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

Posts tagged ‘classroom dynamics’

Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield (review)

I’ve been meaning to read this for a very long time, and finally got round to it in 2020 after being really pushed towards the importance of group dynamics during my MA Trainer Development module in 2019.

KEY DETAILS

TitleClassroom Dynamics

Author: Jill Hadfield

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 1992 (note, there are two versions – the purple one above which I read, and an orange one with a photo on it, though I believe only the cover changed and not the contents)

Place of publication: Oxford

Affiliate links: Amazon

Other links: BEBC (You’re supporting a great bookshop if you use this link)

WHAT’S IN IT?

The book starts with a clear introduction and guide to how to use the book, including why Jill felt that a book like this is necessary for teachers. The rest of the book is a series of recipe-style activities divided into three sections and twenty chapters, covering every aspect of building, developing, and maintaining group dynamics, as well as how to deal with the inevitable problems which sometimes occur. These are the chapters:

  • Section A: Forming the group
    1 Breaking the ice: warm-up activities for the first week of term
    2 Thinking about language: individual learning styles and group strategies
    3 Thinking about groups: group strengths, individual contributions
  • Section B: Maintaining the group
    4 Bridging gaps: opinion- and value-bridging activities
    5 Maintaining fluidity: reseating and melee games
    6 Getting to know each other; humanistic exercises and personalized grammar
    7 I did it your way: empathy activities
    8 A sense of belonging: whole group identity activities
    9 Establishing trust: trust- and confidence-building activities
    10 Staying positive: encouraging positive feelings
    11 Group achievements: product-orientated activities
    12 Bringing it together: pyramid discussions, feedback techniques, and summaries
    13 That patriotic class feeling: inter-class activities and competitions
    14 Ensuring participation
    15 Learning to listen
    16 A sense of direction: setting, assessing, and resetting goals
    17 Coexistence and compromise: individual wants and frustrations; group solutions
    18 Coping with crisis: some group problems
  • Section C: Ending the group experience
    19 Ending with positive feelings
    20 Evaluating the group experience

The book ends with a self-reflection questionnaire to help you consider your own experience with a group.

Good points

The book is based on a clearly-defined need which Jill identified in response to ‘moaning and groaning’ from a questionnaire she conducted with Angi Malderez to invite teachers to share common staffroom moans. They were surprised to discover that the main issues seemed to be connected to the atmosphere in the class and the chemistry of the group, regardless of the level of experience of the teachers concerned. Along with replies from the questionnaire, Jill shares her own experiences of both good and bad groups to inform ideas of what makes successful and unsuccessful groups. She has written a highly practical book to address these problems, but in a very down-to-earth way, with clear caveats that the book is not a panacea, not will it solve all the problems teachers might have. She also shares her own experiences of trying out the activities, for example on page 85. Throughout the book, I felt like Jill was talking to me directly in a very accessible style, as if she was in the staffroom with me.

The list of characteristics of an unsuccessful group on page 11 and a successful group on page 12 would make an excellent starting point for a workshop I think, and definitely reflect experiences I’ve had in the past with both good and bad groups.

‘How to use this book’ suggests a range of ways of exploiting the activities, including the key point that “this book is not an emergency handbook” (p17) and that activities should be used throughout the course, not only when there are problems. There is lots of guidance about what kind of activities might suit different types of group, and clear information about how to integrate activities into the syllabus. Jill acknowledges that you may not have time to squeeze in extra activities to an already crowded syllabus. This is supported by a comprehensive index of topics and structures, showing that group dynamics activities can be tweaks on activities already present in your lessons, rather than add-ons. Most activities have information about which other activities could follow or precede them, so that you could build up a linked programme fairly easily.

For activities such as 2.2 What kind of language learner are you? there are guidelines about how to handle the discussion after a questionnaire to ensure the teacher helps to build a supportive environment between students, rather than rejecting difference.

The bulk of activities are about maintaining group dynamics, and this made me realise just how much I’ve neglected this – I think many of us believe our job is done if we’ve completed a few getting-to-know-you activities in the first lesson or two, but many of my worst experiences with groups have come from allowing groups to settle into negative patterns which are very difficult to escape from.

There are activities for situations related to group dynamics which hadn’t crossed my mind before, for example the group that knows each other too well (chapter 7).

The activities are very student-centred, and get them involved in reflection on what makes a successful group, as well as creating the conditions to build empathy and trust between the group members. They really feel like they could add a whole extra layer to what happens in the classroom.

The examples of conflicts and reassuring words in chapter 18 were particularly useful:

Finally, not all group problems are resolvable. While I do believe that most potential problems can be solved, or better, pre-empted by the use of techniques such as those in this book, the belief that the teacher is responsible for every group problem can lead to much unnecessary guilt and soul-searching. (page 148)

It may happen, though, that your best attempts to resolve the crisis fail and the group cannot be reconciled. […] you may feel guilty, inadequate, or demoralized: somehow as teachers we have the feeling that ought to be able to resolve all human conflict, and if we meet a problem that defies our best efforts to solve it we have failed in our job. Whatever gave us this idea? (page 157)

(reply to a questionnaire) This group at least helped me to realize that it is a kind of arrogance for me to think that I am able to handle every classroom situation that comes my way – or even understand it. (page 158)

Those three quotes really made me think and I’ve come back to them again and again since I read the book. There were other sections that made me think too: the discussion on pairwork on p110, the potential reasons for tensions in intermediate and above groups on p94.

Hmmm…

Most of the activities would be very easy to adapt to a classroom nearly 30 years since the book was written, but I think it’s possibly time for an updated edition. There’s a lot of scope for modern technology to be exploited to build on the ideas in this book, and I believe this is something that Jill has written about elsewhere. An updated edition might also make teachers more likely to pick the book up, as sometimes we neglect valuable classics (of which this is definitely one!)

Other suggestions/ideas for tweaks/improvements include:

  • how to work with groups with continuous enrolment (most activities seem focussed on a groups which have the same make-up throughout the course) or integrating students joining a group which has already formed
  • a balance of ideas for full-time courses and part-time courses (many activities seem to be aimed at groups which have lessons every day intensively, rather than than once or twice a week over a year, and some have the timing listed as e.g. 2 lessons on consecutive days)
  • removing the reference to learning styles and left- and right-brain thinking in activity 2.1
  • more guidance on the processes of compromise for activity 17.4 (timetabling priorities)
  • a mention somewhere of how long a lesson is (many lessons are described as taking 1 lesson/up to 1 lesson)
  • an acknowledgement of the amount of preparation some of the activities require, for example 10.4 (medals)

General comment

This book is practical 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 keystone they are in successful language learning. Jill’s book has allowed me to recommend various ideas to teachers at our school. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to try many out myself yet, but I definitely intend to in the future. Watch this space for more related ideas on my blog in the future! It’s a must-read, and every staffroom should have a copy.

Group dynamics (IH Kyiv online/IH Torun TTD)

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?

Tag Cloud