Learning is a lifelong activity. The learning of a second language such as the English language has proven to be a difficult task for most students in several contexts. Veramuthu and Shah (2020) opine that writing is “pigeon-holed as an intricate task” (p. 55). Ivanic (1998) holds a view that writing should portray the identity of the student. That is, most second language learners find writing difficult when they are not comfortable with portraying themselves in the content of their writing. Weigle (2007) acknowledges the relevance of writing as a skill. Huy (2015) points out that writing is an important skill in the English language as it translates itself from the academic field to corporate settings. While there is a large scholarship that recognizes the importance of writing, most English as Second Language (hereinafter, ESL) learners are not aware of this relevance and still encounter difficulties in writing. Following this challenge, several strategies have been devised to improve the writing skills of ESL learners: through oral feedback (Schuldt, 2019; Solhi & Eginli, 2020), peer feedback (Huisman, Saab, Van Driel, & Van Den Broek, 2018; Fan & Xu, 2020), written feedback (Bonsu, 2021; Hyland & Hyland, 2019), computer-mediated feedback (AbuSeileek & Abualsha’r, 2014; Sauro, 2009), and games (Kheryadi, 2017; Mazhar, 2019). While few kinds of research have recognised the role of collaborative learning to improve the writing skills of learners (Al-Besher, 2012; Mansor, 2007), they are constrained to online interactions (Alghasab, Hardman, & Handley, 2019; Qing-quan, 2009).
Generally, collaborative learning has evolved as an essential concept in education (Al-Besher, 2012; Kohonen & Bedley, 1992) to be encapsulated as an activity in improving English language skills in English as Foreign Language (hereinafter, EFL) and ESL contexts (Khan & Mansoor, 2020). Collaborative learning is conceptualized by different scholars to essentialize the objectives of learning. Umar, Adamm and Fahal (2020) explain that collaborative learning means arranging students in heterogeneously small groups to work together to achieve a common goal. Implicitly, this definition recognizes the individual differences in the competence of students. In an effort to define collaborative learning, Ibrahim, Shak, Mohd, Zaidi and Yasin (2015) provide a significance that it allows second language learners to rely on one another for knowledge and this makes learning more interesting and meaningful.
While the definitions holds, Ibrahim et al. (2015) advise that collaborative learning is not merely about grouping students to work together, but it involves shared meaning, negotiations and elaboration of conceptually practical knowledge (Van Boxtel, Van der Linden, & Kanselaar, 2000). While students verbalize their understanding in the group, they can practice and improve coherent writing skills through the interaction. This assertion is supported by the claim of Wilmer (2008) that most students are underequipped to take on complex learning on their own. In this regard, the use of a collaborative learning strategy becomes necessary to facilitate the learning of such ESL learners. Al-Besher (2012) connects writing and collaborative learning to mean a heterogenous small group of ESL writers working as a team to produce and create a shared piece of writing. The result of the collaboration is the development of a piece of writing and these results catalyze to improve the writing skill of each member in the group. Rice and Huguley (1994) reveal that this is achievable when the group brainstorms, collects ideas, plans, makes an outline, revises and edits the writing. Aljamhoor (1996) extended the relevance of planning to the writing process.
The main rationale for this study emanates from the reports by scholars on the falling standards of writing skills of ESL learners after several strategies have been devised to ensure improving writing. Several theoretical perspectives such as socio-cultural theory (Dongyu, Fanyu, & Wanyi, 2013), cognitivist theory (Flower & Hayes, 1981;), socio-cognitivist theory (Atkinson, 2019, Barrot, 2015), genre theory (Afful, 2007; Arancón, 2013;), and interactionist theory (Bowles & Adams, 2015;) have been originated to support the writing of ESL students. This study dwells on the effectiveness of collaborative learning to improve the writing skills of ESL learners through the perceptions of the students. This follows that the use of collaborative learning can provide opportunities for learners to improve their writing through interaction with their peers. Pham and Nguyen (2020) review the positive influence of collaborative learning through peer feedback on second language writers to enhance their self-regulatory learning and scaffold their writing. Also, some existing scholarship recommends channelling attention to improving the writing skills of students (Sukirman, 2016; Veramuthu & Shah, 2020). Sukirman (2016) acknowledges the influence of collaborative learning to improve the writing of students through peer learning.
The study addresses two key concerns. Firstly, little research has investigated collaborative learning in the ESL context, specifically Ghana. More importantly, these studies focused on web-based and online interactions. The current study focuses on traditional collaborations. Secondly, from the extant literature, there is a debate on the suitable approach or theory to improve the writing skills of students. The present study is designed to examine the effectiveness of collaborative learning to improve writing by analysing the perceptions of students. The need to investigate the perceptions of students towards collaborative learning improving their writing stems from the assertion that perceptions are influential factors in writing skills (Bulut, 2017; Veramuthu & Shah, 2020). This investigation can lead to renovating language learning curriculums to integrate collaborative learning as a core activity in improving learning (in this study, writing skills) of ESL students. The findings of this study can relevant to other fields of second language research such as feedback and language acquisition. In this regard, the study is guided by the following research questions.
- What are the perceptions of ESL students towards collaborative learning?
- What is the perceived effect of collaborative learning on the writing skill of ESL students?