An Investigation of the Use of Cooperative Learning in Teaching English as a Foreign Language with Tertiary Education Learners in China
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis adapts cooperative learning methods for the College English teaching context in China. Its focus is on investigating the effects of cooperative learning on students' English language proficiency, learning motivation and social skills, in comparison with traditional whole-class instruction, by employing a pre-test-post-test control group quasi-experimental design. The first chapter clarifies the context for the research, which includes an introduction about the importance of English language teaching in China, a description of the widely used traditional approach, as well as its negative consequences. Observations are made regarding the characteristics of College English teaching and recent nationwide College English reform, which have spurred a transformation of the traditional approach at the tertiary level, with a focus on enhancing students' listening and speaking abilities in English. This is followed by a brief overview of cooperative learning, as well as its potential to contribute to College English teaching. The overall aim of the research and the specific research questions addressed are presented at the end of this chapter. The second chapter consists of a review of the literature regarding the history of cooperative learning, the fundamental theoretical underpinnings of cooperative learning, major cooperative learning methods, basic elements of cooperative learning, and its positive outcomes. This chapter also elaborates on key issues in implementing cooperative learning in the classroom and the cultural appropriateness of cooperative learning in China. In accordance with the specific context for this research, this chapter addresses the relevant connections of cooperative learning to second and foreign language teaching, tertiary education, and large-class instruction. An extensive review is also included regarding recent studies on using cooperative learning in second and foreign language teaching around the world as well as in China. The review locates a gap in the existing studies; the effectiveness of cooperative learning in teaching English as a foreign language to tertiary learners in China, which constitutes the focus of this thesis. The third chapter starts with some key concepts essential for quantitative methodology used in this research. It is followed by an introduction of participants and the general research procedure, which includes a pilot study and a main study employing a pre-test-post-test control group quasi-experimental design. Details of the intervention procedure are provided, focusing on different teaching methods used in the cooperative learning classroom and the traditional classroom. This chapter also provides details of the three measures used in this research: the College English Test, the Language Learning Orientations Scale, and the Social Skills Scale for Chinese College English Learners. At the end of the chapter there is an explanation of specific techniques and principles for data analysis. In chapter four, results are presented based on analysis of the data from the three measures. In general, the results focus on seven aspects: mean scores, standard deviations of pre- and post-test scores for each group, effect sizes of Cohen's d from pre- to post-test for each group, alpha values of paired-samples t-tests for each group, alpha values of interaction effect between group and time from ANOVAs, alpha values of post-test difference between groups from one way ANCOVAs, and means plots for each of testing areas. The findings provide evidence in favour of cooperative learning in some areas, for instance, in teaching speaking, listening and reading, in generating intrinsic motivation, and in incorporating students' equal participation and individual accountability into learning. The final chapter includes a discussion of the findings on the three measures in relation to the findings of previous research. It goes on to discuss implications for the practice of English language teaching, with a focus on the challenges of using cooperative learning in Chinese tertiary institutions. These challenges mainly include designing appropriate cooperative learning tasks, extra workload involved in preparing and implementing cooperative learning lessons, limited teaching hours and a large curriculum to cover, as well as students' use of the first language in teamwork. The chapter ends with a discussion about the major contributions and limitations of the current study, as well as recommendations for future research.