The overall aim of this study is to investigate how and why teachers in the subjects of English and other foreign Languages use group of work in secondary school in their lessons. This has been done with the help of a survey and interviews.
Keywords: democracy, group work, teacher attitudes, second language, third language.
Общей целью данного исследования является изучение того, как и почему учителя по предметам английского и других иностранных языков используют на уроках групповую работу в средней школе.
Through all the different curricula in Kazakhstan except the latest one, three different types of teaching methods have been able to be discerned1. Individual work, group work and classwork are all discussed. The different curricula have all conveyed different amounts of time for the different work methods; group work compared to individual work is built on very different assumptions as to how students‟ best learn. Within group work it is the students‟ own search for knowledge that is valued. Group work is the modus operandi at many workplaces, in school, however, it is often used very sparingly with students both in Kazakhstan and in the other parts of the east world2.
Aim and research questions
1) Why do teachers use group work in their lessons?
2) What do teachers think about group work?
3) How do teachers use group work in their lessons?
Cohen defines group work as ”students working together in a group small enough so that everyone can participate on a task that has been clearly assigned”. The fact that the different members of a group bring different knowledge to the gathering indicates that the more members that there are in a group the more knowledge they have available. Sjödin also points out that as the group gains more members the difficulties in communicating also grow.
According to Stensaasen and Sletta there are different kinds of groups. People standing in line waiting for something are a group of people, this type of group they define as a non-social group. This is not the type of group meant when discussing group work they define this type of group as a social group. An example of their definition of what a social group is (my translation):
“A group consists of two or more people who have a mutual influence on each other and are mutually dependant on another in the sense that that they have to trust each other to get their needs satisfied and achieve their goals.”
Why group work?
“Group work is an effective technique for achieving certain kinds of intellectual and social learning goals. It is a superior technique for conceptual learning, for creative problem solving, and for increasing oral language proficiency.”
Cohen states that group work at some times can be more effective than traditional teaching methods. Cohen goes on to state that group work is good when two conditions are met; the task should make use of conceptual thinking instead of memorization or applying a rule. Also the group needs to have the knowledge to correctly complete the task. Another good assignment is when a question has no clear answer, the students then need to think and discuss different answers; something that all members of the group benefit from.
Forming group work
Scholars describes Steiners theory of group process and group productivity and states that a groups achievement has three deciding factors, “the task demands, the resources in the group and the group processes”.
The demands of the task can be characterized by three aspects. The first one is whether or not the problem is devisable or unitary. A problem that is devisable can be broken into smaller parts and divided between the group‟s different members. The unitary problem on the other hand cannot be divided in that way.
Additive problem — this problem adds all members individual achievements together, no singular contribution is more important than another. This problem type is always unitary and maximizing. An example of this type of problem could be rope pulling, all members of the group work together to be strong enough to beat the other group.
Disjunctive problem — one singular answer is the representation of the group’s achievement. One group member’s answer will be the group’s answer; all other answers will be discarded. This problem type is unitary and either maximizing or optimizing. An example of this type of problem could be individual problem solving. The group is given a problem that has one correct answer and the first person to get it right answers for the group as a whole.
Conjunctive problem — all group members are needed to solve the problem. The group is therefore dependant on its weakest member. This problem type is usually unitary and optimizing but can be devisable and maximizing. An example of this type of problem could be mountain climbing, the group only succeeds if all the group members get to the top they therefore have to work together and help each other.
Compensating problem — each members individual answer is important, all answers are then averaged together to find the answer wanted by most. This problem type is usually unitary and optimizing. An example of this type of problem could be deciding who is going to be class president, all member get a say and the person that most want is then chosen.
Complementary problem — each individual in the group does what s/he is best at, the sum of each individual part is the group‟s end product. This problem type is devisable and optimizing. An example of this type of problem could be writing an anthology, each member does his or her part these are then added together to for the end product
The dilemma of group work
As all other methods of learning group work has both good and bad points40. One reason why group work fails can be unclear problems; another reason can be that the group is not aware of what is expected of them when working in groups. Studies have shown that students who are taught how to work in groups are more likely to get better results. Hammar Chirac and Hempel discuss different aspects that are important for the group members to be aware of and able to perform to be successful.
To improve their group work students should know:
How to take notes;
How to divide responsibilities;
How to break a problem into smaller parts;
How to listen actively;
How to formulate ideas;
How to stand for your opinion;
How to make democratic decisions;
And how to give constructive criticism;
Using group work puts a lot of demands on both students and teachers. Students need to learn how to work in groups and teachers need the knowledge to know what material is going to stimulate the students to work together.
Results from survey
As the survey consists of open-ended questions the answers to each question will not be explained individually. The answers have been divided into three sections; what kind of teacher they are, how often and why the teachers use group work, and how they use it in their lessons. The last two questions in the survey were only answer by one teacher and have only been considered during the interview.
Results from questions 1–3
Of the seven teachers that have answered, four are teachers of English and two are teachers of Turkish Language and one teacher has both subjects English and Turkish. They have a wide range of experience from one to twenty-four years in the profession and all but one are certified to teach their subjects.
