Learning is the process through which learners acquire and internalize the new concept given to them by their teacher. When assessing the success or failure of a learning approach, one should look at the learner’s own approach towards learning, the kind of motivation or esteem that learning offers them and the values of their social background (Jacques, 1991). Research has shown that students tend to learn better and grasp the content faster when placed in small groups. There are various models of these groups and one of them is informal learning groups which are normally temporary and are normally used just for a specific class session when a question at hand needs to be solved it normally gives the student a chance to apply the content learned as well as get a break from the learning process. Formal groups, on the other hand, are normally established to enable the student to complete a given activity e.g. a lab practical. The groups normally remain valid until the exercise is complete. Study teams are normally permanent groups organized to help the learners acquire learning techniques from other students. At the same time, the learners normally boost each other’s knowledge base; they normally cover a longer period like a semester or an academic year. For the groups to be successful, Gross (2002) suggests that it’s important that the teacher organize each of the groups and inform the students about the criteria that will be used in grading each of their groups, talk to the learners about what they need to have for the groups to succeed, organize activities for each of the groups and explain to the learners that each of them has to be involved for the group to succeed and give the learners assignments that allow each one of them a chance to participate. In addition, the assignments should reflect the learner’s intellectual ability, and the teacher can consider creating completion in the groups and rewarding the best groups (Gross, 2002).
Group work is normally considered as a powerful tool for enhancing both intellectual and social learning among the learners since it helps in instilling problem-solving techniques to the learner; helps in improving language command and proficiency; creates a teamwork spirit in the learners and also help the teacher in class management since it’s easier to handle groups than individuals. The teacher can apply for group work through concerts, which are normally more effective in the beginning stages of learning. This helps the teacher in assessing the learner’s behavior and also instills skills of cooperation and problem-solving in the learners. A teacher can also use pair share dialogues, which enable the teacher to establish how much information the learners have about a given issue. For instance, during the study, the teacher struck a dialogue with the learners and allowed them to talk of their own experiences with regard to the issue being discussed. In addition, conversion circles can be used which are almost the same as the dialogues discussed above, except that they allow a learner to enter into a conversation with more than one person within a short span of time. Conversion circles are important in widening the learner’s perspective and knowledge base. Go around involve forming a circle and then making the students give their perceptions one after the other; this helps in building the learners’ confidence.
Constructive controversy normally involves asking the learners to discuss a controversial issue, enables him/her to gather a lot of information about a given issue. Others include “micro lab, moving opinion poll, fishbowl and the believing game” (Shapiro, n.d).
Constructivism is a theory that suggests that the learner simply takes in what the teacher presents to them but at the same time cooperating with the teacher, creating an understanding of what has already been learned. There are two types of constructivism and these include cognitive constructivism which explains how a learner understands things in terms of development stages and learning styles and social constructivism which explains how learners get meanings from their social encounters (Atherton, 2009).
Vygotsky theory of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) explains that the term Proximal in his theory means next and he, therefore, suggests that when children were given tests on their own, they mostly performed poorly as compared to when they were working with the assistance of an adult (e.g. teacher) and this was because the adult would explain to them how the work should be done; this made them polish there reasoning perform bettering the task or the test (Atherton, 2009).
