Teaching

Education - Teachers
By: - at May 27, 2013

Group Work in College ESL Classrooms

College ESL Classrooms
English as a Second LanguageFor about three decades, the nature of learning has shifted from traditional teacher-led discussions to being constructivist with the increasing use of group work in second language classes. Though there are differing views on the efficacy of letting students take control of their learning, the use of group work was proved to be effective in establishing communicative excellence among class members. In most ESL classrooms, attainment of goals for effective group work participation can be influenced by factors such as willingness to cooperate, language proficiency, and social backgrounds. Additionally, there is a great demand on ensuring that the roles and relationships of teachers and students are properly disseminated, understood and maintained for the strategies to work. Perhaps, one of the biggest challenges group work may face is students’ perception on its reliability to influence learning. This is because many of the ESL students at the university level have a different cultural orientation with differing beliefs on who should take charge for learning to happen.

Just like every effective lecture held, group work should be designed thoroughly so all students are engaged in activities. This can be done by making students work together on a concept rather than doing the traditional class work. When grouped, students are not only forced to work with each other but are also given the chance to improve communication and people skills.

What is Group Work?
esl group workGroup work is defined as a pedagogical strategy that promotes working together in a team, composed of members having different abilities and using these abilities to accomplish a desired outcome. All members must play their roles to benefit one another and maximize learning by working together on a topic. A technique that helps develop interpersonal skills, it enhances members’ ability to crack down difficult concepts and develops critical thinking. Additionally, it provides the chance for students to teach and learn from each other. Since the success of the group relies on the over-all outcome, each member is expected to contribute knowledge on an assigned sub-part.

Three Main Types of Group Work
Group work has many offshoots, but generally, it is classified into three types. These are collaboration, interaction and cooperation. The following are the distinguishing features of each type:

  1. Collaboration – involves two or more people learning or attempting to learn something together. Members benefit from each students' skills, knowledge and support on information sharing, evaluation of work, and monitoring of progress or understanding. A product of social constructivism, this is designed to provide learners with an environment where members are actively sharing experiences and taking charge of each other's learning. It entails shared responsibility to ensure group members of varying abilities have the grasp of the concepts the teacher gave out for discussion or exploration.
     
  2. interactionInteraction – starts with the teacher creating engaging topics that trigger different opinions based on the students’ schema. As the students start to utter responses, the teacher will group class members to work on a related material on their own. Often times, these materials are the categories that made up the topic of the lecture as a whole. As the activity progresses, students are given the opportunity to interact directly with their teacher and group members. It gives students the chance to apply what was learned by expressing their opinions and findings from group discussions, confirming their relevance or acceptability.
     
  3. CooperationCooperation – is making use of groups as an instructional circle where members work together to achieve a common goal. With the instruction from the teacher, students help each other understand and accomplish work together. Since students are working to mutually benefit the entire group, they value the each member's share of the work. This is commonly done when a teacher assigns a topic for discussion by the group. Given a topic to tackle, for example, each member must contribute ideas on making it understandable and to the standard. Based on the idea of “we all swim or sink together”, students are expected to make a group of brains crack a topic together.

Reasons to Use Group Work in College ESL Classrooms
The use of group work does not only lessen the work of the teacher, but shifts focus from the teacher to the student taking control or contributing to their own learning. Here are the top ten benefits of group work in language classes:

  1. Helps develop independent learning. Because students are given the chance to work on their own, they take charge of their own learning. They will be forced to read further to understand a difficult concept and contribute to group work. With their roles in accomplishing goals, they are likely to develop a sense of responsibility to supply other group members with ideas on a topic assigned.
     
  2. Fosters positive relationships among class members. With competition ever present in any type of classroom, group work makes members work together toward a common goal, and thus, lessens competition between members. When there is peer support, concepts assigned to a group member will be explained in a level understandable to the group. With this, they are able to develop trust and confidence on each other’s contribution, making them able to work with each other smoothly.
     
  3. Provides opportunities for language practice with peers. Because many college ESL classrooms are diverse, students working in a group will be forced to communicate with each other to perform tasks. As they communicate with group members, they are not only sharing the ideas related to the topic but are given exposure to vocabulary, accent and language use essential for developing their communication skills.
     
  4. Creates an environment for speaking and listening practice. When people in a group are sharing ideas or views, they take turns in being speakers and listeners. This makes groups a rich source of language practice. Students will get to listen to peers speaking English, most likely in a way they use in their home countries. It means they will get to hear English spoken by someone from Asia, South America, or Africa. Eventually, the experience fosters understanding what was uttered when they meet other people of the same background outside of the school.
     
  5. Develops self-esteem and promotes academic achievement. Without the capacity to communicate fluently in the language, students are likely to shy away from participating in discussions. With their limited chances for language use, they might even fail to acquire English. Because groups can be an avenue for language practice with lesser teacher intervention, students are at ease to communicate with peers, and thus, unconsciously, develop self-esteem. Consequently, when they are ready, the ability to talk in front of many people may be achieved. This, then, will open doors for students to reach the academic goals.
     
  6. Increases opportunities to negotiate meanings. Diverse classrooms mean different interpretations, views and opinions. As ESL students get involved in group work, they struggle to understand and get understood. This is true as people from different countries assign a word in English for a specific situation happening locally. As they are to meet in a group, they will have to negotiate for meanings to get messages across. This challenged both speakers and listeners to learn new vocabulary, idioms and expressions previously foreign to them.
     
  7. Lessens individual workload. Having to do all the activities alone is stressful. Most of the time, when students are unable to finish assignments, they tend to copy from each other. This will lead to higher scores but lower proficiency as they only get answers without understanding concepts fully. When exposed to group work, students do not only have to focus on one topic before sharing, but also given some relief as far as how much work should be done at once. Since group members are tasked to make everyone understand the assigned part of the topic, they still get to grasp the concepts with much less stress.
     
  8. Develops friendship with class members from other cultures. ESL classrooms can bridge gaps between cultures where students came from. Stereotypes about other countries and their people do not only foster animosity but also unwillingness to communicate. When students are working in a group of different cultural backgrounds, language is not the only thing they learn. As they share experiences, they might as well know the beliefs of a certain country leading them to understand why taboos might actually not be general. As they develop friendship with classmates, communication in English is likely to continue even after attending classes.
     
  9. Gives room for learning styles and preferences. Some learners are visual, some are aural. Additionally, others may learn easier from books while some from online resources. As members function independently to understand assigned topics to discuss with the group, they deal with research and a study style unique from all others. With the responsibility to make peers understand, they make use of their preferred learning style to deepen understanding. Quite different from traditional class instruction where students have to read together or do course work, group work and its assignments provide students with flexible ways to understand and explain topics.
     
  10. Provides opportunities to share ideas and clarify concepts. Most students will find it difficult to talk to a large audience or the teacher, so many would hesitate to share ideas. When working in groups, anxiety levels are much lower as members are aware they are sharing information with people who have a similar degree of knowledge. Because they are not afraid of being graded with wrong answers, they are likely to talk and clarify knowledge with their peers. Corrections will also appear less fearful as they are not directly heard or marked by teachers. Sharing a common goal, members develop trust that each member will contribute ideas and correct misunderstandings for the overall success of the group.

Final Thoughts
The continual rise in the number of international students in English-speaking countries has accelerated the spread of the English language. With the diversity, teachers are to design strategies and apply concepts that trigger students to learn not only from the teacher but among themselves. The popularity of group work has lessened structured class work and transformed classrooms into interactive, collaborative and cooperative ones. Studies revealed that with proper teacher intervention and monitoring, students involved in group work consistently learn better than those in traditional classes.

esl diversity

Additionally, since group work triggers cooperation and peer support, students develop a more positive outlook about going to school. Finally, with its less-threatening environment, classrooms that make use of group work help develop students who are confident to achieve their educational goals.


 

 

 

 

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