Groupwork

Does teaching just mean standing at the front spouting all your knowledge?

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So, imagining the classroom as more of an environment where all are involved and books and worksheets are in the background just as supplementary materials, we need to have the students as active participants. We need them to express themselves and see how relative topics affect them that generate opinions. We need to challenge them and let them all be part of the class that relates to them as individuals and as part of a group. Pairwork, groupwork and class debates help all involved. We need these students to have a voice that makes them feel part of the group; that empowers them to be creative. Or should the teacher just lecture at the front?

What we need is problem-posing education.  The students need lessons, exercises, and dialogue that bring thought and opinion to the fore that makes them think about the world differently. On this theme, Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed mentions that ‘in problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation (Freire, 1970: 64). He also says ‘problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality; thereby responding to the vocation of persons as beings who are authentic only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation (Freire, 1970: 65).This is handy reading when thinking about your lesson plan and all the work you may put into getting it right, but you may be avoiding your best asset: the students and their input.

(278 Words)Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Reflecting on a Group Project – And Group Dynamics

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(Words: 1007)

Our group of five presented to our fellow Prof Ed peers on the topic of ‘Safeguarding Their Future: Well-being & Welfare in Education’. With regard to the work involved prior to the presentation, this reflective account will bear witness to the processes involved in performing a complete model to show to the audience. Henceforth, the pre-presentation period being from the tutor’s project instigation to the day of presentation and the salient points within – for this account – will be called the ‘Critical Incident(s)’ that recognizes the 1954 article on the Critical Incident Technique (reflective) model of John C. Flanagan.

First of all, the Critical Incident has to be recognised that ‘To be critical, an incident must occur in a situation where the purpose or intent of the act seems fairly clear to the observer and when its consequences are sufficiently definite to leave little doubt concerning its effects,’ (Flanagan, 1954:327).  I feel I did this as an observer and group participant by analysing occurrences and situations that arose during the pre-presentation stage which would identify behaviours of positive and negative performance within our group dynamics to complete the project. The occurrences and their effects led me to question the qualitative effectiveness of the group’s progression and the positive potential results of all the group’s participants including timely interventions by the tutor. This leads to asking the Critical Incident question: what were the difficulties? To the fore came time scale and the apparent success of having a time scale of eight weeks to complete in what encapsulated each individual’s five to ten-minute window in the presentation.  This was critical as essentially most work and eagerness as a group to complete the project was done in the days that saw the presentation day rapidly looming.  From Flanagan’s model which suggests posing questions and answering from the perspective of another such as regarding ‘the emotions felt in that situation’ (Hitching, 2008, p.23) – the situation being pre presentation – I (as another) would have said ‘I felt I had a lot of time to spare before the actual day of presentation so there was no rush – per se – albeit showing a general weekly progression towards the goal’.  Thus, here lies the fact that time scale is less of a Critical Incident for others than had been for me and therefore the effect of being overly concerned during the event varies in the group dynamic.

Moreover, another factor of Flanagan’s model gets the reflector to put themselves in the learner’s position. Jeanne Hitching says ‘you would need to take yourself back to a time when you were learning something new and unknown, just as they are’. In relation to this, there was a time when I was studying and I had a big project to complete, I always felt at the time that as long as I complete a part of it each week, this would culminate in – when collated – the project just about finished bar the finishing touches, and I feel this may have been the case with our group project because the days before the presentation members work did come together. Hence, I do empathise with our group members completing their work towards the collaboration within the final presentation.

Furthermore, we were asked to contribute to an online group’s forum. This never got off the ground, and seeing as we only met once a week at college, it was the only way to communicate. While this medium was not used to its fullest, some weeks group members came into the classroom to spend time solely on their own presentation, so again communication and group production was limited.  So, referring back to the earlier point of posing questions from another’s perspective – in relation to this forum and weekly class discussions, would be: what did their behaviour signal to me (Hitching 2008, p.23)? I feel another would say ‘this was not a problem as everyone works during the day and we study at night, so you need to give people time and space’. Flanagan’s model highlights that empathy to this kind of situation would lead me to support this situation. At this juncture, although I feel this was the case nearer to the presentation date, time may still have been lost along the way and better and proficient communication on the forum and timely constructive meeting would have shown a healthier progression that would have put the group at more ease.

