It was the second quarter of the 2006-2007 school year. I was about to start my second student teaching experience at Moline High School in Moline Illinois. As I reflect on those years, I’ve recognize now that always been intrigued with language and culture, mainly because of my own journey as a student. As I started this new episode in my career, I was convinced that being a Spanish teacher or a Bilingual teacher was my destiny. After all, I had been working hard on this for the last four years while in college.
Looking back at my career thus far and my career goal from those early years, I haven’t had the chance to teach Spanish, nor be a bilingual teacher. Instead I became an English teacher, ESL to be more defined. Although, the setting was with English rather than Spanish, I was still a language teacher. As such, it was my task to serve English Learners and help them achieve their goals and aspirations. For many of them, just like me at some point early in my life, their goal was to become proficient in English, be an active participant in the American society and start on a career path that would support a successful and productive life in the United States. For many English Learners like myself, it is the American dream!
I knew early on that to achieve this goals, both my students and I would need to become more comfortable using our oral language. This is important because it is via oral language that students can communicate ideas, engage in collaboration with others, innovate together and create new things. That’s how important speaking or oracy is for high levels of learning. Yet, as English learners we understand through our own experiences, insecurities and overall background knowledge that this is not easy. It is very hard to gain the courage to speak in our second language. Is not an easy thing to do, but once we break the code, and feel more comfortable, a snowball effect occurs and boom! oral language proficiency continues to improve. For many of us who have experience this, or have seen our students done this, it’s a magical and very rewarding experience.
As language teachers, it is our responsibility to help our student achieve this goal. I knew this back then as a student teacher. However, I didn’t know how nor had the skills necessary to help my student do this. Then, out of nowhere during my last week of student teaching I was given the option to attend a cooperative learning workshop. Think Pair Share, Numbered-Heads Together, RoundRobin, TalkingChips, it was all there. The Spencer Kagan cooperative learning structures was the answer. I was impressed, saw the value of the structures and how these, if implemented authentically and with purpose could help language learners become more comfortable with “speaking” using their second language. With this, they could leverage their oral language to learn, collaborate, participate in a classroom community and improve their language proficiency. Most importantly, these strategies could be the answer to help student be an active participant in a team, their communities or society. I truly believe that all of this supports their ultimate goal for eventual successful and productive life.
I am about to start my 14th year in education. My passion for helping build student confidence, promote high levels of learning, collaboration and innovation is stronger than ever. I know how important speaking or building oracy is to accomplish this goals for all the students I serve. I also know that oracy or speaking activities in the classroom can be intimidating to students and teachers alike. However, it doesn’t have to be. Cooperative learning strategies offer a structure way, in which as educators we can engage our students, encourage collaboration and help each of them leverage their oral language skills to learn.
Check out a few of my favorite resources below to learn more or begin planning to implement cooperative learning strategies to support your students engagement, collaboration, inovativation AND oracy language skills:
To explore some professional development:
An interesting article regarding ELs and cooperative learning:
What do the research gurus say about students working together? Check it out below: