[Cherie J. Brown & Erina M. Brown. Akita: Akita International University Press, 2014. pp. 145. ¥3,500. ISBN: 978-4-9904329-7-3.]
Reviewed by Kathryn Mabe, Asia University
Partners in the Classroom is ideal for instructors who are interested in collaborative learning and want a collection of organized and well-thought-out projects. Made into a volume of two pre-project preparatory lessons and five collaborative projects, this book is intended for pre-intermediate learners upwards in secondary and tertiary teaching contexts. It is based upon principles of collaborative teaching and learning, with the explicit aim of creating “natural opportunities for learners to use and experience English in more authentic ways” (Brown & Brown, 2014, p. 6).
The pre-project lessons are entitled Learning to Work in a Group and Plagiarism. The former involves some of the students taking part in an EFL-style Survival in the Desert discussion while others (the Observers) discretely make notes regarding how their classmates interact. This leads on to discussion of the different roles people play in a group. The second preparatory lesson makes excellent use of online material such as videos made by college students who explain how to avoid plagiarism. As I have found in my experience that students are sometimes unaware of this issue, I was pleased to see it included. Both pre-project lessons largely received very positive feedback from students and I also felt that this was an innovative way to begin a course.
These lessons are followed by five projects based on the topics of news, travel, campaigns, recycling, and global issues. Partners in the Classroom includes clear step-by-step lesson plans and suggested time frames for completion of each of the projects, estimated at between 11 to 16 hours of class time. It is recommended that these lessons be used on a weekly basis and not as a replacement for a more formal curriculum.
The procedure differs slightly for each project. As an example, the Campaign lesson begins by leading into the topic through a discussion of students’ previous experience of making a speech, showing model examples of the final product expected, and analyzing speeches from famous movies. The instructor has complete flexibility in terms of which aspects of the speeches to focus on as the target language. The next stages involve small groups deciding and creating their own campaign speech and poster. This process of actively using the target language in a personalized way has been shown to be beneficial to L2 development (Ellis, 2003). In the final stages, students present their campaigns whilst being videoed, vote for the best campaign, and complete a self-evaluation sheet while viewing their performance. Throughout the project, learners benefit from features of collaborative learning such as working with peers to successfully complete an academic task with “a sense of ‘sinking or swimming together’” (Kohonen, 1992, p. 34). This was reinforced in student feedback, with one learner commenting: “I could learn how important supporting each other is as well as English.”
Partners in the Classroom provides photocopiable worksheets such as questionnaires and final product examples which I found to be invaluable in helping weaker learners visualize the project outcome and provide them with a basis to work from. In addition, there are suggested frameworks for teacher and peer-based assessment and feedback. Some excellent authentic online sources of material are also incorporated into lessons. However, as a note of caution, it should be stressed that this is not a textbook with ready-made lessons to be instantly utilized. The aforementioned movie speeches, for example, were challenging even for students in my advanced-level class as they are an authentic resource and a good deal of supplementary material was required. In addition, material to support the students with the language necessary to be able to collaborate together in English and perform the tasks is not included.
It is also worth noting that these lessons are intended in principle to be team-taught. Certainly at university-level in Japan, this is unlikely to be a realistic option for most teachers. Based upon my own observations, I would wholeheartedly recommend Partners in the Classroom for higher-level university classes without a team teacher. Regarding lower level ability classes, I suggest a more hands-on teacher led approach. While I also believe even large classes at secondary-level education could benefit from Partners in the Classroom, classroom management issues and potential difficulty for students to understand authentic material could prove challenging without the presence of a team teacher.
In conclusion, I believe Partners in the Classroom is an innovative and versatile resource for instructors in a wide range of teaching contexts, providing teachers have sufficient time to create supplementary resources to support it.
Brown, C. J., & Brown, E. M. (2014). Partners in the classroom: Team-teaching and collaborative learning projects. Akita: Akita International University Press.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kohonen, V. (1992). Experiential language learning: Second language learning as cooperative learner education. In D. Nunan (Ed.), Collaborative language learning and teaching (pp. 14-39). New York: Cambridge University Press.