Collaborative Learning and Concept Mapping for Language Teaching

Collaborative Learning and Concept Mapping for Language Teaching

Rita de Cássia Veiga Marriott (University of Birmingham, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-992-2.ch002


This chapter outlines how collaborative learning and concept mapping have been incorporated and implemented within a blended foreign language course. Focusing on these two approaches, it introduces the reader to LAPLI – The Language Learning Lab: a methodology of integrative CALL using the Internet. The aim in LAPLI’s 12 activities is to challenge high-intermediate and advanced language students to go beyond their limitations and be more active and responsible for their own learning. Students, based on authentic material selected by themselves, work individually and collaboratively throughout its activities. They are stimulated to develop fluency and accuracy in the foreign language, focusing on the development of their reading and writing skills, but also promoting their oral and social skills. Some feedback from the students is presented. The chapter concludes with a few considerations on the challenges of life-long education.
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The use of collaborative learning and concept mapping activities in a language learning methodology is not what most language teachers would expect to come across. So why propose a methodology involving these approaches?

By and large, in foreign language courses for under-graduate students of all levels, teachers follow an adopted course book. This course book provides a pre-planned path, with pre-planned presentation material and exercises, aiming at achieving carefully selected and graded linguistic outcomes. The lessons are usually structured in the same way: the teacher has to cover parts “1”, “2” and “3”, on page “X”, unit “Y” in classes “A” to “Z” and the students are asked to read, write, listen, watch, repeat and do the written and oral exercises in parts “1”, “2” and “3”, on page “X”, unit “Y” in classes “A” to “Z”. The teacher “teaches” and the students “learn”. The teacher, at the front of the class, asks students to open their books to page “K”, presents the new material and asks students to practise. Students, in turn, open their books to page “K” and either work individually, in pairs (usually with their best friend or a colleague who invariably sits next to him/her in every class) or in groups (with usually the same mates). So, why offer alternatives to this peaceful learning environment?

By following the adopted book, probably written for an international market, teachers do what the author of the book suggests, not necessarily covering the subjects, grammar and social skills their group needs.

The teaching of languages to higher-intermediate and advanced level students can make use of a distinctive methodology. Most of these students are, or will be, language teachers and need to be motivated to continue learning the foreign language, practice the acquired knowledge and develop teaching and researching skills. They need to be challenged to practice their language skills and to expand their vocabulary. Besides, as it is the case with pre-service students, they need to be prepared for the job market to fulfil their professional and personal ambitions. Therefore they need to practise the target language in subjects that are interesting and relevant to them, in which they feel encouraged to communicate and contribute with (new) ideas, making decisions, accepting other people’s opinion, supporting and refusing contributions.

For this to happen, it is necessary to change the current paradigm, centred on the teacher, to one which is centred on the student and which promotes responsibility, critical analysis and autonomy. As Behrens (2000) says, it is important to:

[a.] gradually reduce the number of theoretical lessons, increasing the time available to do research, to access databases, to give support in the construction of activities and the students’ own texts; [b.] encourage students’ development in both well planned individual and collective group work activities with defined responsibilities; [c.] organise differentiated activities, events that require creativity, challenging projects that provoke cross-referencing, dialogue with authors and own production; and [d.] promote the use of electronic devices, of IT, of multimedia and telecommunications with all the available resources of the school campus. (p.121-2).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Autonomy: ability to work independently, to be able to manage the learning process and to act thoughtfully when working on activities and exercises without anybody else’s help.

Blended Learning: The term blended learning (or hybrid learning) in LAPLI is used to refer to lessons which are delivered partially face-to-face (F2F) with students and teacher sharing the same real life classroom with access to computers and the Internet, and partially distance learning with students and teacher communicating synchronously and asynchronously, making use of technology-based materials and a collaborative virtual learning environment.

Collaborative Learning: Collaborative learning is a student-centred methodology which is used by some practitioners in e-learning. By working in groups, students are the subject of their construction of knowledge while at the same time they contribute to their peers learning. The construction of knowledge is achieved by the participation and interaction that occurs amongst all students when they get involved in activities that aim at a common goal. It solidifies socialisation not only by learning, but mainly in learning.

LOLA: The Online Learning Lab (Laboratório On-line de Aprendizagem) is a distance learning methodology created by Patricia Lupion Torres in 2002.

Collaborative Virtual Learning Environment: A collaborative VLE is student friendly and very easy to use and navigate. In a collaborative VLE, students have a high degree of autonomy and can perform tasks such as: communicating with all colleagues and tutor synchronously or asynchronously; suggesting interesting websites that can be accessed and commented by all at the click of the mouse; creating folders to manage their own work; uploading material in their or their colleague’s folder; and initiating new topics for discussion in the Forum which allows for several layers of response.

LAPLI: The Language Learning Lab (Laboratório de Aprendizagem de Línguas) is a blended methodology for foreign language teaching / learning / acquisition created by Rita Marriott for her Masters in 2004. It makes use of technology that allows for synchronous and asynchronous communication, and a pedagogical methodology based on 1. students active participation in the learning process; 2. use of the foreign language as a tool to perform activities; 3. learning mediated by tutors/teachers; 4. collective construction of knowledge that emerges from exchanges between students; 5. interactivity amongst all involved in the process; 6. encouragement of the processes of expression and communication; 7. flexibilisation of roles in the communication process in order to allow for the collective construction of knowledge; 8. acceptance of the diversities and differences of students; 9. development of students’ autonomy in the learning process; 10. value of freedom with responsibility; 11. respect to authorship; 12. value given to both the process and the product.

Interaction: Process that emerges from the participation of all learners that interact amongst themselves by an active dialogue, a constant exchange of information, points of view, queries and ideas that occur in a learning environment.

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