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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2008

Автор: Осколкова А. А.


Why is speaking still so important to be taught? What is a group work? Why is it preferable, advantageous for the work in class?

I will try to answer these very questions in my article by giving also several examples from my school practice.

The main aim of my work is to give a short general analysis of the group work procedure.

The objectives are:

1. to compare the most important advantages and disadvantages of the group work;

2. to find out the way when it is useful to divide a class into groups;

3. to observe the students behavior (activity, English skills, etc.) during their work in groups;

I consider the group work to be one of the most helpful and significant activities in the teaching and learning processes. I agree that the group work is not new nowadays, but in every theme or subject one can find and learn something interesting and unknown before. Even the most boring and difficult theme may become worth researching and analyzing.

Speaking takes the most part of our life. We speak when we want to communicate, talk to the very person, hold a speech, express emotions or just to chat.

Here are some definitions of the term «speaking». Speaking is:

- a productive skill (oral text);

- the center of communication basic skills;

- a very specific skill that doesn’t have pre/while/post-stages…

The purposes of speaking are to give/get the information, to share feelings, emotions, ideas, to pass the time, to chat, etc.

The main functions of speaking are:

1. interactional (communication for social purposes: greetings, compliments, jokes, casual chart…);

2. transactional (the aim is to get/give/share the information: stories, instructions, lectures, etc.).

The active practice in speaking the target language is essential for faster progress. In the classroom speaking can cover a wide range of oral activities, from genuine interaction to repetition drills.

Group work is a cooperative activity. The group seems to be a natural framework for the way the ideas are worked with in the real world. Cooperation is a much better tool than competition.

Students learn from one another, practice oral fluency. It’s much easier for the shy students to express themselves in front of a small group than a whole class. The teacher can work with individual students. It’s more likely to lead to negotiation of meaning than interaction with a teacher. Group work frees the teacher from her/his usual role of instructor-corrector-controller.

1. Speaking well in groups

Listening and reading are useful sources of experience, but active practice in and feedback on speaking and writing the target language is essential for faster progress. In the classroom, speaking can cover a wide range of oral activities, from genuine interaction (i.e. actually talking to somebody about something) to repetition drills.

The idea of group work is not new, of course. The usual reasons given for using it are that simultaneous group work maximizes each learner’s opportunity to speak and that practicing in a small group reduces the psychological burden of public performance. Some findings from classroom research can be added to those arguments:

1. Learners rarely pick up each other’s errors even in the short term[1];

2. Learners express a wider range of language functions in group work[2];

3. In group work on reading and listening comprehension learners give fuller answers than in whole class work with a teacher[3];

4. Group work is more likely to lead to negotiation of meaning than interaction with a teacher[4];

The negotiation tasks need to be introduced with care. The tasks supposed to be cooperative can slip into confrontation and competition, with one partner trying to dominate the other. There can be a possible conflict between the teacher’s purpose and the effect on learners.

One way to set up the right expectations is to present and discuss examples of interaction between native and non-native speakers to demonstrate the value of repair and negotiation. This can help make learners’ feedback seem a natural and necessary part of face-to-face communication, rather than as a personal attack on them by other students.

When setting up group work, one of the teacher’s important decisions is who to work with whom. The greater the differences between the learners, the greater the natural need for negotiation[5].

The learners in any class are likely to vary in proficiency, and it should be possible to form groups of relatively «unequal» partners. In a multilingual class it makes sense for people with different first languages and different levels to work together.

A higher level learner may not want to work with a weaker partner, but there are advantages for both partners in a mixed-level pair: the more proficient learner gets practice in producing comprehensible output, the weaker partner gains experience in negotiating meaning[6].

A second important influence on learners negotiation is whether each individual learner has to contribute for the task to succeed. Since each member of the group gets a sentence known only to them, the successful solution to the problem depends on everyone sharing that information with their partners.

Implicit negative feedback such as a request for clarification can be a more effective teaching device than explicit correction. By indicating a problem, but not immediately providing the solution, teachers may do more to facilitate learners’ progress.

Among the usual reasons for getting learners to take on the role of corrector and adviser are:

1. It increases the learners’ speaking opportunities;

2. It develops a conscious focus on language form;

3. It encourages them to express their own judgements on language points;

4. It is an acknowledgement that different individuals know more about specific areas than others;

5. It provides an opportunity for real communication

Some learners resent being corrected by other members of the group. Few learners feel that they have earned the right to correct others.

There are various ways of grouping learners in the classroom. Long and Porter[7] report that small group interaction allows more talk for each of the students, and a greater variety of talk.

Small groups provide greater intensity of involvement so that the quality of language practice is increased and the opportunities for feedback and monitoring also, given adequate guidance and preparation by the teacher. The stress which accompanies «public» performance in the class should be reduced. Experience also suggests that placing students in small groups assists individualization, for each group, being limited by its’ own capacities, determines its’ own appropriate level of working more precisely than a class working in lock-step with its’ larger numbers.

Group work cannot be without its’ problems.

Don’t students get out of control? Don’t they tend to lapse into their native language when not under the teacher’s eye? Isn’t the organization into groups time-consuming, noisy or disruptive? What do you do with the students who won’t take part? Or with group that finishes too early? How does the teacher draw the session to a close? And so on. These questions have to do partly with that nebulous quality called «discipline», partly with practical organization. As regards discipline: this basically depends on the personality of the teacher, her class and the relationship between them, not of the type of the activity. On the whole it’s safe to say that a class which is controlled in frontal work will be controlled also in groups. Thoughtful and efficient organization can, however, contribute a good deal to solving the problems enumerated above.

Many classes are simply not used to working in groups and many even express a preference for the familiar teacher-fronted process. Although the group is a place for growth and practice, it can also easily become a hidey-hole for the student who somehow assumes that the group’s progress is automatically his/her own progress.

As with «separate table» seating, students may not like the people they are grouped with. In any one group one student may dominate while the others stay silent. In difficult classes, group work may encourage students to be more disruptive than they would be in a whole class setting and especially in a class where students share the same first language, they may revert to their first language rather than English, when teacher is not working with them. It may therefore take some patience, consistent effort, and careful training to form effective group work.

2. Training for group work

Students need to learn how to work in group settings. They need to recognize the right of everyone to speak. They need to learn not to monopolize the group, and how to encourage the reticent and shy ones to speak. They need to practice specific group tasks, and to listen carefully to classmates. They need to learn how to present the group’s efforts to the entire class and how to contribute to the collective group accomplishment.

Group work is best used when it is not the only classroom interaction pattern, but when it is combined with many other strategies. Indeed, the large multilevel class works better when we provide a great deal of variety. We can plan our lessons to include teacher-fronted work, individual work and pair work as well as group work. If we plan correctly, our lessons will become an interesting balance between controlled practice in pairs, free practice in groups and individual performance through mingling strategies.

3. Deciding of the size of the group

There is no ideal size for a cooperative learning group. The right size depends on each lesson’s objectives, students’ ages and experience working in teams, the available curriculum materials and equipment and the time limits for the lesson. While cooperative learning groups typically range in size from two to four, the basic rule of thumb is «The smaller the better».

1. As the size of the group increases, the range of abilities, expertise and skills and the number of minds available for acquiring and processing information increase, as does the diversity of viewpoints. With the addition of each group member, the resources to help the group succeed increase.

2. The larger the group, the more skillful group members must be at providing everyone a chance to speak, coordinating group members actions, reaching a consensus, ensuring explanation and elaboration of the material being learned, keeping all members on task, and maintaining good working relationships.

3. As group size increases, there is a decrease in face-to-face interaction among teammates and a reduced sense of intimacy. What results are often a less cohesive group and lower individual responsibility to contribute to the success of the group?

4. The shorter the period of time available, the smaller the learning group should be. If there is only a brief period of time available for a lesson, pairs will be most effective because they take less time to get organized, operate more quickly, and provide more «air time» for each member.

5. The smaller the group, the easier is to identify any difficulties students might have working together. Leadership struggles, unresolved conflicts among group members, issues over power and control, and other problems sometimes associated with students working together are more visible and more easily fixed in small groups.

4. Group behaviour

Whether you work with one student or with five, you are a group. Only when you work independently are you alone. Tuckman and Jensen (1977) suggested five stages in group behavior.

1. Forming-As the group forms, the students expect the tutor to take the lead in planning lessons, setting goals, and setting up rules for the group.

2. Storming-As individuals within the group grow more independent, there might be resistance to the tutor taking total leadership. They may question the value of some of the techniques and materials. This indicates growth and shows that it’s time for students to assume more responsibilities.

3. Norming-As a group works closely together, a sense of cooperation and a greater sense of unity usually develop. Individual personalities emerge, and decision-making by the students becomes more evident. They become less dependent for the tutor for guidance.

4. Performing-Lessons have become more relaxed, with tutors and students accepting each other, working together and taking responsibility for decision-making. There is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as skills of speaking, listening and understanding, reading and writing are integrated into meaningful tasks.

5. Adjourning-Eventually the tutoring must end. Adjourning shouldn’t be done abruptly. Time should be allowed for affirmations, for sadness at parting and for closure. Perhaps a final celebration session can be planned, where certificates are given or students share their best work over the year. Perhaps the students will want to plan a final meeting over lunch or coffee. Parting will be easier for the students if they know they can continue to call their tutor and each other for help or encouragement, or just to keep in touch.

These stages are only a model. Although actual group dynamics are usually more complex than the model suggests, the stages sensitize us to the ideal of a group’s evolution, which can help guide the teacher’s work.

[1] Porter 1986, «How learners talk to each other: input and interaction in task-centered discussions», in Day (ed.) 200-222;

[2] Long M., L. Adams, M. Maclean and F. Castanos, 1976 «Doing things with words: verbal interaction in lockstep and small group classroom situations» in J. Fanselow and R. Crymes (eds.) : on TESOL’76 Washington D.C., pp. 137- 563;

[3] Rulon K., and J. McCreary, 1986. «Negotiation of content: teacher- fronted and small group interaction» in Day (ed.), 182-199;

[4] Doughty C. And T. Pica, 1986 «Information gap tasks: do thy facilitate second language acquisition?» TESOL Quarterly 20/2: 305-325;

[5] Varonis. E, and S. Gass, 1985. «Non-native-Non-native conversation: a model for negotiation of meaning». Applied Linguistics 6/1: 71-90;

[6] Porter 1986, «How learners talk to each other: input and interaction in task-centered discussions», in Day (ed.) 200-222;

[7] «Group work interlanguage talk and second language acquisition», Working Papers 4/1, 1985, 103-137;

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2008

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