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Group Sensitive Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
538

Heron (1999) makes it clear that he does not consider any of the three modes of facilitation superior to the others. As he summarises, if there is too much hierarchical control, "participants become passive and dependent or hostile and resistant. They wane in self-direction, which is the core of all learning. Too much co-operative guidance may degenerate into a subtle kind of nurturing oppression, and may deny the group the benefits of totally autonomous learning. Too much autonomy for participants and laissez-faire on your [i.e. the facilitator's] part, and they may wallow in ignorance, misconception and chaos" (p. 9).

Folks:

The posting below looks at how teachers might balance different leadership styles to be more effective in the classroom. The excerpt is from Chapter 6, The Teacher as Group Leader, of the book Group Dynamics in the Language Classroom by Zotan Dornyei and Tim Murphey, Copyright ? 2003 Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved. ISBN 0521-82276-9

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

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Group-Sensitive Teaching

 

Although we find Rogers' set of three attributes (empathy, acceptance and congruence?j very important for becoming a group-conscious teacher, the set leaves several issues open about how to behave as a teacher-facilitator. It does not provide, for example, straightforward guidelines about the characteristics of a facilitator with regard to Lewin's distinction of democratic, authoritative and laissez-faire leadership styles. We can perhaps intuitively feel that the 'democratic' style may be the closest to facilitative teaching, but - as argued at the beginning of this chapter - without taking the developmental level of the group into consideration it is difficult to come up with specific principles. Surely, at the beginning of a group's life a teacher cannot be as 'democratic' and 'facilitative' as with a fully matured, cohesive group. This is where it is useful to bring in a fairly simple and straightforward system of operation and control set up by Heron (1999) concerning the behaviour of facilitators.

In The Complete Facilitator's Handbook, Heron (1999) argues that - contrary to beliefs - a good facilitator is not characterised by a 'soft touch' or a 'free for all' mentality. He distinguishes three different modes of facilitation:

* Hierarchical mode, whereby the facilitator exercises the power to direct the learning process for the group, thinking and acting on behalf of the group, and making all the major decisions. In this mode, therefore, the facilitator takes full responsibility for designing the syllabus and providing structures for learning.

* Cooperative mode, whereby the facilitator shares the power and responsibilities with the group, prompting members to be more self-directing in the various forms of learning. In this mode the facilitator collaborates with the members in devising the learning process, and outcomes are negotiated.

* Autonomous mode, whereby the facilitator respects the autonomy of the group in finding their own way and exercising their own judgement. The task of the facilitator in this mode is to create the conditions within which students' self-determination can flourish.

Heron (1999) makes it clear that he does not consider any of the three modes of facilitation superior to the others. As he summarises, if there is too much hierarchical control, "participants become passive and dependent or hostile and resistant. They wane in self-direction, which is the core of all learning. Too much co-operative guidance may degenerate into a subtle kind of nurturing oppression, and may deny the group the benefits of totally autonomous learning. Too much autonomy for participants and laissez-faire on your [i.e. the facilitator's] part, and they may wallow in ignorance, misconception and chaos" (p. 9).

The art of effective facilitation, according to Heron (1999), lies in finding the right balancing and sequencing of the three modes "as and when appropriate" (p. 8). Accordingly, one attribute of the effective facilitator is the flexibility to move from mode to mode. He gives some guidelines as to how to achieve the right balance. First of all, the three modes do not exclude each other but can be combined even in the same lesson. That is, even in a lesson which is, say, characterised by an autonomous facilitative mode, a certain task may involve increased teacher participation. Or within a hierarchically given exercise, members can be autonomous when taking their turn. Second, Heron has found that the ideal proportion of the three modes changes with the level of development of the group. He distinguishes three stages: At the outset of group development, the optimal mode is predominantly hierarchical, offering a clear and straightforward framework within which early development of cooperation and autonomy can safely occur. Later, in the 'middle phase', more cooperation with group members may be appropriate in managing the learning process. Finally, when the group has reached maturity and is thus ready for the autonomous mode, more power needs to be delegated to the group in order for members to achieve full self-direction in their learning. Learning contracts (see Section 2.5), self-evaluation and peer assessment may 'institutionalise' their independence.

Heron's (1999) system of facilitation bears a close resemblance with one of the best-known theories of leadership in organisational psychology, proposed by Hersey and Blanchard (1982). This theory is based on the distinction of two types of leader behaviour:

* Relationship behaviour, which concerns meeting the group members' personal needs, and involves behaviours geared at increasing group cohesiveness, reducing interpersonal conflict and boosting the group's morale.

* Task leadership, which concerns the task the group is facing rather than member satisfaction. It involves behaviours aiming at coordinating actions, proposing solutions, setting subtasks, removing barriers, disseminating information and allocating resources.

According to Hersey and Blanchard (1982), during the initial, formation stage of group life members work best with a high-task/low-relationship leader. After the group has achieved more maturity and can work smoothly, the leader should increase relationship-oriented behaviour for a high-task/high-relationship orientation. As the group further matures, the leader can decrease both types of orientation: task-orientation first, since with moderately mature groups a high-relationship/low-task style works best. Finally with a fully mature group, a low-relationship/low-task orientation is appropriate. Thus, an effective leader needs to demonstrate four different leadership styles during the group's developmental process: telling, selling, participating and delegating.

1. Telling entails providing a task orientation with a clear explanation at the beginning of group life.

2. Selling entails convincing students that the tasks are helpful for their learning. However, as the best sales-people know, convincing is a relationship business and improving relationships among the class members is probably one of the best ways to increase the value of the activities in the classroom.

3. Participating means allowing students to interact with the material and each other rather than merely listening to the teacher, giving them lots of time on task.

4. Delegating entails letting students in on the process of choosing and directing activities. This is when teachers get to learn a lot from their students.

6.5 A synthesis of the different approaches

The approaches described above come from very different sources: Lewin and his colleagues' distinction of three leadership styles from social psychology; Rogers and Heron's notions of the facilitator from humanistic psychology; and Hersey and Blanchard's situational model from organisational (i.e. work) psychology. Yet, the different perspectives complement each other and we can draw the following general principles from them:

* At the beginning of a group's life students work best if they have detailed guidance from the teacher. This 'controlling' approach resembles to some extent Lewin and his colleagues' 'autocratic' leadership style.

* The controlling approach produces short-term results: productivity and a well-ordered classroom. However, it is not desirable in the long run as it blocks group development and keeps the relationships in the group cool.

* With the maturation of the group, the group-conscious teacher should consciously loosen the grip and rely more on the group's resources. This process is safeguarded by the teacher's increasing rapport with and trust in the students that emerge as a function of the empathy, acceptance and congruence displayed. The result is a more 'democratic' teaching style that involves delegating as many task-management roles to the learners as possible.

* When the group matures and is ready to acquire more interpersonal and group skills, the teacher should further decrease his/her active presence in the group, reaching what might seem a 'laissez-faire' leadership style - but of course, this is a well-prepared withdrawal of the scaffolding rather than an abandonment of leadership responsibilities.

*In sum: a group-conscious teaching style involves an increasing encouragement of and reliance on the group's own resources and the active facilitation of autonomous learning that is in accordance with the maturity level of the group.

REFERENCES available on request.