This 33-page booklet focuses its attention principally on the highlights of the Cooperative Approach (CA) -- a language teaching methodology that promotes learning through group-centered activities. While it reads as a review of literature surrounding this didactic method, the main intent of this work is to argue for increased use of this methodology in the foreign language classroom.
The author begins with a discussion on why the CA is a suitable method for the foreign/second language classroom. He notes that other methods tend to focus on linguistic competence (e.g. accuracy in verb conjugation) in the target language, leaving communicative competence (i.e. the ability to use the language outside of the classroom) somewhat lacking. A brief overview of some of these methods that have failed to produce the desired communicative competence is provided. According to the author, one of the reasons for such failure has been the teacher-centered focus of such methods. Subsequently, the bulk of the manuscript concentrates on the student-centered method of CA.
The discussion on CA begins with several of the characteristics (e.g. small groups, cooperation instead of competition) and goals of the approach. This is followed by a brief overview of the learning theories behind CA, focusing mainly on interactional psychology. The importance of working in groups is then highlighted, followed by a discussion of the possible roles (e.g. encourager, coach, silent captain) of each member of a group.
The manuscript continues with a brief focus on the characteristics of four models that encapsulate CA: 1) jigsaws, 2) student team learning, 3) learning together, and 4) group investigation. The author then turns his attention to group types and other key elements for finding success in group activities, along with a list of some of the activities inherent to CA. Also included in this discussion are the benefits of CA (i.e. increased collaboration and communicative competence), as well as some guidelines (e.g. group make-up, individual responsibility, physical arrangement of students) for finding success in implementing CA in the foreign/second language classroom.
To close the manuscript, the author briefly outlines some practical findings of research dealing with CA. These, according to the author, indicate that CA can viably be implemented in the foreign language classroom to achieve communicative competence, as well as social benefits such as solidarity amongst students.
While the main purpose of this manuscript is to advocate for the use of activities related to CA, it simply reads as a literature review for a larger project. Written in Spanish, it appears to target those who teach Spanish as a second or foreign language. The booklet begins with a very brief overview of some of the research methods used throughout the history of language teaching. However, the treatments of the antecedent methods are very brief, and as such, would be of little use to the foreign language teacher. Granted, the work’s purpose is not to discuss methods from a historical perspective, however, the inclusion of such minimal information on these methods is unserviceable. Other works such as Richards & Rogers (2001), or perhaps Koike & Klee (2003), would serve as a much more accessible and useful resource for background information on second language teaching methodologies.
Aside from being written in Spanish, this manuscript provides little addition to other sources (i.e. Richards & Rodgers 2001) with regards to CA theory and praxis. It is simply too brief to add to the extant literature. An example of the failure to develop an area of discussion occurs when the author states that “El desarrollo de cooperación y trabajo en equipo es uno de los puntos más complejos de este método de instrucción” (‘The development of cooperation and teamwork is one of the most complex points of this instructional method’) (p. 19); in spite of its alleged complexity, only one brief paragraph is dedicated to the topic at hand.
While at times the book flows well, the author’s writing style is very difficult, and at times, impossible to follow. Aside from numerous run-on sentences, typographical and major grammatical errors abound. For example, on page 9 there is repetition of the phrase “El trabajo en equipo” and “trabajar en equipo” (‘work in groups’/ ‘working in groups’) as the subject of the same sentence. On the following page, there is a capital ‘L’ in “Las habilidades” (‘The abilities’) after the abbreviation “etc.”, even though the nominal phrase does not begin a new sentence. A similar typographical error is repeated at least one other time (see p. 11). Also adding confusion is the lack of verbs in several sentences (see p. 10). Misspelled words are also abundant; for example, errata due to accentuation are found in the subjunctive of “dar” (dé) (‘to give’) (see p. 11), and the most notable typo for this reader is “vasta” for “basta” (‘vast’/ ‘enough’) (p. 29). The most glaring errors are found on page 18, where: 1) the verbs “apoyar” (‘to support’) and “apoyarse” (reflexive form) are repeated in the same list without clarification as to the repetition; 2) the non-apocopated form of “primero” (‘first’) is found before a masculine noun; and 3) the verb “ser” (‘to be’) is spelled incorrectly.
Not only does this manuscript read as a rough draft due to grammatical and orthographical errors, but the content also leaves much to be desired. The lack of development surrounding themes central to the manuscript’s goals makes for a very rough read. Several times the author provides a list of activity types without affording any concrete examples or explanations for these activities (see p. 22). Another time, the author mentions “tres tipos de tareas” (‘three types of tasks’) (p. 20), but it is unclear what three task types he is referring to. Other works (e.g. Omaggio 2001) give much more detailed and practical resources for many of the activities that the author mentions (e.g. puzzles, jigsaw activities).
Also lacking is a description of some of the weaknesses of CA, which all methods/approaches have. It would be advantageous to the reader to know in what situations CA is not useful.
One of the benefits of the work is the culling of an abundant number of references regarding CA. Anyone interested in researching said approach will find a great starting point here.
In sum, the idea of a work on CA written in Spanish is one that merits inclusion in academic writings. Very little writing exists in Spanish on language teaching methodologies in general, and as one who teaches future Spanish language educators, this reader was eager to find a book on CA written in Spanish. However, due to the lack of practical ideas, the abundance of errors, and the difficulty of the author’s writing style, the book does not meet this reviewer’s desired expectations.
Koike, Dale A. & Carol A. Klee. 2003. Lingüística aplicada: Adquisición del español como segunda lengua. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Omaggio Hadley, Alice. 2001. Teaching language in context, 3rd edn. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.
Richards, Jack C. & Theodore S. Rodgers. 2005. Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Tyler K. Anderson is Associate Professor of Spanish at Colorado Mesa University, where he teaches courses in linguistics and second language acquisition. His research interests include language attitudes toward manifestations of contact linguistics, including the acceptability of lexical borrowing and code-switching in Spanish and English contact situations. He is currently researching the perceptions of phonetic interference in second language acquisition.