Results from questions 4–7
All seven teachers use group work to different amounts, with it varying from once per term to twice a month. Regardless of the fact that they use group work to different amounts two of them say that they use group work more often with grades eight and nine, than they do with grades 90–75. A third teacher states that he uses group work more in grades90–75. One teacher states that he uses group work the same amount with all classes. Another teacher states that he uses group work the same amount in grades 80–70 but less in grade 90 as that is when the grades are most important.
Results from questions 8–12
Two of the teachers state that the reason they use group work is that the students feel more comfortable speaking the target language when not as many people are listening. The group work then provides the students with more opportunities to practice verbally. A few of the teachers choose to use group work so that the students can figure out how to better work together; that they get to practice planning their own work, and therefore have the opportunity to decide for themselves what grade they want to strive for. Through discussions they help each other to learn more than they would on their own.
The three main things the teachers choose to work with when using group work are: dialog exercises, fact finding exercises, and problem solving. The different things that the teachers recommend that the students think about when doing group work are; get to work straight away, divide the work between you and take different roles to find out what you are best at.
All the teachers agree that the biggest problem for the students when doing group work is getting everyone to agree and work together. The concerns that they have about group work is that not every student participates as much, and that one student will do more of the work.
Feedback that the teachers have received from students concerning group work is mostly that they like working in groups, and that they learn a lot while doing it. The students also have some of the same apprehensions as the teachers, that they are concerned with not everyone doing their part of the work. One teacher also stated that they do not want to present what they have done in front of the other students.
Results from interview
Interview with teacher A
Teacher A discusses the value of group work as a way to achieve and uphold the fundamental values described in the curriculum. Group work can also be used to “…illuminate how the functions of society and how our ways of living and working can best be adapted…” Teacher A discusses one of the points in the curriculum in the guidelines for what the teacher should do about student influence;
“prepare the pupils for participating in and sharing the joint responsibilities, rights and obligations that characterise a democratic society.”
As teacher A is a teacher in the subject of English it is this syllabus that was discussed during the interview. Of the different goals in the syllabus, teacher A uses group work generally to achieve the goals that refer to the students‟ communicative abilities. She believes that group work is a good way to help the students practise expressing their thoughts in English, understanding what others think and their views on the subject. Teacher A also explains that she uses group work when the students work with learning about English speaking countries. She feels that the work with countries is very well suited for group work, that the students are aware of what is expected of them, and that they know what information is wanted, and what they want to know about a country.
Furthermore teacher A explains that she often uses group work when combining English with another subject. As she teaches social sciences this is the subject that she sometimes combines with when teaching English. The reason is that as she feels she knows this subject well and it is easier to work
“with” herself than working with another teacher. She feels that working with another teacher requires more planning time, something that is not always available.
Interview with teacher B
Teacher B states that she uses group work a lot with her students, at least a little part of each lesson is spent doing group work in one form or another. She states that variation in the ways students work in the classroom is very important to keep the students interested and engaged in the lesson. When using group work her goal is that the students cooperate with each other and use their friends‟ skills to develop their own.
Teacher B uses group work in much the same way as teacher A, to develop the students‟ communicative abilities. She uses dialog work a lot with her students both when teaching English and Spanish. After each “chapter” in their textbook she has the students in pairs or small groups write dialogs using what they have learnt in the chapter. When they are done with the dialog they act it out in front of the class as a presentation. The dialogs are used as short group work activities and never go on for more than one or two lessons. Teacher B explains that she rarely uses group work that spans over more than two weeks as she feels that the students do not have the necessary language skills that would be needed for an exercise that would take several weeks to complete.
Furthermore when discussing what the result of group work is, excluding how they show their dialogs, they always after a slightly longer group work task give some form of presentation. This presentation is most often oral in front of the class, but there is usually also a written assignment to be handed in.
According to teacher B she does not combine her subject with other subjects as she feels that she then would not have enough time to help all students reach the goals in the syllabus. She feels that it would take too much time to cooperate with another teacher and that she would not be able to teach the students as much. Although this is how she works at the moment she expresses a wish about in the future being able to work with other teachers as she thinks that the students would find it enjoyable and interesting. But at this time it is not something she has time for.
In a time when it becomes more and more important to be able to cooperate with other people in both your native language, as well as in foreign languages it is important to teach our students how this is done. This essay has focused on how and why teachers use group work in teaching second and third language students. Regardless of the fact that the curriculum does not state that group work is to be used, all teachers still use it in their lessons. The teacher is key in making sure that group work is a success. If the teacher does not explain explicitly to the students how and what they are to do, it is unlikely the result will be what the teacher hoped for.
It has been brought to my attention that although all teachers in the study use group work with their students, they all have the same reservations as to how the students will behave. I find surprising how they all see the same issues and still not come up with good ideas as how to resolve them.
There are many aspects that I would find interesting to see further research on. How to introduce a group work project as well as the student‟s opinion of group work, whether they find it to be a good way to learn, and if both high and low achievers feel the same way.
To conclude, in attempting to answer my research questions I have found that teachers use group work in similar ways and for similar reasons and that they all have the same problems with their students. I believe that teachers instruct their students on how to work in groups in the same way that they were instructed as students. The issues that were encountered during the 90‟s are the same as the ones that occur now. As teachers obviously still believe that group work is a good way to achieve the goals of the curriculum and syllabus, time and effort should be put into finding a way to make it as effective as possible.
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