A dose of discovery

Sudha Mahajan

Have we ever wondered why students have lost interest in learning? Have we ever asked ourselves if this has something to do with the way we teach? Everything in this world has changed except our teaching methodology. Why? How about changing the way we teach? Create a classroom that has an environment that will help students to learn. How?

Let me start by asking you – did you join a school to learn how to operate a mobile phone? Did you go to a tuition centre to understand the various features of your new phone? I am sure that to both these questions your answer is, ‘NO’. But still you learnt how to operate your phone, didn’t you?

Then why do we feel that our students cannot learn anything unless they are taught by us ‘teachers’? Most of us are of the opinion that if a rule, a concept, a lesson is not explained by the teacher in the class the students will not follow it. Today, information is available at the click of a mouse, so the teacher’s role is not to provide information but to help students understand how to analyze this information.

We have to have the confidence of allowing our students to discover on their own, formulate rules and understand the concepts and we will see our classroom changing into an exciting place in which the students are active participants. The teacher needs to create the environment for self-learning; scaffold the understanding of the students and we can see each student improving their learning levels. In this article I would like to share with you the need for group work and strategies that will help create an environment for self-learning.

Creating an environment for self-learning
The students need to feel comfortable in the classroom; they should feel safe and be able to ask for clarification if in doubt. Most students hesitate while asking questions as they feel that other students will laugh at them for asking foolish questions. The teacher thus needs to create an environment where students do not feel threatened while asking questions. (Read on for suggestions on how you can do this.)

Collaboration – key to success
Humans are social by nature. The teacher needs to plan group work in the class as it helps students to share, they become contributors, learn to self-assess, communicate and at the same time come to a consensus. The teacher has to plan how she will form the groups in her class.

Groups can be of two kinds:
Homogenous: In this group students with similar abilities are grouped together.
Heterogeneous: In this group students of mixed abilities are grouped together.

Depending on the task that is being assigned and the desired learning outcomes the teacher can decide what kind of group she needs for her classroom.

Group dynamics
According to Webster Dictionary, group dynamics means, ‘The interacting forces within a small human group.’ It is very important for the teachers to understand that when they divide the students into groups, each group goes through four stages:

  • Forming: The first stage is the formation of the group. The teacher needs to decide what kind of groups she is going to create, i.e., homogenous or heterogeneous.
  • Storming: The second stage is when the members of the groups are adjusting with each other; there are a lot of differences and arguments. This is an extremely important stage as it is the precursor to the actual task of collaboration.
  • Acceptance: In this stage the members of the group realize that they need to accept each other and listen to the views of other members in the group as it is essential for the fulfilment of the task assigned to the group.
  • Execution: The final stage when the students learn to collaborate and work towards the achievement of the task. In this stage the group completes the task and makes their final presentation.

If the teacher has a clear understanding as to which stage her students are passing through she will be able to manage and scaffold the groups more efficiently.

Individual tasks for smooth functioning of the groups
It is important that each student in the group be assigned a task so that we reduce the second stage of ‘storming’ to a bare minimum. Here are a few roles that can be assigned to students in a group on a rotational basis:

  • Manager: A student is assigned the task of being the manager of the group. This student will ensure that the group functions smoothly by making sure that each student is fulfilling his/her task.
  • Spokesperson: This student is the spokesperson of the group. If there is any doubt within the group regarding the task assigned to them or if they have to share any information, it is done by this person.
  • Writer: This student notes down everything that is being discussed. He/she finally collates all the points and hands it over to the spokesperson for presentation.
  • Illustrator: All the illustrations that are required by the group in their presentation are done by the illustrator.
  • Time-keeper: This child keeps the time and ensures that the task assigned is being completed within the given time.
  • Vocabulary manager: This student notes down new and difficult words that are a part of any text that the students are reading and looks for their meaning and pronunciation and shares with the group and when required with the class.

Depending on the number of students in a group the teacher could add or reduce a task. This will help the students to be organized and complete the group task within the assigned time.

Strategies to enhance learning in the classroom
The teacher can create efficient groups and use the following strategies to enhance a conducive learning environment in the classroom.

  • Designing questions: Students can be asked to design questions after reading a chapter. They can then drop those questions in a box that the teacher has placed on the table; thereafter the questions can be put to the class and whichever student knows the answer can share it with the class and finally the questions to which no student has an answer, the teacher can attempt to get the students to think of the answer(s) by giving them clues. Thus the students will be able to ask the questions that they want to without feeling threatened in any way.
  • Formulating rules: The students can be divided into groups of four or five. Then the teacher can give them 10 sentences and the students have to make a list of the subject and verb used in each sentence. Once the students make this list, they are asked to observe if there is any pattern in the subjects and verbs used. Looking at this pattern the groups are asked to formulate rules for ‘subject-verb agreement.’ The students will thus learn to debate, analyze and reach a conclusion. Each group can write the rules on a sheet and put it up on the display board. Once all the groups have done so the students can be asked to take a ‘gallery walk’, so that they read the rules. The students are also asked to note down any doubts that they may have and deposit them in the question box that is placed in the classroom. The teacher can thereafter discuss the questions.
  • Creative writing: In every grade we try to teach students different forms of writing but students are unable to write as they lack fluency. We teachers bind them in the walls of a topic. On the other hand, if we divide the students in groups and give each group an item like a plant, a leaf, a ball, a coin, etc., and ask them to write an autobiography, or poem, or a story, or a speech, or the object’s advantages and disadvantages, the students can choose according to their interest and at one time in a class we will have varied writings which can be read out by each group. Thereafter, they could pick up any one topic and write in their notebooks as an individual exercise, this will be easy as they now have an idea of what and how to write.
  • Adding music: ‘Music is the essence of life’, is a phrase often heard. We can very successfully use music in the language class. There are a lot of songs available on the Internet on all parts of speech. In addition, the students can be asked to put a poem to music or create a poem on the characters of a story. The students can be taught to write ‘Acrostic poems.’ The classroom becomes a place for creativity and the students enjoy the class along with a rich learning experience.

If the teachers adopt group work in their classroom keeping in mind group dynamics and assigning roles to each student in the group then the ‘Four Cs’, i.e., collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking will become an integral part of the classroom and we will be able to prepare our students for the unknown future. Students from these classrooms will be ready to share, collaborate and create which will enable them to become successful citizens who will take the country to greater heights and create an amenable society.

The author is a freelance education consultant. She has an experience of over 22 years in the field of education and has trained teachers and principals both in the private and government sector on pedagogy and life skills. She has also designed a programme for English communication. She can be reached at mahajansudha@gmail.com.