LEARNING ENGLISH COOPERATIVELY AT UNIVERSITY
Within a constructivist framework (Bruner 1996, Piaget 1970, Vigotsky 1978, Cobb 1994), this contribution aims at illustrating how and to what extent cooperative learning can improve the competence in a foreign language. Previous research (McCafferty et al. 2006, Sharan & Sharan 1998, Johnson 1996) has shown that such teaching practice can improve the competence in a foreign language as well as the emotive response of the learners but, to my knowledge, the reasons for its beneficial effects on the learners have not yet been discussed. A project between an Italian and an American University will be analyzed in order to highlight the aspects of the teaching experience which better support learning.
Three aspects of cooperative learning will be analyzed and discussed as parts of an integrated process for language acquisition. Firstly, the topics of interaction, which favor positive evaluation and permanent storage of new information in the brain, will be scrutinized. In particular, it will be highlighted the role of functionality and the importance of the affective variables on the mechanisms regulating attention and memorization of new information. Secondly, the contexts of interaction, which support the idea of learning as a social process taking place when individuals perform contextualized and focused social activities, will be analyzed. Finally, the importance of sharing and negotiating meaning as a process of knowledge construction will be discussed to show how a teaching practice that enhances cooperation among learners can meet the principles of both individual and social constructivism.
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