Promoting Collaborative Learning in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms

Sepideh Fotovatian

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Sepideh Fotovatian, Faculty of Education

Project team: Sanjoy Banarjee, Rozanna Becker, and Claire Carolan, research assistants

Timeframe: January to December 2013

Funding: $3,180

Course addressed: EDUC 825 – Theories of Second Language Acquisition and Schooling

Final Report: View Sepideh Fotovatian's final project report (PDF).

From the final report: "The main benefits of team/group work activities highlighted in the mind-maps were scaffolding and learning from peers, increased chances for interaction and learning through interaction, and enhancing the sense of community within groups. The main challenges were described as commitment and roles, dominance and interpersonal management."  Read more >>

Description: In the context of second language education, the role of peer interaction and group/pair work in student engagement has been emphasized and several models for facilitating effective group work have been suggested by previous researchers. However, in multicultural classroom contexts, students may have different attitudes towards group work. The role of the teacher as the facilitator of group work seems to be instrumental in creating “safe spaces” for inclusive and productive engagement.

As the instructor of a “cohort” of international MEd students in the field of TEFSL (Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language), I am interested in exploring the challenges and potentials of facilitating group work in my classes which incorporate students with diverse language and cultural backgrounds. I am particularly interested in (1): understanding how group work is perceived by my international students who are often educated in highly competitive learning systems; and (2) exploring the role I, as the instructor, can play in facilitating effective group work in multicultural classroom contexts.

One type of group activity that I often use in my graduate classes is group discussion facilitation. Every session, students are assigned to read one or more journal articles or book chapters around the module theme. They come to class prepared and in small groups of 3 or 4, the students facilitate discussions about the topic. My objective is often twofold, (1) to evaluate individual’s intake and comprehension of the content of the readings and (2) to evaluate their ability to engage in a productive team activity engaging the audience as I see them as future educators.

Questions addressed:

  • How do MEd TESFL students perceive group work? Do they consider it a beneficial activity?
  • What is the impact of teacher intervention on the efficacy of group work?
  • How can I tweak and design more tailored group activities that fit the needs and learning styles of the students in this particular program based on what I learn in this project?

Knowledge sharing: Presented at SFU Faculty of Education Learning Together Conference (May 2013).  Presented at Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics (CAAL) in Victoria (June 2013).  Present a summary at a MEd TEFSL Monthly meetings in Summer 2013.  Poster presentation at UBC’s annual local Education conference (Summer 2013). Present at the language policy conference in Calgary (September 2013).

Fotovatian, S. (2013, September). Negotiation of institutional identity in and through informal second language interactions. Presentation at the Multidisciplinary Approaches in Language Policy and Planning (LPP) Conference, Calgary, AB.

Fotovatian, S., & Tong, N. (2013, May). Learning through interaction in an international TESL/TEFL program. Presentation at the Learning Together 2013: Engaging the World Conference, Simon Fraser University, Surrey, BC.

Keywords: classroom discussion, group work, teaching English as a second language, teaching English as a foreign language, TEFSL, multicultural classroom