Cooperative learning in teacher education: its effects on EFL pre-service teachers’ content knowledge and teaching self-efficacy

From Section:
Instruction in Teacher Training
Dec. 01, 2021
December 2021

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 47:5, 654-667

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to examine how cooperative learning (CL) affects content knowledge and teaching self-efficacy of EFL pre-service teachers because teacher education programmes have been reported ineffective in preparing future teachers for English language teaching (Kourieos and Diakou 2019).
The study addressed the following research questions:
(1) Is there a significant difference between the achievement levels of pre-service teachers in the experimental (CL) and the control (lectured-based learning) groups?
(2) Is there a significant difference between the reported levels of teaching self-efficacy of pre-service teachers in the experimental and the control groups?


The sample comprised 65 first-year Cambodian EFL pre-service secondary teachers who were taking a two-year education programme that is designed to prepare future secondary school teachers in two classes at two regional teacher training centres.
The two classes were randomly selected as an experimental group (N = 35) and a control group (N = 30).
The two groups had never experienced CL before the experiment.
Two male teacher educators of English volunteered to participate in this study.
One teacher educator was trained to implement CL in the experimental group while the other teacher educator agreed to use lecture-based learning in the control group.

An achievement test and a scale on teaching self-efficacy were developed and used to collect data.
The achievement test measured pre-service teachers’ knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary at the intermediate level.
The researchers and the two teacher educators developed the achievement test.
The scale on teaching self-efficacy was adapted from Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk Hoy (2001).
The technique of translation and back-translation of Behling and Law (2000) was used to construct the items of a five-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Instructional procedures
In this study, a pre-test-post-test quasi-experimental design with an experimental and a control group was used to examine the effect of CL on content knowledge and teaching self-efficacy of EFL pre-service teachers. This study lasted for one semester (16 weeks).

Results and discussion
This study examined the effects of CL and lecture-based learning on content knowledge and teaching self-efficacy of EFL pre-service teachers.
The ANCOVA results revealed that content knowledge and teaching self-efficacy were statistically greater in the CL group.
The authors found that CL is more effective in improving grammar and vocabulary achievement of EFL pre-service teachers.
This is because, in the CL process, the pre-service teachers were involved with learning, retaining, and transferring what is being taught to their groupmates and classmates.
Referring to Johnson and Johnson (2017b), this learning process is more effective than competitive or individualistic learning.
These findings further support the results of prior studies that have shown that pre-service teachers tend to acquire greater content knowledge in classes where CL is used (Cecchini et al. 2020; Supanc, Völlinger, and Brunstein 2017).
More specifically, this study is in agreement with previous studies that have published that learning cooperatively can enhance students’ grammar and vocabulary achievement (Ney 1991; Ghorbani 2012; Yavuz and Arslan 2018; Zarifi 2016).
They also found that CL exerts more influence on efficacy for instructional strategies, for classroom management, and for student engagement among EFL pre-service teachers.
Given these findings, some explanations are offered.
First, in the CL process, the preservice teachers had to teach the content taught to their classmates in the class.
These learning activities might have resulted in mastery experiences (i.e., authentic teaching practices), which are the most influential teaching self-efficacy source (Bandura 1997; Bautista 2011; Knoblauch and Chase 2015; Tschannen-Moran, Woolfolk Hoy, and Hoy 1998).
Second, the pre-service teachers could learn the course content more effectively through the process of learning, retaining, and transferring.
These successful learning experiences might have influenced their teaching self-efficacy, in agreement with the results of prior studies.
For instance, work by Palmer (2006) has shown that pre-service teachers’ science teaching self-efficacy is enhanced through their successful experiences in learning science content and science teaching methods.
Third, according to Gillies (2007), the pre-service teachers in the CL process were given autonomy support, which might have contributed to the increase in their teaching self-efficacy.
If so, this study is consistent with a prior study that found pre-service teachers appear to have improved teaching self-efficacy when their teacher educators support their autonomy (González et al. 2018).
Finally, in the CL process, the pre-service teachers were exposed to group work, group discussion, peer teaching, peer feedback, and group reflection.
These learning activities might have brought about mastery experiences (i.e., experiences gained from peer teaching), vicarious experiences (i.e., experiences gained from observing peer teaching), and verbal persuasion (i.e., constructive feedback provided by their groupmates and teacher educators), which are significant sources of teaching self-efficacy of pre-service teachers (Bandura 1997; Clark and Newberry 2019; Yurekli, Bostan, and Cakiroglu 2020).
The study showed that CL positively contributed to greater content knowledge and stronger teaching self-efficacy among EFL pre-service teachers, when compared to direct instruction.
Therefore, teacher educators should implement CL to improve EFL pre-service teachers’ content knowledge and teaching self-efficacy.
However, to ensure the effectiveness of CL, the authors recommend that teacher educators should
(1) assign pre-service teachers into small heterogeneous groups with positive role interdependence;
(2) provide each group with a learning task that requires joint effort to complete;
(3) teach group work skills to group members and encourage them to engage in learning activities such as peer discussion, peer teaching, peer feedback, and peer assistance with needed resources;
(4) continuously check academic progress of group members and, if needed, intervene to facilitate their learning;
(5) randomly select the representative of each group for class presentations;
(6) encourage group members to reflect on their own and each other’s learning processes; and
(7) provide timely feedback on their learning and teaching performance.

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Updated: Apr. 13, 2022
Content knowledge | Cooperative learning | English (second language) | Preservice teachers | Teacher education | Self efficacy