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Group Dynamics on an MA TESOL Programme: A Student Perspective

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1 Group Dynamics on an MA TESOL Programme: A Student Perspective
Dr Ahmad Nazari London Metropolitan University Ms Kim Willis University of Sunderland

2 Introduction Context of the study: 20 international PG students on a one-year MA TESOL programme, one of the north-east universities, UK. Most have dual goal: learn to teach English to others and improve their own English skills. Our motivation to investigate group dynamics: Social dimension of (language) learning still neglected? Why are some groups a pleasure to teach, others not? Does it matter to the students? Interest in their perspective.

3 An awareness of group dynamics “can make classroom events less threatening to teachers and can help them develop more efficient methods of classroom management and thus consciously facilitate the development of creative, well-balanced, and cohesive groups. All this, of course, has a significant motivational impact.” (Dörnyei 2014: 527)

4 Group cohesiveness Group cohesiveness: ‘ the state of cohering, uniting, and sticking together’ (Schmuck and Schmuck, 2001, p.114) Three components of cohesiveness: interpersonal attraction; commitment to task; group pride (Mullen and Copper, 1994) – but do they apply in our context? (‘You can choose your friends, but not your family’) Cohesiveness can be negative too – e.g. ‘classroom counter-cultures’ (Ushioda, 2003, p.94) Cohesiveness correlated to student motivation, group productivity / performance and learners’ autonomous beliefs and behaviours? (see Chang, 2010; Clément, Dörnyei, & Noels, 1994; Dörnyei, 2007; Ehrman & Dörnyei, 1998; Mullen & Copper, 1994)

5 Group leadership Role of teacher in group dynamics? Leadership styles:
- autocratic – leader dictates to members - democratic - members take responsibility - laissez-faire leadership – ‘anything goes’ (Lewin, Lippitt and White, 1938)

6 Intercultural dynamics
‘behaviour in language classrooms is set within taken-for-granted frameworks of expectations, attitudes, values, and beliefs about what constitutes good learning, about how to teach or learn, whether and how to ask questions, what textbooks are for, and how language teaching relates to broader issues of the nature and purpose of education.’(Dogancy-Aktuna, 2005: 99) Judy Ho and David Crookall’s (1995) study of Chinese students: ‘relational hierarchy’, desire to maintain teacher’s face, importance of the ‘ingroup’.

7 Method of the study Epistemology: Interpretivism
Research Method: Qualitative Data collection tool: Open-ended questionnaires Data analysis approach: Principles of Grounded Theory

8 Participants and cohort
Age range: from 22 to 50 years old Nationality Chinese Libyan Iraqi South Korean Belgian Polish British Pakistani Number 9 5 1 L1 Arabic Korean French English Urdu Gender Female Male Number 14 6

9 Results and Analysis Question 1 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2
Questionnaire 2 Risk taking Being together for a long time Length of time together Tolerance and respect Diversity Inclusion Family Leadership Friendliness Sense of giving The concept of the group as a family Individuals differences and similarities Working as a family Mutual understanding Complementing each other Motivation Mutual target Cooperation/teamwork/solidarity Group cohesiveness Cooperation/team work Learning as a social practice leading to individual learning

10 Question 2 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2 Imbalance in the group
Questionnaire 2 Imbalance in the group Lack of leadership Lack of communication Lack of diversity Lack of inclusion Lack of tolerance and respect Lack of democratic relationships Lack of cooperation Lack of mutual understanding Lack of team work Not supporting each other Having conflicting view points Lack of common goals Not sharing ideas Uncooperativeness Lack of a mutual target Lack of a sense of social Lack of solidarity Lack of friendliness Lack of motivation Lack of social practices and social learning Lack of a social milieu Lack of competition Silence Vociferous group members Silent group members Strong national identity Dominance Small groups sticking together Formation of cliques

11 Question 3 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2 Sense of insecurity
Questionnaire 2 Sense of insecurity Sense of encountering difficulty Sense of confusion Sense of pressure Sense of excitement and happiness about diversity and learning new things Sense of determination Ambivalent feeling Having apprehension about the academic work Having dissatisfaction with progress in academic work Feeling more confident Feeling happier Feeling better

12 Question 4 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2
Questionnaire 2 Social construction of knowledge Language learning Subject area learning Sharing ideas Opportunities to practise the English Language Cooperation Enhancing group atmosphere Receiving and giving encouragement Working as a family The concept of family Cultural understanding and removing intercultural miscommunication Enhancing cultural understanding Cultural learning The students said they hadn’t had to give up anything. Only one European student said she had to conform to other nationalities’ expectations.

