| Training and teaching: learn how to do it |
|6 Didactic methods|
Group work has a many advantages, provided a number of conditions have been met. It is important to remember that you cannot just decide to do group work on the spur of the moment. In the first place it must fit in with the learning material. Other conditions are that the students have a basic knowledge of the subject, work material is available, there is sufficient time and the students are aware of how to handle group work.
The last condition is not the least important! How can you prepare students for group work? The best way to accomplish this is to have the students first work in groups of two with a clearly defined assignment. Do not emphasize the end product. The process is what it is all about in this phase. The next step is to allow the students to work in groups of two or three with a more extensive assignment. In following phases the end product does count: you can give the students increasingly complicated assignments and allow the group to work more independently. The most satisfactory group size in the final phase is four to six students.
It is always important to divide the tasks within the groups. One person must lead the discussion and keep an eye on the direction that the group's activities are taking. Another person takes notes and reports the conclusions of the group as a whole. Make sure that not always the same people are responsible for these tasks.
If these conditions have been met, group work can be very enjoyable. Students are stimulated in all the types of skill development as defined by Romiszowski, on a reproductive as well as on a productive level.
One major advantage of the method is that the students themselves are active. After they have received an introduction they are allowed to do things for themselves and do not have to silently sit and listen. Another advantage is that by engaging in group work you can adapt your learning material to your students. Students all have their own style of learning and working, which can be ignored but also, particularly in group work, taken advantage of. You can form groups with people that are very strong verbally and give them an assignment in an area that demands this quality, and you can have others, who are more practical by nature, carry out tasks.
Imagine for example that you are providing training to members of a national women's organization. They have enroled in the course to learn how they can inform their co-villagers about disease prevention. You can then have one part of the group work on the collection and organization of information, and the other part on making cut-out figures for a felt board or information posters. In such a case the work of one group complements the work of the other, and everyone is occupied in a way that fits in with his/her learning style.
Naturally you do not always have to handle group work in this manner. It can also be very simple: in the scope of a lesson on factors that play a role in the construction of a dam you allow the students to perform calculations in small groups and compare the results afterwards. Everyone goes through the same steps regardless of his/her preference for a certain activity. Group work then has the function of bringing variety to a lesson, which is always positive. It also has the advantage that you do not have to perform for the entire audience. Remember, however, that you cannot just sit and wait until the assignment is completed. Walk by the groups, guide the process along if necessary, make suggestions and observe if everyone is participating. Also do not forget to reward students who are doing a good job. This promotes enthusiasm.
However, if you handle group work, you will often notice the following positive effects:
- Students learn to take initiatives.
- It is easier to ask questions or express criticism in a group.
- It has been found that the student's concentration level is higher than it is in a lecture session.
- Motivation is often strengthened through this work form.
- With time the students learn to work together much more efficiently. The students adequately familiarize themselves with the material.
- Of course group work is not the solution for all potentially difficult lessons, since there are some disadvantages attached as well:
There are usually a couple of killjoys; it will require some energy and wisdom to involve them. Group work costs much more time then 'chalk and talk' lessors.
Group work is noisy. Some students and trainers can be bothered by this. If things are not set up properly it can quickly become a mess. For this reason you must properly prepare group work, and always be on the look-out for unforeseeable situations that come with you handing over certain activities and are not always being in control.
It can be difficult to assess group work. It is difficult to apply an individual grading system, but with a group mark you can undervalue some students and overvalue others.
Group work can lead to the formation of cliques. Beware of this.