Thursday, January 28, 2010
A Student-Teacher’s Concerns about Group Work: Three Quick Solutions
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville
The “bubbly” Beata, one of my former student-teachers, regularly avoided incorporating group work activities into her lesson plans. She thought of group work as a fail-proof recipe for a classroom fiasco. She considered facilitating pair work now and then, but never quite incorporated it, nor did she include any group work activities in her plans. However, after a brief pep talk one day, one in which I laid out some of the advantages of student collaboration, Beata agreed that her hardened aversion to group work was more reflexive than rational.
Concerns about Facilitating Group Work
When asked why she resisted group work activities, Beata shared the following concerns:
1. that students would not want to talk
2. that students would never finish their task on time
3. that most students would not listen to their peers’ presentations
Overcoming the Problem: A Little Nudging
Since people often learn well by experimentation, I resisted equipping Beata with a set of ready-made solutions, thinking that I would deprive her of instructive experience. Instead, I suggested that she simple change the “would” in the expression of her concerns to a less pessimistic “may.” I also encouraged her simply to experiment some with group work techniques as the teaching practicum continued.
Basic Quick “Fixes”
In the end, to encourage Beata to start testing out her ideas for group work, I did provide her with a few basic quick “fixes” to the classroom problems that she feared were likely to occur.
Concern #1: Students would not want to talk.
Quick Fix #1: Bring a CD Player.
“Controlled noise” seems to get group discussions going. Background music (played at a relatively low volume) tends to come in handy when students feel self-conscious about being heard by the whole class. One of my college professors would often turn on the radio as soon as he asked us to do a group work activity; it worked like magic.
Concern#2: Students would never finish their task on time.
Quick Fix #2: Bring an Alarm Clock.
Deadlines for group work completion seem to be respected more regularly if students are aware of how much time is remaining. Often, actively involved in discussions, students lose track of time. Putting on the board updates on how much time is remaining, or setting an alarm clock to go off five minutes before the task needs to be completed, often does the trick.
Concern#3: Most students would not listen to their peers’ presentations.
Quick Fix #3: Keep a Physical Distance from the Presenter.
Often, student-presenters speak to the teacher, not to the whole group. The closer the teacher stands to the presenters, the quieter their performance becomes. All that may result in students’ losing interest in what is being shared. I’ve noticed that either by sitting together with the non-presenting group or simply by standing as far from presenters as possible, I, as the teacher, have “blended in” and thus encouraged the speakers to address the whole audience.
I’m wondering if any of you have worked with student-teachers who expressed concerns about facilitating group work. If so, what were their worries about? Did you have similar concerns as you were beginning your teaching careers?