13 Question 5 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2 Friendly Optimistic
Questionnaire 2 Friendly Optimistic Cooperative Warm Helpful Welcoming Positive generous A sense of closeness Warm and friendly Encouraging to learn Group relationship improved Working as partners Feeling comfortable Warmer than the beginning of the term Cold Quiet Polite Neutral (neither warm nor cold) A sense of distance but hoping for a positive change of climate One student said ‘Cold’ A sense of distance Some students emphasised the role of the teacher and singled her out as a person who contributes a lot to the classroom climate. Some of the students seem not to see the whole class as a group, because they used the phrases like ‘some are friendly and some are cold’.

14 Questionnaire 2: No conflicts were experienced
Most students experienced no conflicts. Some said there actually was a great deal of friendliness. A couple of students said they sometimes heard inappropriate comments and said such comments might have been due to little cultural understanding. They said they look to the teacher to resolve conflicts. Questionnaire 2: No conflicts were experienced

15 Question 7 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2
Questionnaire 2 Democratic style of teaching because it provides them with freedom to express themselves helps them with exchanging their views encourages cooperation causes creativity encourages deep learning is more motivating is more comfortable causes independence and autonomy gives them more space to choose Preferring active to passive learning Democratic style of teaching because it helps with expressing ideas helps with practising the English language builds up a relaxed learning atmosphere is more effective Preferring active to passive learning Three students said they would like both teaching styles and balance between the two, because they want organisation and order. One student said it depends on the context.

16 Question 8 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2
Questionnaire 2 Some of the participants were satisfied with their performance. Two said that they were in a leadership role. Some of the participants, however, were tentative about their performance or believed they hadn’t performed well. These students either took responsibility for their bad performance or blamed environmental factors, such as the change of their environment. These students also seemed to be self- critical and would like to perform better in future. Most of the participants said they had performed better as far as the coursework was concerned. They also said they had been mixing socially as time went by. Only three students said they were struggling with their learning activities. All participants believed that they have made an effort and were doing their best.

17 Question 9 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2 Feeling comfortable
Questionnaire 2 Feeling comfortable Interesting and exciting experience Like it Helps with learning other/different teaching styles Helps cultural understanding Helps with changing mind about other people Helps language learning and improves communicative skills They have an overwhelmingly positive emotional response to the international composition of the group. They value the enhancement of intercultural communication. They value the necessity to use the English language and thereby to improve their language skills. Positive Pleased Valuable experience Not feeling lonely Helps with learning other/different teaching styles Helps with learning other cultures Helps with practising the English language They have a positive attitude to the international composition of the group. They value the necessity to use the English language as well as to learn other cultures. Being nervous and feeling challenged due to not understudying others’ accents and/or cultures. But they say they want to learn and improve. Some reservations coupled with a willingness to engage. Only one student mentioned being still stressed. One of the students expressed a desire for having more compatriots in the cohort.

18 Question 10 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2 Origins
Questionnaire 2 Origins Where they live now Hobbies Cultural background family Personal information More about their lives More about their cultures More about their lives in the new context More about their feelings Sharing more personal information Their teaching experience Their objectives and dreams Their educational experience Their ideas about the classes and the course Course-related information More about their teaching experience More about their learning experience Sharing more course- related information, especially their teaching experience Two students said they hadn’t shared more information than before.

19 Question 11 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2
Questionnaire 2 The multicultural background of some of the students helps them to relate to the group. The socio-cultural values of some of them, namely Africans and Chinese, help them to relate to the group. The background that some of them share with a certain number of the students, namely Chinese, helps them to relate to that subgroup. Their educational background, e.g. single sex education and religious education, affects the way they relate to the course and in turn affects the way they relate to the group. Confucianism affects the way they relate to the group by causing them to be modest and to not speak out loud. One student said she felt left out due to her lower socio- economic class.

20 Question 12 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2
Questionnaire 2 Most said ‘no’, as the group members make allowances for intercultural miscommunication and also share common goals. Some said ‘no’, as they didn’t enter cultural discussions as such. The majority of the students said there had been no intercultural miscommunication. A minority said there had been minor cultural misunderstandings and inappropriate assumptions about sponsorship as they felt they might be judged on this basis. A minority also said there had been minor cultural misunderstanding about humour and that it had sometimes been difficult to communicate humour and it has become a bit serious. Some said these hadn’t affected the way they related to the group whereas others said they had.

21 Question 13 Questionnaire 1 Questionnaire 2
Questionnaire 2 The participants prefer diversity in group work. They believe getting to know each other helps them to form a group. Having a leader is an important factor in shaping a group. The role of the teacher in shaping a group and creating a good class climate is important. The English language acts as a glue in forming and shaping a group. One student said extracurricular group social activities could help the group dynamics. Another student said more intercultural contact would be helpful for the group dynamics. Another said she believed relationships were made more intranationally than internationally.

