Thursday, September 15, 2011

Art of Group Work and Group Discussions at School

For most people studying is an isolated act, confined to a book or notes being perused in the corner of a room at night or early morning. While we have to acknowledge that solitary reading and preparation is a must during examinations, and a pleasure if one is reading a novel, it has some serious flaws.

Acquiring information is just one part of learning, one needs to understand, assess, compare, contrast, debate and then come to a conclusion. And this is better done in a group. Moreover, it is dull and boring to read alone. One will soon notice that the interest wanes after the initial period.

If the teacher teaches and the students just listen, they will not be able to absorb much of the subject. There has to be active participation, through question-answer sessions, group discussions or interaction with the teacher and classmates. This ensures that you listen to the opinion of others, learn to accommodate, adjust, improve and contribute to the discussion. In short, it is a personality development exercise.

We all have to survive and succeed in a social setting and early participation in a democratic exercise lends students the right perspective of life. Teachers should do well to remember that learning is retained better if it is debated, discussed and understood well. Such knowledge is retained for life. Further, when students grow up, they are all going to be in a family, work with a group at office, be members of a club or association and live in a neighbourhood, where co-existence with other individuals and groups ensure peace and success.

Hence, teachers must engage students in group work and group discussion as often as possible. But before they do they must spell out the rules.

Rules for Group Work and Group Discussions at School
1. The group should be small enough to manage and offer adequate opportunity to each member to air his views. This not only ensures diverse opinions but also a certain equilibrium.
2. All members must take turns to speak and no one should be allowed to dominate the discussion.
3. There should be a balance of weak and intelligent students to maintain harmony in the group.
4. A leader ought to be elected to conduct the proceedings in a free and fair manner.
5. Everyone should be encouraged to air this opinion, without fear. The elected leader must solicit the opinion of even average students.
6. The teacher should be at hand to oversee and steer the discussion in the right path.

A number of methods to ensure active participation exist. Try some of them noted below, but by no means should they stifle your creativity to engineer more novel methods suited to your class.

1. The lecture
The teacher speaks on a subject for about half an hour or so and follows it up with a doubt clearing session at the end of it. This helps the teacher evaluate the understanding capabilities of students, besides provoking students to think of different views they would have missed otherwise.
2. The lecture discussion
Here the teacher throws open a discussion on the subject just taught. This leads to better participation, newer ideas, better understanding and retention.
3. The seminar.
This is a more focused activity where students prepare for a particular theme, research and presents their views and supporting facts. A stimulating exercise pushing learning to higher levels.
4. The panel discussion
The advantage of this lies in the expertise available on the panel, which discusses and arrives at a conclusion with active participation of the audience.
5. Informal discussion
This could be done anytime with topics at short notice of five minutes. Helps students think on their feet and learn to grapple with sudden situations.

Advantages of group work
1. It makes learning much more interesting and lively.
2. Helps slow learners keep pace with the intelligent guys, thereby improving their standard.
3. Allows for exchange of new ideas. Its not necessary for everyone to know everything. Hence its an opportunity to see things in a new perspective.
4. Makes students accept other’s opinions, and adjust to a group, respect fellow students views and enhances conflict management abilities in them.
5. Group work results in better synergy and the output is usually better than the sum of individual efforts.
6. Problems are solved faster because many minds work in many directions.