Our Inquiry Group, looking into Group Dynamics as one aspect of Talk and Engagement, met for the second time this week. We discussed how we might best make headway with our Statement of Inquiry and our Inquiry Questions:
SOI – A willingness to talk and engage is essential for student learning.
IQ 1 – What factors influence group dynamics?
IQ 2 – To what extent can teachers influence student participation?
We surely all agree that every class or group, has its own distinctive dynamics, determined by the various unique individuals within it. This is particularly obvious to those of us who teach or have taught the same course or lesson to two different groups, with entirely different outcomes and experiences. What works well in one context, might not work at all in another. Students bring with them their own expectations, values and attitudes, thereby creating a unique one-off community or group, which is also influenced by the culture of the school itself.
Groups may have some quiet members and some who are more vocal, and this will automatically affect the level and quality of the classroom interactions. Apart from the individual personalities of the students, factors such as age, gender, gender balance in the class, cultural background and social class play a role. In addition, the individual’s general intellectual ability, language ability, natural aptitude for the subject matter, range and types of previous experience and particular learning style will also have an effect, as will any pressures from home, pressures from peers and overall self-esteem. Of course, there will be additional factors contributing to the overall group dynamics and these may or may not change both on a daily basis and over time.
We must also bear in mind that we, as teachers, are members of each group we teach. The way our students view us and our role within the class is an important factor in how they will react to a given situation. Students come with different perspectives, as do we, and it’s important for us all to recognize how the sharing of these views helps to develop everyone’s understanding of the topic or subject being addressed.
Although it might be possible to recognise some of the factors that influence group dynamics, it might be more challenging to address the extent to which we, as teachers, can influence student participation. Whilst acknowledging imbalances in the levels of contribution and engagement, we need to find ways to address them. Creating a classroom environment that fosters respect and welcomes diverse viewpoints and approaches to learning to help support the growth and development of all learners in the classroom will be a starting point.
Some further ideas here.