For example, one student had had an unpleasant experience after being elected to the association run by law students. The student complained that problems had not been aired openly, instead conflict over the objectives of the association and the level of commitment demanded of elected officers had been inflamed by gossip. Nevertheless, many students had already found group skills to be valuable either during their studies or at work and were keen to develop them further in the particular setting of law.
Enrolments in Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice by Age, Sex and ATSI 2003.
Some members of the focus group told evaluators during the semester that members of other groups had reported that they were not functioning well. In a few groups this was because a particular member of the group had come to dominate. One student had complained to a focus group member that a fellow-student had adopted the role of tutor and ‘squashed the views of others’. Other students in that group felt threatened and would not speak up. It was not clear whether this group managed to resolve this problem. Some groups complained of freeloaders – students who did not
turn up, failed to maintain contact, or did not do the work. In one case, the group
had responded to the problem by formally allocating tasks to increase individual
responsibility. Other groups had been unable to cope. One member of the focus
group described a friend’s experience. Although the friend reported ‘having a good attitude’ to group work initially, the ‘group fell apart’:
…one dominated, one [was] sick, one uncontactable, one not flexible [which]
meant some people felt helpless and wanted to go it alone.
Nevertheless, eighty per cent of the focus group reported that they would be very
happy to be in the same groups again (and the other members were neutral),
although some were nervous about the prospect of being placed in a difficult group.
Although the class had negotiated the ‘yellow card’ disciplinary procedures, these
were rarely activated. Students reported that they were reluctant to penalise
someone with whom they would have to continue to work. However, one group did impose a penalty on one of its members and then worked hard to reintegrate that member, helping him to redeem the penalty.
Other members of the focus group stated that they had learned a range of ways to deal with freeloaders. By the end of the seminar, several students were reporting that they appreciated the value of learning group skills. Members of the focus groups told us that they had learned the ‘importance of diplomacy and compromise’, and the need to be flexible, ‘patient and encouraging’ as well as more organised because of the need to keep up to date and fulfil responsibilities to other group members. Focus group members also revealed that their own groups had demonstrated a willingness to co-operate to find appropriate meeting times and help each other. Many had found the process to be fun.
…in every workplace you will need to build relationships with other employees
and have a team approach when it comes to achieving goals. If you can do this,
the results will be much more beneficial for everyone involved. (Focus Group
member, final questionnaire)
Having already done quite a lot of group work through other organisations with
which I am involved, I don’t think that I learnt many new skills in relation to
group work, but it was very interesting to learn how to apply those group work
skills to a law-school situation… I think I learnt more about legal group work
skills, which I think will be exceedingly useful in the workplace… I think that a
large part of practicing law will be about accommodating the ideas and
perspectives of others, whether they be your colleagues or clients. (Focus Group
member, final questionnaire)
The group work exercise enabled each student to develop skills such as
communication (valuable as a lawyer), patience, co-operation with others,
organization and also I think the exercise drove students to really learn the topic
well so when discussed within the group they had a positive input to the process.
(Focus Group member, final questionnaire)
Some students were even willing to put up with poorly functioning or unpleasant
groups because of the experience that they could obtain in those environments.
I can’t imagine any work place that wouldn’t value group work and I think it is a
good practical skill that has been introduced into the degree. Even having good or
bad experiences of group work helps to teach people how to deal with different
learning styles and different personalities and situations which is helpful in any
employment. If it is a bad experience this still helps in learning how to deal with
difficult situations and how to solve problems. (Focus Group member, final
questionnaire) In the following semester, students were able to deploy new skills in both informal study groups and the formal group exercises that had subsequently been introduced into law elective topics.
