Basically, from a personal stance, intrinsic to group work is the process of students working together to do a task whereby shared goals are realised through the sharing of knowledge. As stressed by both Ted Panitz (n.d) in his article ‘Collaborative versus Cooperative Learning- A Comparison of the two Concepts which will help us understand the underlying nature of interactive learning’ and Olga Kozar (2010) in her article ‘Towards Better Group Work: Seeing the Difference between Cooperation and Collaboration’, group work comprise two major aspects and there is a marked difference between cooperation and collaboration. For the teaching of English Language, it most commonly the latter which is resorted to by teachers as a strategy to promote learning because of its several benefits. Nonetheless collaborative learning is not devoid of drawbacks.
For the teaching of English Language/General Paper, group activities entailing group presentations on an essay topic, error analysis of peers’ written work, observations of sampled written works, are largely feasible when working towards essay writing. But, when applied for the teaching of comprehensions and grammar, classes often do not require much collaborative work.
Fundamentally, collaboration amongst peers in the classroom constitute an asset to boot learning especially in mixed-ability classes and it becomes a platform to cater for different intelligence types concurrently. Students who find it difficult to go beyond lower order thinking get the opportunity to draw ideas from their peers and to use other skills they might have. A paradigm of this can be an English literature class. For example, Form IV and Form V students are timetabled for literature only 4 periods a weeks for the study of three texts in the course of roughly one and a half year. In one chapter of a novel or a scene of a play, there is a lot to analyse in terms of characters, themes, style, etc. As such, one specific chapter can be taken and different groups of the class assigned one aspect to work on and to share with the rest of the class. Since the sharing can be done in the form of posters, concept maps or orally, each individual in the group may bring a different kind of contribution to build the end-product. Synchronously, this instigates their knowledge to expand through the exploration of others’ ideas and standpoints.
In consonance with the above, collaborative learning which is generally coupled with the constructivist classroom, primarily has the advantage of engaging a whole class in a given task, contrarily to a teacher-centred approach. There is a simultaneous active participation of practically the whole class – there is no passive reception of information which is dispensed by the teacher. Per se, the outcome is students’ empowerment of their own learning. Students would take up the responsibility for their learning; though the teacher monitors the progress and acts as a facilitator, it is the group which decides upon the end product to be presented and the presentation mode. Responsibility for learning drifts from the teacher to the learner. “In the collaborative model groups would assume almost total responsibility for answering the question. The students determine if they had enough information to answer the question.” (T. Panitz, n.d.) and “ownership and control of the work shifts toward the pupils themselves” (P. Blatchford, P. Kutnick, E. Baines and M. Galton, n.d.), though we may question the degree of maturity of students to determine to withdraw the right information.
Dialogue and negotiation help students confront their own points of view, ideas and think differently about a particular subject. This is particularly relevant to help them find counter-argument and enhance their debating skills. Facing conflict or ideas conflicting with theirs helps push their analytical mind further and this view is supported by T. Panitz (n.d) according to whom...
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