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In Egyptian educational courses, there are many lessons which require teachers to use pair and group work, especially those of English language courses. English language courses are designed based on the communicative approach which usually uses group work to teach students communication skills and reinforce them. Teachers find this written in the teacher's guide book which they get from the Egyptian ministry of Education.Therefore, it's useful to shed the light on group work and deepen understanding group work and its principles.
There are approaches in teaching which get students involved such as co-operative learning and guided learning .Such approaches see that a student is the centre of learning process. Dewey says that once educators have a theory of experience, then as they can progressively organise the subject matter in a way that it takes accounts of students' past experiences, and then provides them with experiences which will help to open up a person's access to future growth experiences. Also, they need to understand the students' past experiences in order to effectively design a sequence of liberating educational experiences to allow the person to fulfil their potential as a member of society. (Neil, 2005)
Guided learning includes strategies; one of them is group work. Group work is a strategy through which a teacher gives students opportunities to work independently using their own learning styles. It allows students to co-operate giving and receiving feedback from each other. Also, a teacher can use group work to help students acquire different skills and information such as social skills, leadership skills and discussion skills.
Toseland and Rivas (2009, p.12) define group work as" goal-directed activity with small treatment and task groups aimed at meeting socio-emotional needs and tasks. This activity is directed to individual members of a group and to the group as a whole within a system of service delivery."
Vernelle (1994) defines a group as "a number of people in relation to one another. Once they are communicating, and feel a common sense of purpose, a relationship also develops to the group as a whole, not only to the individual members."
The previous definitions stress that group work is goals -directed activity, and the success of the group means the success of the whole group.
Group work and its impact in improving learning can be best demonstrated if the nature of group work and the roles of a teacher and a student are made clear. So, it's useful to discuss these issues in the following.
It's better for a teacher to utilise group work when he feels that students are in a need for this strategy. In Egypt, there are many exercises in the curriculum which require group work. Especially in English courses where the communicative approach is greatly used; a teacher divides students into pairs or small groups practising speaking and learning new structures.
On the other hand, the curriculum also stresses on skills of critical thinking which can be learned through group work techniques because group work gives students the opportunity to discuss different ideas suggested by them. Also, it gives them opportunities to give and receive feedback from each other which develops critical thinking on the part of the students. They learn how to make arguments and support their ideas through different issues with their partners in the classroom. Glaser (1941)" Critical thinking can occur whenever one judges, decides, or solves a problem; in general, whenever one must figure out what to believe or what to do, and do so in a reasonable and reflective way."
Pupils need to have the skills to communicate effectively through listening, explaining and sharing ideas. On the other hand, pupils also have to learn to trust and respect each other, and they need skills in how to plan, organise and evaluate their group work.(tlrp,2005)
Effective learning is more likely to come from learners' willingness to engage in shared learning to resolve difficulties or challenges as well as from facilitated discovery and a willingness to participate in a process of curiosity and inquiry. Consequently, they offer their own ideas and experiences, acquire support from the group through discussion or stimulation exercises.(Preston-shoot,2007,pp53-54)
However, putting pupils in groups is no guarantee that they work as groups, the cooperative group should have five defining elements: positive independence -pupils need to feel that their success depends on whether they work or not (they sink and swim together);face-to-face supportive interaction and provision of positive feedback; individual and group accountability; interpersonal and small-group skills(communication ,trust, leadership, decision making and conflict resolution; group processing - the group reflecting on its performance and functioning and on how to improve.(Department for Education and skills,2004,p.19)
The project SPRinG( =Social Pedagogic Research into Group work) (2005)stresses" supportive relationships between pupils, and between teachers and pupils to develop pupil independence, and to address difficulties between pupils that can lie below the surface and inhibit classroom learning."( Tlrp, 2005)
There are various types of group work which a teacher can use with his students e.g. pair work, small groups which contain two or three students and large groups including more than three students each. Every type has its own benefits and barriers which may face a teacher while applying it. So, Teachers need to develop strategies which allow them the freedom to adapt grouping practices for different purposes and learning tasks. In other words, they need to support and guide groups, and monitor their progress, in ways that encourage independence rather than directly teaching pupils.( Tlrp,2005)
The teacher should put into consideration his students' characters when designing his lesson and drawing the objectives of his lesson. For example in Egypt, if the teacher's aim is to help his students acquire social and values of team work, he divides students into groups and gives every student in each group a task to carry out. First, he selects students with organising skills to be leaders and organisers and fluent students to be speakers of groups. He tells the students that they should learn from each other because they will exchange roles in next times. First, the teacher distributes tasks according to students' present abilities but he encourages them to develop other skills needed. In other words, he adapts teaching techniques to be suitable for his students and make use of students' potentials to provide a good chance for learning.
There are certain roles which can be assigned to students in small groups, such as: the summariser, who prepares the group's presentation and summarises conclusions; the researcher, who collects background and additional information; the checker, checks the correctness of facts used by the group; the runner, who tries to find the resources needed to complete the task, such as equipment and dictionaries; the observer /trouble shooter, who takes notes and records group processes. The teacher can use these notes during the debriefing following the group work; the recorder, who writes down and synthesizes the work of the whole group.(Department for Education and Skills, 2004, p21)
The size of the group and its suitability are mainly determined according to certain factors the characteristics of learners and how they can benefit from the selected size of group, the settings of classroom(whether they enable teachers to group work effectively or not).
A teacher should prepare well in order for group work to be effective. In other words, he should make his goals clear. Due to his clear goals, he can decide the suitable size of groups. If he needs only a brief discussion or the topic is personal, he can choose pair work where a student is obliged to talk and he feels secure. If the teacher wants to build confidence and increase social interaction in the class, he can use small groups where turning a pair round can create a table of four without moving desks and there is diversity of opinion without the size of group being too threatening(DfES,2004,p11).
In Egyptian schools, it's advisable for teachers to use these kinds of group work because they are suitable for the settings of the classrooms where chairs are fixed to tables. Also, the classes are challenging because they contain 45-50 pupils. On the other hand, this type of group work may not help a wide range of creative ideas emerge due to the small size of groups.
A teacher can overcome this problem through involving students in a whole class discussion after that. Because United Kingdom had, to some extent, the same problem with group work such as teachers' desire to use group work was not strong and they couldn't apply properly." While our earlier work demonstrated the effectiveness of group work for pupils when the SPRinG team worked directly with teachers, there was no guarantee of success when schools took on and developed the initiative themselves. Moreover, some teachers did not implement group work in as full a way as others, and this seemed to be more likely when they were working on an individual basis in
their schools, not supported by colleagues."( Tlrp, 2005)
the quality of teaching and learning result in school improvement and then community improvement. For example, guided group work may help students learn to collaborate and provide feedback to each other and take greater responsibility for sustaining discussion.Moreover, they take on board subject terminology and reflect on their own learning considering progress towards personal targets (Department for Education and skills, 2004,p.1). All these things acquired by students are the heart of school improvement. Then; they will be the heart of community improvement when students will be the leaders of this community in the future.
The researcher sees that guided group work is the most suitable strategy which Egyptian teachers can apply. The reasons can be summed up in two points .First, Egyptian teachers often have challenging classes ,so guided group work, to some extent, enables them to manage such classes as well as gives students opportunities to discuss and get feedback from each other. Moreover, guided group work helps students acquire social skills and skills of lifelong learning. Secondly, teachers in Egypt have formal curriculum and yearly lesson plans necessarily followed in schools, so they have to finish specific lessons in specific times. As a result, they can't assign much time for group work all the time.
But it's advisable to create the classroom context for group
work. In other words, group work must be integrated into overall classroom organisation and management. This can be achieved considering three things: the combination of classroom and class Size and seating arrangements in the classroom; the characteristics of groups such as their size, frequency, composition and stability over time; the group-work activities, lessons (Tlrp, 2005)
It's noteworthy that scaffolding, which is provided by the teachers or the students themselves to each other, keeps students on task and not to get distracted or wander off. So, the teacher should follow up his students during their group work sessions giving them support needed when they need this.
In conclusion, group work is one of strategies that is based on the principles of modern approaches implying that a student is the centre of learning process.Consquently; a student is an active learner discussing and doing his own task in order to complete the work of his peers in the same group. He has a certain part to do and his part is important because the success of the whole group depends on each one in the group. He should be aware of his peers' works to do his part successfully.
A teacher can provide students with help and support when they need this. He also wanders around students to guide them or facilitate something. A teacher should plan group work well to be effective and productive. If students need certain skills to start effective group work, he should get them to acquire such skills. There are various groupings from which teachers can choose suitable ones for their classes and the task. Group work helps students acquire useful skills (e.g. communication skills and social skills) which make them be able to involve in the practical life efficiently.