Higher level of understanding Many students noted that they had been very concerned that an emphasis on group processes could only occur at the expense of their understanding of constitutional law. However, by the end of the programme, many had accepted that they had The parallel with processes associated with restorative justice, a practice well entrenched in learned a greater range of material in more depth in this topic than they would have done through conventional patterns of teaching and learning. Members of the focus groups reported that the small groups had allowed them to understand how their peers had formed their opinions, and had given everyone the opportunity to argue over interpretations and conclusions, offering and facing constructive criticism through the process. This helped them feel more confident that they understood the topic when it came to preparing for the examination:
At the time I was concerned that the group work process meant I was not
learning as much of the subject matter as I thought I needed to for the exam…
Looking back though I believe that having done a different method of teaching I
actually remember the subject matter of constitutional law better than I would
just having learnt it through lectures and tutorials alone… The group work
probably made me reflect and question more areas of the subject matter… (Focus
Group member, final questionnaire) I feel that the group work method of tutorial participation and learning helped me learn a substantial amount more about constitutional law than if the conventional method of teaching would have been applied. (Focus Group member, final questionnaire)
…there was more opportunity to discuss the issues and questions. I found it
useful to hear other people’s ideas/approaches and to have to argue my own
point of view – it helped me to see whether my argument was persuasive, or if I
had forgotten things. (Focus Group member, final questionnaire)
More positive view Several students believed that they had enjoyed the topic more and had felt more confident about the material as a result of the group work.
I ended up enjoying the subject of constitutional law more than I thought I would
and this probably was due to the group work. (Focus Group member, final
questionnaire) I enjoyed studying constitutional law the most out of my topics because of the group assessment and found that when it came to exam time, I was more confident in my answers because of the amount of work that had gone into
Australian juvenile justice, is obvious.
answering tute [tutorial] questions as a group and in preparing the presentation.
(Focus Group member, final questionnaire) For staff In general, staff were impressed by the high quality of presentations reflecting not only strong group skills but also formidable communication skills – several groups
submitted their work as pre-recorded video presentations. Enhanced student
learning can increase satisfaction for teachers, and the course convenor felt that
the impact on her teaching experience had been profound. She believed that encouraged student preparation so that workshop facilitators were able to go
directly to the issues raised by the problems rather than repeat information readily
available to students elsewhere. Indeed, after spending 20 minutes with each of the first two groups, she found that the remaining groups had mapped out a solution and only needed specialist support such as helping with higher level analysis, evaluation, synthesis and consideration of the ramifications of different lines of reasoning. As a result, she was able to use her skill as a jurist in a way that had become quite unusual in a large compulsory topic. The course convenor reported renewed enthusiasm for teaching and revised her lectures to make them more interactive: “The confidence that students would be prepared made this seem worth the effort”. She also reported that her relationship with students had become less directive and far more flexible, echoing the sentiments expressed by Reilly.
A second lecturer and facilitator – who subsequently convened the topic in 2003 –
had had significant experience of teaching through groups having run
interdisciplinary workshops for health professionals for over a decade. Since 1995, he had also used group presentations within a Law School elective. Consequently, he was not apprehensive about mastering new teaching techniques. Indeed his experience in collaborative learning was crucial in ensuring the development of a credible assessment scheme for presentations. However, at the end of the semester he remained concerned that the introduction of problem-based group work had been at the expense of the broader theoretical and policy-based concepts that surround substantive law, concepts that might normally have been explored within essaybased assessment:
…We also lost… the reflective component of Constitutional Law – the workshop problems drove a mechanical process of answering problems (which the exam then reinforced). That’s a pity because the subject ought to have allowed for ‘big ideas’.
Nevertheless, he supported the topic convenor’s initiative, reasoning that ‘it was
explicitly a trial and I was quite confident it would work because of the planning and thought that we were putting in’.
Another facilitator who had been part of the lecturing team in 2002 but only started running workshops in 2003 was less excited by collaborative learning but believed that in the right setting it could contribute to the teaching and learning mix in a law degree:
I was little sceptical of its value and now am convinced it is a authentic
alternative that given the right mix of subject and lecturer can lead to good
teaching outcomes. as a teacher, she had been concerned that she would lose touch with the progress of individual students and be unable to provide them with the support and feedback that she believed that they deserved from a tutor:
In a tute for better or for worse you get to know the students, I was worried about
how this would occur in groupwork. It hasn’t been until marking the assignments
that I have fully internalised the idea that this is to teach groupwork skills (that
my corresponding need or desire to impart constitutional law in an intimate…
environment was not what we were aiming for). I found myself giving useful
feedback to the individual re their group contribution, I realised that I did have
that degree of intimacy and knowledge it just had transferred however to the
group as an entity rather than individuals.
She also believed that collaborative learning could be particularly effective in
discouraging freeloading because students were now accountable to their peers as
well as to a tutor.
Set up costs aside, collaborative learning might save time for individual staff
members but only if there is an appropriate institutional arrangement. Teachers considering introducing a time-saving innovation should take care to reach
agreement with their Dean as to how the benefits are to be allocated. In some
environments, staff members might introduce group work only to find that they are given additional marking from another topic. Even worse, a lecturer might carry all the initial costs of innovation only to find that he or she has been moved from that topic the next year.
At Flinders, the workload equalisation formula covered teaching contact hours and marking load. However, the School accepted that, in order to provide an incentive for efficiency, staff members able to find more economical assessment methods – without loss of educational value – should be able to take the benefit for themselves.
For the University CL2 had its origins in an institutional initiative, growing out of decanal concerns with managing the increasing numbers of students in classes. In the seven-year period between 1996 and 2002, first year class sizes at Flinders University Law School increased by approximately 30 per cent. The phenomenon, a sector-wide problem,
stimulated the provision of federal funding for a project to review and then develop, evaluate and disseminate strategies for teaching in large classes.
Two national workshops were organised for invited ‘highly accomplished teachers’ and academic developers and modest funding was provided to participants’ universities for ‘dissemination initiatives’. In respect of Flinders University, this money was combined with money secured as part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Grants Scheme to fund the project.
From an institutional perspective, collaborative learning can provide benefits in
terms of savings in expenditure of costs and academic staff time. Direct costs
savings accrued from the elimination of part-time tutor costs for teaching, student
consultations and marking in Constitutional Law at Flinders between 2001 and 2002 as a result of the implementation of collaborative learning, an overall saving of A$4,240.
Admittedly, there was some increase in time commitment of full-time teachers to the subject and, to that extent, it may be said that a portion of the part-time tutoring savings were expended elsewhere in the curriculum. However, the introduction of Kogan Page, 1999).
Final enrolments in the first year subject Legal Method were 156 in academic year 1996 and 204 in 2002. The increase was not linear (224 in 2000, 190 in 2001, 204 in 2002), but the trend was clear. A modest, but deliberate, cut in intake has seen enrolments in 2003 drop back to 180.
collaborative learning had the effect of dramatically reducing total staff time
committed to teaching contact hours and marking. Putting aside lectures (which
remained a constant feature in each year), the replacement of eight tutorial cycles
with cohorts of approximately 15 members each with six workshop cycles with
cohorts of approximately 30 members each produced a 30 per cent reduction in total contact hours between the years 2001 and 2002. This occurred notwithstanding that workshops met for two hours whereas tutorial groups had only met for one hour in duration. It also occurred at the same time as the number of enrolments in the subject increased by some 15 per cent.
In respect of marking, putting aside examinations (constant between the two years concerned), staff time committed to assessment was halved. Approximately 74 hours were spent in marking and providing feedback in 2001. In 2002, this time was reduced to less than 37 hours.
Given that there were 15 per cent more students enrolled in 2002 than in 2001, the benefits, from this perspective, of group assessment in the collaborative learning exercise were undeniable. The 2002 project was also an investment in establishing a local resource within the institution for such an approach to teaching. This value was revealed in two ways. First, as they were on sabbatical, neither of the two staff members who were the driving forces for the project in 2002 was involved in teaching Constitutional Law in 2003. Yet there was an apparently smooth transition for the 2003 subject, the teachers making use of the methodologies and support materials developed in the earlier year. Second, another teacher, faced in 2003 with an unexpectedly large class size for an elective topic, implemented elements of collaborative learning as a coping
mechanism drawing on advice from one of the project participants.
Development of legal education in this direction, through specific and designated
incorporation of collaborative learning or group work, is especially important for law schools such as Flinders that claim to distinguish themselves by their commitment Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Universities Teaching Committee, “Teaching Large Classes Project”
The eight tutorial cycles in 2001 constituted an aberration, brought into play by the then Dean in order to cope with budgetary complications. When measured against the norm of ten tutorial cycles, the savings are seen to be even more significant.
Final enrolments in Constitutional Law were 164 in 2001 and 189 in 2002.
This figure does not take into account the time spent in designing the collaborative learning componentfor Constitutional Law. But nor does the 2001 figure include time expended in designing the 1,800-word individual assignment. Furthermore, the costs of collaborative learning design are viewed as one-off costs
and, in any event, were funded by the special grants and so had no impact on the Law School’s budget.
