Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

On 3rd October 2020, I took part in the IH Kyiv online conference. [Update: I presented the same talk at the IH Torun Teaching Training Day on 7th November 2020.]

I presented on the topic of group dynamics, something I’ve become increasingly interested in since doing my MA module in Trainer Development last year. Although Jane Harding da Rosa introduced me to Barry Tuckman’s work a few years ago, I don’t think I was ready to take in the ideas. I wish I had been! There are definitely at least two groups I can think of which would have been a much pleasanter experience for both me and the students had I understood some of the concepts I mention in this presentation. Oh well – we live and learn!

Here are three quotes from Chapter 3 of Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho which set the scene:

The quality of the eventual outcome of the course will to a considerable extent be forged in the interactions between the members of the learning group.

It always takes some time, and considerable care on the part of the [teachers] to enable groups […] to ‘form’ and reach a stage where they are personally secure, and trusting of each other and the [teacher] enough to start learning.

Even if the group is already well formed, each new meeting requires attention to re-forming: re-entering the public world of the group from the more private world of family or workplace.

Although the quotes are about teacher training, I think they’re equally applicable to the ELT classroom.

My presentation was mostly about raising awareness of issues connected to group dynamics, rather than activities to help you deal with them. Those activities can be found in Jill Hadfield’s excellent book Classroom Dynamics, which I recently finished and will review on my blog shortly. Short review: every staffroom should have a copy! About 50% of the ideas in my presentation came from her book – thanks Jill! [Amazon affiliate link]

Here are my slides:

Thinking about groups

We started with an activity adapted from p39 of Classroom Dynamics.

EITHER:

Think about groups you have taught. Which groups were easy to teach? Which were difficult? Which were mixed?

OR:

In your life up to now, what groups have you been a member of? For example, family, sports team, colleagues at work, church… Did you have a good, bad or mixed experience as a member of these groups?

Think about the good groups.

  • Did they have anything in common?
  • What do you think these groups gave their members?
  • What did the group members give back?
  • What did the group members have to give up?

Think about a group you’re in now.

  • What do you think they will be able to give you?
  • What can you offer to them?
  • What might you have to give up?

We pooled the ideas into this mentimeter.

You can use this activity with classes to help them consider what makes a good group and what they can contribute to and get from a group.

Stages of group life

I talked through the 5 stages described in Barry Tuckman’s stages of group development:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing
  • Adjourning

You can see a full-sized version of the diagram I talked through here: http://bit.ly/tuckmangroups. It shows a lot more information about what each of the five stages involve. There are lots of sources describing these 5 stages (the final one is sometimes missing, or called ‘Mourning’).

These are typical stages, but some groups get stuck at a particular stage and never move forwards, others regress or move backwards and forwards, especially if new people join the group.

As a teacher, it’s useful to know about the stages to understand what you can do as a teacher to help a group to form successfully, and understand why some groups won’t work well together.

Causes of group problems

On p149 of Classroom Dynamics, Jill Hadfield has this summary of possible causes of group problems:

Three layer diagram:
1. Group problems
2. Teacher-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. conflict of expectations about progress
3. resistance to communicative methods
3. resistance to leadership style
3. rebellion against 'authority'
2. intra-group conflict, subdivided into:
3. different aims, levels of ability or motivation
3. an inharmonious mix of ages, personalities, sexes or nationalities
2. the indigestible group member, subdivided into:
3. misfits
3. the insecure
3. rebels
3. frustrated leader

I asked two questions, which you could think about now:

  • Have you experienced any of these as a teacher or a student?
  • What can you do about them?

We then looked at a bit of theory to pre-empt these problems, aiming to reduce the likelihood of them starting in the first place, or deal with the problems when you notice they start to manifest themselves. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s worth being reminded!

Teacher-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • the teacher makes it clear why they’re doing particular activities/using particular techniques – displaying clear aims can help.
  • the teacher compromises on approach/tasks in lessons, doing some of what the teacher wants and some of what the group wants.
  • the teacher listens carefully to students.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

To win […] trust, we have to be open about our objectives, and be ready to participate in activities on an equal basis whenever it is possible or makes sense for us to do so.

Students need to feel like you’re a participant in the group too, not just a dictator. If you expect them to share, it’s important for you to do so too. The same is true of being receptive to feedback, and giving constructive feedback.

Intra-group conflict

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with a very problematic group: introduce less group work, use more individual/pair work, regroup students so it’s less explosive.
  • with a relatively low-level problem: use gap-bridging activities.
  • with a well-balanced group: confront the problem and discuss it.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Mutual trust cannot be taken for granted.

