Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Monitoring Group Activities in Second Language Teaching

Dr.K.N. Anandan

1.Group work in the class becomes sheer wasting of time. All what takes place in groups is mere copying. How can we make group activities more effective?

2.How can we monitor group activities?

The constructivist classroom envisages collaboration among learners for which group work is suggested after children have undertaken an individual task. The role of the teacher is that of a facilitator who gives optimum support to the learners who are engaged in knowledge-making process. Teachers in our own times are familiar with notions such as activity-based learning, learner- centred classroom and experiential pedagogy. Also, they have identified group work as an inevitable classroom process for promoting active learning. Every practising teacher has noticed that what emerges as a product from the group is invariably better than the individual product. But are group activities really productive?

The issues

A critical analysis of the practice that is actually prevailing in our classrooms raises a few pedagogic issues:
Are all children benefited by group work?
Teachers ask children to share their ideas in groups. Isn’t this suggestion very vague? Sharing is intended, of course. But what are the ideas to be shared?
How do we ensure that collaboration takes place in groups? Or in other words, how do we monitor group work?
There are different occasions in the course of classroom transaction where group work is possible. What are they? Can there be a straight jacketed mode for administering the group activity and also for monitoring it for all levels of learners and for all modules of transaction?
How will we make the groups own up the product that has emerged from the group?
If the answer to question (1) is ‘no’ then we have to ask ‘why?’ and identify the causative factors that lead to this situation. It seems that most teachers have not realized the pedagogy of generating synergy in the group. Or perhaps they have misconceived the cognitive dimension of group work. There is also a chance that they take recourse to leading children to group work as if they are doing a mere ritual. What so ever the reason is there is a problem: most teachers create slots for children to work in groups without proper understanding about what constructs are formed in groups and how group work is to be made beneficial to all members of the group.
Let us take a specific case. In the language class children have to construct specific discourses. They do this individually, and then in groups. The usual practice is asking children to select the best individual product (sometimes based on certain indicators). All members will be asked to copy down this. Thus a ‘group product’ emerges without any kind of collaboration among the members. If the selection is not based on clearly spelt out indicators then the ‘weak performers’ alone will be benefited by this. If there are certain criteria for the selection perhaps the student who wrote the discourse may also be benefited. But in either case all members of the group will not have ownership of the ‘group product’ emerging in this manner. How do we tide over this problem? Group ownership can be ensured only if every member of the group contributes his or her idea to the production of the discourse. For this they should get specific instructions regarding what is to be shared in the group. Unless the facilitator has a clear idea about what is to be shared by the members of the group it is not likely that she will be giving proper instructions to the learners for carrying out the group work.

Giving specific instructions

From the discussion given above it follows that the facilitator has to give specific instructions to the learners before they are asked to undertake a group activity. It is obvious that the facilitator cannot go for a single instruction such as: ‘Now sit in groups and share your ideas”. Instead, a cluster of instructions may be necessary. What kind of instructions are to be given depends upon a number of things:
The specific task that is to be carried out transaction module (reading, discourses construction, presentations, editing, production of big books, etc.) in which group activity is to be carried out.

If a specific discourse is expected from the group (whether in the oral form or in the written form) the discourse features that are to be targeted
3. The level of learners (stage I, stage II, stage III, etc.)
Let us work out a few models:
Reading: Classes 3 to 7
The facilitator gives instructions for reading
Read the passage individually
While reading you may do the following:
Put a ‘tick’ mark against sentences that you were able to understand
Put an ‘into’ mark against sentences / words that you were not able to understand
Put a ‘star’ against expressions you liked most
Sit in groups for sharing
Take turn and tell others what you were able to understand
In the second round of sharing tell others what you were not able to understand
In the third round share with others the ideas you liked most and why you liked them

Monitoring collaborative reading: classes 3 to 7

It is not enough that the facilitator gives instructions to the groups. He has to see that learners are following these instructions. He can interact with the groups and find out what point of sharing the group has completed. Also he may have to extend optimum help to those who need it so that hurdles if any are removed. Some amount of authentic interaction will be needed at this point. See the transcript of how the facilitator monitors group work for facilitating collaborative reading:
Facilitator interacts with group 1 to ensure that sharing within the group is taking place
You have you shared with others what you understood, haven’t you? Santhosh, how about you? Jameela, are there any sentences that you were not able to understand? Can anyone help Jameela? Mohan, which sentence do you like most? Why? Mohan says he likes the last sentence. Rajesh, which sentence do you like?
Facilitator moves to another group and interacts with the members in a similar way.
Facilitator elicits parts of the reading passage that the team was not able to understand
It seems all of you have completed sharing. Group I, are there any words or sentences in the passage that you were not able to understand?
Facilitator interacts with the groups to ensure sharing among different groups
Group 1 has a problem with the third sentence. Who can help them?
Facilitator exhibits a chart containing the glossary of the words that children were not able to understand
Provides necessary tips regarding meaning of the words / phrases
Facilitator reads out the passage aloud with proper articulatory features

Extrapolating the Text

Through collaborative Reading learners are enabled to make sense of what they are reading. However, reading activity does not end with this. Once they have comprehended the passage we take them to the next step of reading with the help of a few analytical questions of different types such reflective questions, inferential questions, cause-consequence questions and the like. These are meant for facilitating higher order thinking skills. With the help of these questions the learners will be able to extrapolate the text and go beyond it. Moreover, they will be able to personalize and localize the text. This is essential for helping them internalize or assimilate the text. At this stage of sharing of ideas will be necessary. Let us see how this can be done:
Facilitator exhibits the chariot containing analytical questions
Facilitator gives instructions to groups on what they are expected to do
Now, look at the chart. There are a few questions in it. Sit in groups and discuss each question by taking turn. All of you must speak in the group
Note down the points that emerge through discussion
If possible build up consensus on what you have to write. If you have a point different from that of other members of the team state your point of view
When groups start working the facilitator moves round and ensure that they are following the instructions
Facilitator gives necessary help for consolidating the points
Reading is a cognitive process and is not a mere exercise of pooling information contained in a given text. Learners should get opportunities to reflect on their own reading and share the thought processes they have undergone while reading. This makes reading a process for construction of knowledge and hence a meaningful and productive activity.

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