When using modern educational tools in their classes, teachers should be able to organize group work efficiently.
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In a small group, students work on the same problem, study the same topic, or try to come up with fresh ideas, combinations, or innovations based on a common opinion. At the same time, students acquire knowledge and skills in a particular subject and general academic competencies, the development of which is important for the formation of the student’s personality and behavior in adult life.
Communication, dialogue is necessary for every person. Dialogue can develop critical thinking as it creates a special communicative environment that allows acquiring important information, reflection, and the self-realization of a person in the dialogue. The inclusion of students’ communication with one another in the process of learning, which takes place in groups, promotes a more complete education. Moreover, dialogue can overcome the confrontation of the teacher and the student in the process of learning.
How groups should be managed:
- Tables or chairs in the room should be arranged as “islands” so that the groups do not interfere with each other’s work and each participant in the group sees the others and can freely communicate with them.
- Groups should be provided with materials for fixing and presenting the results of their work (paper, pens, felt-tip pens, paper, etc.).
- The number of participants in each group should be from three to seven people. A smaller number of participants will make the discussion ineffective, while a larger number will inevitably split the group into subgroups or some students will not participate in the discussion. If five participants are present, there will be a lot of ideas being discussed.
- The roles in the group should be assigned. They could be a facilitator, critic, timekeeper, etc. Roles can be assigned by the teacher or by the students themselves. When organizing work in groups for the first time the teacher should explain to the students the roles’ functions and remind them from time to time.
- Group members should change periodically. The frequency of the change is determined by the teacher by the lessons’ goals. On the one hand, frequent changes in groups may reduce the effectiveness of the work, because time will be spent on “getting to know” each other. On the other hand, changing participants will result in the development of tolerance, social skills, and more cohesive classroom relationships.
The teacher’s behavior when managing group work in the classroom differs from the usual behavior in the traditional classroom. The teacher should remember that the groups are working on their own to complete the assigned tasks, and the teacher’s role is only to assist them in this process. Any authoritarian interference can interrupt the work and turn the discussion into a teacher’s monologue.
- The tasks should be set as clearly as possible, avoiding any ambiguous understanding. It is especially important to do this in the first stages of the work. Later, when the groups work at a higher level of creativity and self-organization, it is possible not to set specific tasks, but only to describe the problem field in which the group itself will identify the problem.
- If the discussion is effective, it is better not to interfere in the course of work. In the case of ineffective work, teacher intervention is necessary. When intervening in the group to correct the discussion it is useful to use “soft” methods of intervention, i.e. paraphrasing what they have heard instead of asking directly, asking for clarification, asking for an example, etc.
- The teacher should stimulate the intellectual activity of students in the group, develop their interest and positive attitude towards new ideas and diversity of opinions.
Learning in groups is more purposeful and effective if all components of learning activities are interconnected. They are cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and volitional components. The cognitive component can be defined as a person’s awareness of the content of acquired knowledge, other people, which is characterized by the activity of people receiving and processing information. The emotional component characterizes the state of the individual, his/her experiences, satisfaction or dissatisfaction with himself/herself, his/her actions, and attitudes. The behavioral component includes the results of activities and actions, facial expressions, gestures, speech, volitional regulation of action, etc. As a result of the action of these components is cognition, including mutual recognition, understanding, relationship, reciprocal actions, mutual influence.
The best-memorized material is that which the person has explained to another. Working in groups allows all students to be in the teacher’s role and guide others in their work. Students promote each other’s learning by providing concrete help, sharing knowledge, and encouraging any friends’ efforts to do so. They explain, discuss, and pass on the knowledge they have to each other. Students will be more enthusiastic about discussing their questions than those of the teacher. Therefore, the teacher should provoke them to these questions in every way possible.
Students learn interdependence while working in groups. They understand that they need each other to complete a group task. Teachers should create and maintain interdependence. Both teacher and students should be clear that there can be no “winner” in a group.
Groups cannot function effectively if students do not have and use certain social and communication skills. Teachers teach them these skills as purposefully and thoroughly as they teach the academic skills themselves. Collaborative learning skills include leadership, decision-making, building mutual trust, communication, and conflict resolution.
Evaluating the work of the group and the work of each of its members. Students should be evaluated frequently, with both individual students and the group as a whole receiving evaluations. Of course, students should know the criteria and system of evaluation before they start their work.
Reflection. Groups need separate time to discuss whether they are successfully moving toward their goal, whether they are successfully maintaining effective working relationships among group members.