It takes time and effort for humans to trust each other, and sometimes a small action or a single word can be enough to break that trust. We need to help students feel comfortable with each other, building trust consistently, rather than just doing one getting-to-know-you activity at the start of the course and thinking we’re done with that (this is a reminder to myself too!)

The indigestible group member

Three ideas from Jill Hadfield:

  • with rebels: get to know them and make sure they know you; providing clear limits/boundaries can help in some cases, but may make it worse.
  • with frustrated leaders: do individual interviews with all students; encourage everybody to say ‘I think’ not ‘we think’.
  • with insecure students: give them warmth and attention and help them integrate.

And a quote from Trainer Development by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho:

Participants frequently arrive with preoccupations relating to their work, their families etc. [which] prevent them from being fully ‘present’. [They often] gain least from […] courses and […] are most critical in end-of-course evaluations.

Helping students mentally transition into the classroom space, learn to put their preoccupations aside, and feel comfortable in the room are all important. Again, this takes time and effort to build up.

Chapters in Classroom Dynamics

These are most of the chapters in Jill Hadfield’s book:

  • Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
  • Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
  • Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
  • Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
  • Getting to know each other: humanizing activities and personalised grammar
  • I did it your way: empathy activities
  • A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
  • Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
  • Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
  • Group achievements: product-oriented activities
  • Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques and summaries
  • That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
  • Ensuring participation // Learning to listen
  • A sense of direction: setting, assessing and resetting goals
  • Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations, group solutions
  • Ending with positive feelings // Evaluating the group experience

In the chat I asked:

  • Can you think of any activities which would serve these purposes?
  • How could they help your groups?
  • How could they pre-empt some of the problems we’ve discussed?

As Jill points out, a lot of the activities we already use can be tweaked to help work on classroom dynamics as well as the language or skills aim we want to use them for. Obviously reseating is a potential problem in a socially-distanced classroom, but could be adapted for activities online.

Final reflection

Having thought about the ideas I’ve introduced here, when working with groups from now on what will you:

  • continue to do?
  • stop doing?
  • start doing?

Comments on: "Group dynamics (IH Kyiv online/IH Torun TTD)" (6)

  1. Another fantastic, thought provoking blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Judie Hudson said:

    Thanks Sandy,
    your clear and logical representation is great and I wish I’d been present when you gave your workshop.
    I can agree 100% with all your ideas and quotations – great to revive Tuckman and add Hadfield’s new book.
    I remember Tuckman’s 4-stage model (1965) from my initial teacher training at IH Hastings as it must have been quite a hot topic back then. The 5th stage reminded me of returning home from a 4-day workshop with Adrian Underhill (Switzerland 1980s), and the fact that I kept bumping into people at the main station in Zurich – we hadn’t had the Disbanding stage!
    As Tuckman’s 5 stage model since then has constantly guided my teacher training courses, I often shock fellow tutors when not mentioning any CELTA administration during the first couple of days as the focus is fully on the first 3 of Tuckman’s stages both within the group of course participants and their subsequent classes, hoping to get to stage 4 well before the end of the first week. Flipping CELTA last year brought this process into my conscience & I noticed that stage 4 on those courses was quite apparent by the end of Day 4.
    Sorry I’ve been a bit rambling, but your excellent presentation helped me to reflect on so much of what I do and provide a spotlight on it. Thanks.

    Like

    • Hi Julie,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. That sounds like a fascinating way of approaching CELTA. I’d be interested to read more about what the first week of your course looks like, and I’m sure others would too. Let me know if you’re interested in writing it as a guest post.
      The Hadfield book is from 1992, so not new 🙂 but still very useful!
      And don’t worry about rambling – these are my favourite kinds of comment!
      Sandy

      Like

  3. […] and supportive, and really made me think. I’ve started reading more about and presenting on group dynamics as a result of reading this and a few other tings, and I’ve realised just how much of a […]

    Like

  4. […] S: In the same way that doing the Delta added a methodological foundation to my teaching, I feel that the Trainer Development course did this for my training. In both cases, my eyes were opened to all of the literature out there, and it prompted a huge amount of reading, reflection and discussion. One of the biggest areas I’ve now become interested in is group dynamics, which I’ve presented and written about. […]

    Like

  5. […] about her own life to deeply insightful and academic when touching on educational theory (read “Group Dynamics,” for example). Her blog is regularly updated, usually once a week but occasionally […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: