Group Work in the English Language Curriculum: Sociocultural and Ecological Perspectives on Second Language Classroom Learning

P. Chappell

Published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 10: 1137008776 / ISBN 13: 9781137008770
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Synopsis: This book explores how using small groups in second language classrooms supports language learning. Chappell's experience as a language teacher equips him to present a clear, evidence-based argument for the powerful influence group work has upon the opportunities for learning, and how it should therefore be an integral part of language lessons.

From the Author: There is one central question that I have set out to answer in this book: How does group work contribute to learning a second language in the classroom? This is a question I first asked myself many years ago, as a novice teacher, on one hot and humid Saturday afternoon in a fan-cooled classroom of 25 adolescent English language learners in downtown Bangkok. I had set the students a task to complete in small groups, and as the six groups worked noisily together, I recall standing in the middle of the classroom asking myself: 'How on earth can this lead to language learning?' I also recall moving around to each group, looking on and listening in, seeing whether there was anything obvious that I was missing. Some groups were working diligently on the task, with some fine examples of English being spoken. Others were making a lot of noise in Thai, and I failed to determine what was going on. One group was sitting silently, and when I approached, announced in uni- son 'Finished!'. I walked back to the centre of the room, looked around at the groups one more time and felt at a loss. And so began my quest to seek out answers to this dilemma. Little did I realise that 20 years later I would be submitting a book for publication that was providing my answers to this question.
I realised early on that there were much deeper questions to be answered before I could posit an answer to the core question. What exactly is this thing called language that is the object of the vast international enterprise of English Language Teaching? What does it mean to learn something? How can learning processes be described? How can language learning occur in classrooms? The questions kept coming, and for quite some time, I was researching the literature without finding anything of significance that I could relate to my own teaching and learning context (see Chappell, 2010, for a full account of this). However, I eventually found some answers, thanks to scholar- ship surrounding the work of two great scholars, L. S. Vygotsky and M. A. K. Halliday.
Vygotsky provided an early signal that learning in groups is a quite natural, perhaps essential, activity for humans. The idea that new ways of thinking and doing begin in interaction with others was an enor- mously difficult concept to come to grips with when thinking about language learning in the classroom. Yet after struggling with the notions of zone of proximal development, internalisation, externalisation, imi- tation, semiotic mediation and the like, I was convinced enough that a social view of learning, informed by sociocultural theory, is more useful for my question than perspectives from alternative paradigms. Halliday's theory of language, labeled a social semiotic theory, and which I was studying in my Masters in Education degree, kept nudg- ing me to think how it might fit in with a Vygotskian perspective on language learning. Indeed, I was not alone in this, and was delighted to learn that back in my hometown of Sydney, whole teams of educators and linguists were developing an approach to language teaching and learning that combined these two views quite nicely. This also gave me the motivation to explore Basil Bernstein's work, which was being applied by the Sydney scholars, which has enabled me to unpack the relations of power and control that exist in the classroom, thus provid- ing greater explanatory wisdom.
This book, then, is the record of my work undertaken to answer the question I started out with all those years ago. While I think I have learned enough to warrant the publication of the book, there is still much to be understood about classroom language learning and teach- ing, and I hope to continue these investigations for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, I present this book as providing some answers to the question of how group work contributes to learning a second language in the classroom by addressing two fundamental theoretical issues. This refers to the articulation of a theoretical framework that is, firstly, distinct enough so as not to be confused with mainstream second language acquisition (SLA) perspectives on language acquisition, and secondly, that includes the context of teaching and learning activity as an irreducible unit of analysis. As I was searching the literature, I found that there existed a great deal of research supporting and explaining the benefits of group work in SLA; however, as will be seen in subsequent chapters, this research was not addressing a significant theoretical issue highlighted by systemic functional linguistic and sociocultural theory - that of context. In this case, context refers to the totality of the classroom environment in which the students and teachers are undertaking teaching and learning activity. As will be detailed later in the book, linguistically, context specifies all the participants involved in the teaching/learning activity and their relationship to one another, the nature of the teaching/learning activity itself, as well as the modes of communication used in the activity. Including context in the unit of analysis presented itself as a novel move, especially when drawing on two different but complementary perspectives - context as defined in sociocultural theory as tool-mediated human interaction and context as defined in systemic functional linguistic (SFL) theory as the semiotic structure of the situation in which people are interacting. Accordingly, it became apparent that the theoretical as well as the pedagogic con- cerns would need to be addressed together, and hence the structure of this book.
In Part I, I have outlined the key components of sociocultural theory, SFL theory and a theory of pedagogic discourse. These are theoretically oriented chapters that set the framework for Part II. The reader may wish to work through these two chapters briskly at first and return to them while reading Part II. Indeed, in Part II I signpost where reference has been made to Part I, for in this second part, I apply the theoretical framework to analyses of classroom data in order to describe and explain the role of group work in the language curriculum. While doing this, I elaborate upon key aspects of the theory from Part I. Thus, upon completing the final chapter, Chapter Eight, the reader will have most likely returned to earlier sections multiple times. This recursive approach is, as will be discovered later, an essential aspect of teaching and learning. In Chapter Eight, I pro- vide a schematic of the theoretical and practical concepts developed throughout each chapter, which the reader may wish to read through before starting the book.
The data that I have presented in each chapter to support my claims are drawn from a variety of sources, although mainly from the many hours of observations and videotapes made of a friend and colleague, who is referred to as Ross. Ross is an exemplary teacher and his gener- osity and good spirit allowed me to spend many hours sitting in the back of his classrooms with camera and notebook. It is testament to his inclusive and engaging teaching that I quickly became a taken-for- granted fixture in the classroom by his students, which allowed me to witness classroom activity in as close a natural state as could be hoped for. The multiple times I have returned to the data have enabled me to present what I think are representative and robust outcomes of my analysis. I have also used data from other classrooms, my own included, in Thailand, as well as from adult migrant English programmes in Australia and EFL settings in the UK and Europe.

  

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Title: Group Work in the English Language ...
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Publication Date: 2014
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: New
Edition: 2014.

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