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: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0011-9.ch111
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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).

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