From a decanal and institutional perspective, although the matter requires further and proper investigation, value in terms of academic staff satisfaction is certainly perceived, in the sense of removal of sources of frustration; renewed enthusiasm for teaching; career advancement; and so forth. to the visible teaching of practical skills integrated into the teaching of substantive law.
Various government and sectoral reviews of legal services and legal education in the United Kingdom, North America and Australasia have urged law schools to provide students with generic skills in group-work. In several cases, these calls have been echoed by local legal professions. Although some universities have emphasised the need to train their students in a broad range of generic and practice-related skills, some opposition or, at least, ambivalence has been displayed towards the introduction of group skills. Sometimes based on the belief that law degrees should not been driven by the needs of practice, opposition has also reflected institutional fears that small-group learning may be resource-intensive, staff fears both of additional workloads and the prospect that their relationships with students would need to change to a considerable degree, and student anxieties that among other things their work would be undermined by the poor performance of their peers. Making changes to a law curriculum often involves considerable risks for law schools and those universities that have sought to engage with the needs of the profession have had to respond to these often understandable and sometimes quite justified concerns. At Flinders University in 2002, we introduced the Collaborative Learning in Constitutional Law (CL2
) programme. Acknowledging the potential threat that the programme posed to the relationship between school, staff and students, the programme incorporated several features designed to ease the change. The programme included research, staff support, monitoring and evaluation components. It also received one-off funding from the university to free an additional member of staff who could review the research literature on collaborative learning, identifying best practice and alerting staff to potential pitfalls and possible solutions.
As a result, staff explained the reasons for the programme to students at the
beginning of the semester, helped students develop a virtual group presence on the
web, and provided explicit training in group skills. The non-teaching staff member supported teaching staff throughout the programme, monitoring student responses, helping colleagues draw on the literature to develop strategies to respond swiftly to problems as they arose, and evaluating the programme.
See, for example, Flinders University School of Law, Law Handbook 2003 (Adelaide: Flinders University, 2003), 8-9.
Richard Johnstone and Sumitra Vignaendra, n.57 2003. MI 27 12/10/2010
As we have discussed in this paper, there was considerable evidence that many
students were able to share their individual experiences, develop group and conflictresolution skills, achieve a higher level of understanding of many of the substantive concepts and a more positive attitude towards the topic. The topic convenor reported substantial changes in her relationships with students as she was able to concentrate on improving student high level understanding rather than providing grounding in basic concepts. Finally, given the current state of the tertiary sector in Australia, the School was particularly pleased to save a significant amount of money by adopting a less resource-intensive teaching model that also improved students’ generic skills and helped them create supportive peer networks.
However, the programme did have its costs. The additional member of staff had less time available for his own teaching. Students were able to spend less opportunity on those parts of the topic that did not lend themselves to a problem-based approach – there was, for example, no possibility to work in depth on matters such as the future of the Federation or the place of constitutional rights and freedoms.
One of the more worrying aspects of the evaluation was that it uncovered student
dissatisfaction with several other efforts to run collaborative learning programmes at the university – including earlier attempts by the Law School. In some cases,
students contrasted painful experiences in those programmes with their more
positive encounter in Constitutional Law.
As my experience with group work [in Constitutional Law] was so positive I looked forward to any group work in semester two, particularly a similar exercise in [topic taught outside Law], with slightly smaller groups. In hindsight I think I was slightly disillusioned about the group process due to my experience in semester one. I thought that, particularly at uni[versity] when grades were at stake if I put in my full effort, then everyone else would do the same. I was mistaken. I was placed in a group of three, and believe I carried the group through the exercise, making it a rustrating, time consuming and negative task to be doing with a group when the whole time I felt I could have received a better grade by doing the whole thing by myself… No matter how much you brought towards the group process, if others did not do the same then the process failed. (Focus Group
member, final questionnaire) Although this one student’s experience must have been frustrating, it does suggest that many law schools can adopt collaborative learning strategies if the programmes are properly researched, resourced and monitored, In short, if ‘the vibe’ is right, collaborative learning has much to offer law students, staff and schools. However, if ‘the vibe’ is wrong, student and staff dissatisfaction and the drain on school resources will leave all parties feeling that they never want to be involved in groupwork again.