Moving on to nearer the presentation commencement, I could see people getting their part completed and longer discussions making better contribution to the effect of the finished product. Referring back to Flanagan’s model, it should also be recognised that it not only looks at negative aspects and as such our group’s contribution to a finished article was notably praise worthy. Posing another question, at this point, of Flanagan’s Critical Incident analysis is questioning what the group’s actual behaviour signals to me (‘me’, the perspective of another). I would have been pleased that we came together with positive productive material and a readiness to perform and smooth out inconsistencies in the presentation.

To conclude Flanagan’s model, it is interesting to think about the perspective of others in the group and their dynamics in creating a solid presentation. This reflective method functions – of course – if you are comfortable thinking this way, but I feel it did make me certainly reflect on my attitudes at the time and how these feelings can affect my behaviour: past, present, and in the future. Ultimately, I feel as a teacher I would have set a smaller time scale – regarding the fact that most students did not use the whole eight weeks for solid study and preparation – and worked with this group of students’ more, highlighting targets and roles within the group, notwithstanding creating a focus, as these get broken down easily as was noticed in our group and notably highlighted in the time scale.

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References

Flanagan, J. C. (1954). The critical incident technique. Psychological Bulletin, 51, 4, 327-359.

Hitching, J (2008) Maintaining Your Licence to Practise (Professional Development in the Lifelong LearningýSector Series). 1 Edition. Learning Matters.

Process Learning in Language Teaching and Acquisition

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My first thoughts are to say that Process Teaching seems a more relaxed attitude to teaching. It is encouraging that with this teaching method, a material light approach is advocated. From my own point of view, I try to be a proficient teacher and have worksheets to help the students as well as use material to stimulate the students throughout a lesson. The materials-free approach goes against what is seen day in day out in the staff room (there is always a cue at the photocopier) and classrooms although the opportunities are there to create better learning.

The Process Teaching method of learning English, although being competent and wanting to do their best, teachers can feel more relaxed and appreciate more clearly that it is the students who are the ones who should be speaking and helping each other. The teacher acts as a facilitator. Thus, it makes teachers take a look at themselves; standing in front of the whiteboard, projecting grammar, and doing lots of writing (using handouts) albeit in their own way teaching proficiently. However, this being said, any teacher still can think that for two and half hours the students have got have a chance to freely talk and have an attitude that they are as much a part of the class as the teacher. I sometimes find that for some students, it is hard to get them to talk, especially where some foreign language systems of learning English do not facilitate the conversational aspect of learning such that Process Learning could fall short of achieving its aim.

As for my classroom performances, I try to put various processes into practice (helped by the Dogme teaching book). For example, one lesson was a Task-Based exercise where I tried to bring in elements of Process Learning where the students would ask me questions or sometimes just say one word during the task. I would try and use this as a building block for more language. I think teachers should provide the scaffolding for the students to build their language and even if they say one word it has to be remembered that any word has a thought behind it that can be expanded.

Referring more to my lesson, I set up the students with some pictures of people doing sports. I asked some focus questions for each sport. I got the students to write the questions on the whiteboard and elicited the answers. The students gave me the answers and showed they were capable of answering the questions. I then gave each group a set of seven pictures showing sports. There were two groups and I sat between them. I let them answer the questions for each of their sports. Now some students did not know the answers to the questions and as a helper/facilitator, I encouraged them to ask me questions and to use their language by any means possible. Thus, Process Learning was being used. As such the students seemed at ease to speak even if it was one or two words. As previously mentioned, I said before sometimes that one word was enough to get some students started. The whole group joined in, this was great as I felt they were trying to use their language.

Once they had answered every question about the sports, I then had a competition where one team explains a sport and the other has to guess what it is. Again, looking at Process Learning, the stage was set and they knew what to do. For myself, I sat in between them and just facilitated the process, encouraging them to open up. This exercise went on for more than an hour. I think the students enjoyed it.

To finish this reflection on Process Learning, I think this method has been beneficial and can be used in lessons even though using it completely would be a wide-ranging change that many students would need a bit of time to get used to.