22 Discussions • Group as a Family:
S: “A group works as one family and helps each other.” S: “We help each other. We support those who are weak or have a lack of experience or self-confidence. We work as a family.” S: “In such a group, individuals’ differences complement the group as a whole.” Cohesiveness S: “I think in a good group, the team work together, are patient, cooperate with one another and have good communication and discussions, because if everyone sticks to their own opinion and does not listen to others, then the group will be divided.” “In cohesive classrooms students become more motivated to interact and this contributes to a creation of a positive group dynamic that increases the effectiveness of lessons.” (Inozu 2010: 1061) S: “I think a good group comprises highly motivated individuals.” S: “With this international composition, I really guarantee I will learn a lot in this group and gain a great deal of experience.” S: “If students are silent most of the time, it will not be good for an effective group.” Motivation is a “socially mediated phenomenon.” (Ushioda 2003: 90) Time S: “Time makes a good group. The longer group members stay together, the better they’ll know each other.”

23 Formation of cliques S: “I think that perhaps if the individuals are not open to other members and prefer to stay in their own little groups (usually same nationality group), then a group lacks integrity.” S: “Perhaps the perception of the Chinese students is completely different, because they are in a group, but for me as an individual who doesn’t have any fellow students from a similar culture, the atmosphere in the class is neither cold nor warm.” S: “To be honest, we have a small group in a big whole group now. Sometimes that can be negative.”

24 • Group Development: Students expressed a mixture of positive and negative emotions. They also reported a sense of closeness and of distance, though the sense of distance seemed to fade as time went by. S: “In fact, it was a good start even though I was afraid of the work that we were supposed to do. But now I feel comfortable to work with my tutors and classmates.” S: “In the classroom, we are friendly and warm. Students try to make others laugh and help others correct their mistakes. However, after the class, we seldom see each other and communicate by .” S: “I am quite relaxed as well as frightened.” S: “The classroom climate is generally warm and friendly. However, to be honest, we have a small group in a big whole group now. Sometimes that can be negative.” S: “At the beginning of the course, I felt uncomfortable because of these unfamiliar people. But when the course proceeded, I found everyone in our class very nice and friendly.”

25 • Teacher as Mediator and Group Shaper:
S: “I do sometimes feel a little left out.” S: “I think that perhaps if the individuals are not open to other members and prefer to stay in their own little groups (usually same nationality group), then a group lacks integrity.” S: “Perhaps the perception of the Chinese students is completely different, because they are in a group, but for me as an individual who doesn’t have any fellow students from a similar culture, the atmosphere in the class is neither cold nor warm.... The role of the teacher in a group is important because I think that teachers influence the group dynamics a great deal.” S: “A student made an inappropriate comment about race and it was quickly diffused by the teacher in a respectful way.” “Studies report strong associations between achievement levels and classrooms that are perceived as having greater cohesion and goal-direction, and less disorganization and conflict. Research also suggests that the impact of classroom climate may be greater on students from low-income homes and groups that often are discriminated against.” (Adelman and Taylor 2005: 89) Students prefer a democratic style of teaching. The teacher should strike a balance between her roles.

26 • Intercultural Dynamics:
Positive attitude to the international composition of the group Valuing learning English Embracing the opportunity to enhance their cultural understanding Confucianism Religious and single sex education

27 Implications of the study: For teachers: to be more vigilant about the formation of cliques. Hadfield’s (1992) practical suggestions on how to improve classroom dynamics. For students: further reflection on the intercultural dynamics of the group For MA TESOL course developers: “In an age when the U.S. is becoming increasingly multicultural and English is becoming an international language (and numerous World Englishes), the field of TESOL can no longer equate teaching culture with teaching American or British culture and can no longer assume that one way of teaching/learning is appropriate for all language learning situations. It is the responsibility of masters’ programs in TESOL to “raise [graduate students’] cultural consciousness” (Kumaravadivelu, 1994, p.40), and to train teachers who are effective intercultural communicators, who know about and understand their students’ cultures, and who “envision their roles as mediators and ambassadors of culture, and not as purveyors or disseminators, and never as imposers” (Nayar 1986: 13).” Nelson (1998: 28)

28 Limitations of the study: The use of one data collection tool Small group size Recommendations for further research: Role of the teacher and her power Interviews with teachers and classroom observations Role of the individual members Distance learning cohorts (Ehrman and Dornyei’s (1998) ‘invisible classroom’)

29 References References
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