Friday, August 24, 2012

Interaction in Group Work

“Interaction is the collaborative exchange of thoughts, feelings, or ideas between two or more people, resulting in a reciprocal effect on each other.” That is the definition of interaction according to Professor Douglas Brown in one of his more remarkable books “Teaching by Principles.” In other words, professor Brown is defining his concept with the next formula “Interaction = Speaker-Listener__(CONVERSATION)__Listener-Speaker”,and I totally agree with him since for a conversation, the mean in which interaction occurs, to take place it is necessary the presence of two or more people who are going to be the thought-and-feeling-traders in such a context. Without such elements, interaction simply cannot occur. Nevertheless, if we refer to interaction in the language teaching, there is something that needs to be added to the previews formula, and that is MOTIVATION. As everybody knows, a conversation needs a main topic to be developed or discussed while interacting, and there is where teachers have to motivate their students in order for them to generate conversations related to the topics they are being taught in class so that they can learn while interacting with each other.

Interaction may create a great impact in students, especially to those who are learning a new language. How? Well, through interaction teachers can accomplish the principle of the TTT and STT (that stands for Teacher Talking Time and Students Talking Time). Teachers are recommended to talk the less they can since their role nowadays is not to be dictators in their classes but facilitators instead. Teachers just have to intervene when necessary; that is why, it is claimed that TTT should take place just in a 20% of the class, and the other 80% percent should be given to students in order for them to express their feelings, thoughts, doubts, and everything they want once it be related to learning purposes. Nonetheless, there is a fact of vital importance that teachers must take into consideration at the moment of making their students to interact with each other. Students are not going to say any word if teachers do not enhance them to do it; therefore, teachers must be very careful at the moment of carrying out activities that include students interaction. If teachers do not know how to control such activities or do not encourage their students to perform them, it is recommended that teachers abort such activities since interaction is something more delicate that require a lot of attention from both teachers and students, and if one of those is not totally aiming to the real and concrete purpose of the activities, they are just not to work.

There are several techniques for implementing interaction in the classroom, but probably the most common and thus the most used is Group Formation. But even though group formation brings students the opportunity to develop their metacognition (thinking about thinking) or their critical thinking through activities such as problem-solving, real situation discussions, role plays, simulations and so forth, teachers consider that all those have also their own disadvantage each. For instance, some teachers who have applied those techniques while group formation is taking place, have expressed that they have had bad experiences while performing such activities because a diversity of pitfalls. For example, some teachers say that they prefer not using group formation because the majority of times students take advantage of the situation to speak in their native language, except when they have to use English as their lingua franca. Others are afraid of using that technique because when they are performing such activities, the students also take advantage to talk about other things that are not related at all to the topics they are being taught. And in that way, the list goes on.

In my own case, I consider that forming groups is one of the best techniques a teacher can apply while teaching a topic — obviously not all the topics are suitable to be developed in this way-- because imagine if there is a big quantity of students in a class room, let´s say 60 students, how are all of them to be able to participate in the class and say what they opine in regards to a topic or discussion. It is impossible! I know that the disadvantages stated before can occur in any classroom, but for that reason teachers have to be more aware and conscious about what they are going to do and try to carry out the activities in the best way. How to achieve that? The answer is PLANNING CAREFULLY. There exist a million of pitfalls that can ruin a class or destroy the momentum of an activity, but there also exist a million of solutions for all those pitfalls. If a teacher plans carefully, taking into account every single detail, foreseeing even the most crazy things that could happen while performing activities such group working, everything will go in the right track.

As a conclusion, I totally agree with the use of group work in the classroom since that allows students to interact with each other and in that way learn from each other, too. It, as stated before, is one of the keys to permit students to develop their metacognition and critical thinking, something that maybe they are not going to do in any other place but there, in the classroom.




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