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Peer interaction in the classroom: How does it affect the learning of students who speak mostly spanish?

1 June 1998


This study arose out of concern for how peer interaction in groups affects the learning of students who speak mostly Spanish. More specifically, how do students who speak mostly Spanish use fellow students to understand the teacher instructions? How do students who speak mostly Spanish use peers to help understand new material? In what fonn does peer learning seem to help achievement? Under what circwnstances does it interfere with achievement? My research addressing these questions was based on the work of Daniel Holt and Robert De Villar. They recommend cooperative learning as a successful strategy to group students with their peers. Holt (1993) suggests that cooperative learning provides Limited English Proficient students with support that is especially important to their overcoming of obstacles to learning. DeVillar (1994) maintains that the "sociohistoric school of learning and cognitive development" supports the use of cooperative learning with languageminority students. This study took place in a sixth-grade class at a school within a suburban district of Portland, Oregon. The school has a majority Latino population, with a large percentage of bilingual and LEP students. Infonnation was gathered in the classroom using a variety· of methods, including observation field notes and teacher and student interviews. From the data, two recognizable patterns became evident: Although LEP students are assigned to work in groups, they sometimes end up working alone, which can limit achievement. Also, LEP students do benefit from interaction with their peers when it comes to understanding teacher instructions and having help with translating Spanish words to English.


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