Vygotsky explains that there are a number of people who interact with the child from the time of birth who have a lot of impact on the child’s cognitive development. He explains that any experience acquired by a child appears both in the social life of the child as well as inside the child i.e. intrapsychological but he also argues that all the higher experiences will be realized when a child interacts with other people. He explains that the improvements that occur during ZDP depend on the child’s interaction with adults or with his peers, thus proposed that intelligence should be measured by looking at what the child is able to do when guided rather than what the child can do alone (Atherton, 2009). According to Vygotsky language development is very important in a child’s development since it provides them with an alternative means of doing things and a chance of putting up words into information. For instance, in my observation, I found that the teacher placed the learners into groups according to their zone of proximal development and this stirred up a lot of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in the learners
Scaffolding is a teaching strategy coined from Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and his concept of ZPD. Scaffolding aims at providing assistance to a learner on an individual basis. In this strategy, a person having more knowledge than the child offers support or scaffolds to aid the learner’s intellectual development by assisting him to get a better understanding of both the old and new knowledge advanced to him. The person giving the assistance, therefore, assists the learner in what he could not have performed on his own and the kind of assistance they give is normally meant to be withdrawn bit by bit as the learner gains an understanding of the concept. The teacher should therefore aim at having the learner being able to perform the task independently. Young children have also been shown to learn better and faster when given scaffolds and this can be done by encouraging the child to perform those activities that interest them, providing the child with guidelines and giving the child a task that is of their level of abilities also important that the expected results are made clear to the learner. Scaffolding can also be effectively used by the teacher groping the learners into groups and allowing them to help each other find solutions to the problems given to them, though the teacher still gives assistance to the learners.
Vygotsky, therefore, explains that the interaction of the children and others who are more intelligent than them, and the surroundings have a bigger impact on the way the children reason due to their experiences. He also suggested that the teacher should apply scaffolding at the ZPD especially when teaching concepts that are slightly above the learner’s level of capability.
Scaffolding is important to instruction because it allows learner’s participation; it also enables the student to increase their knowledge base on the content previously taught; it normally provides motivation for learning as well as boosting the learner’s self-esteem. It also allows for the individualized handling of learners, though this is never time effective. Scaffolding may be advantageous where the teacher assumes/ignores the mistakes made by the learners.
Questioning is a teaching technique that involves presenting questions to the learners so as to assess whether the content has been understood by the learners or not. The right question gives the desired answers and it’s therefore important that the teacher ensures that he or she asks the questions properly. The three types of questions are factual, interpretive and evaluative questions. Factual questions are those having only one answer, interpretive questions are those with more than one answer though each of them has to be supported. Interpretive questions tend to ask for one’s argument. Proper questioning involves asking those questions that allow learners to express their thoughts; encourage the involvement of all the learners and encourage further discussion (Morino Institute, 2001). In my observation, I found out that the teacher asked questions related to the problem at hand and using cultural stance the teacher probed deeper so as to assess the learner’s understanding of the lesson.
In day-to-day life, a number of problems have been solved using group work and this is evidenced by the use of meetings and discussions by organizations to gather and share ideas concerning a given issue. Group work is a very essential tool in finding solutions to given problems and has to be effectively used if at all any favorable results are to be expected from it. For a problem to be solved using group work it is important that a number of things are taken into consideration such as a problem at hand should be one that can be looked at from many perspectives; it should also be one that the information about it can be found in varied places; it should also be one that is complicated and require varied solutions; should be one in which its solution may demand an agreement with the members before presentations.
Group work is important as a teaching tool in that it encourages learners’ participation in class activities thereby building the learners confidence; it helps in doing away with bias that come with personal opinion; it also encourages exchange and sharing of ideas about the issue to be solved; it also results in great results being achieved; it enhances improvement in the learner’s communication and it also enables the learners to come up with the best solution to the problem (Hadler, 2005:45)
Group work, though being a very important tool of instruction has a lot of undesirable results: Decision making takes a long time making it time inefficient; it also encourages unhealthy competition between the learners where each of them wishes to have their suggestions considered; there is also a tendency to have the members of a group trying to conform to a given idea shared in the group instead of having their own opinion; and finally most of the groups tend to have no sense of direction at times as a result of the difficulty in managing the large numbers (Hadler, 2005:45).
Group work is a very important tool that every instructor should consider using in his/her lessons. The groups may be in the form of two or even larger numbers depending on the problem to be solved. With the use of Vygotsky’s theory of Zone of Proximal Development, scaffolding and questioning, the teacher can be able to be effectively involved in the class by giving support or scaffolds to the learners, organizing the learners into groups and questioning them on the content previously learned or being taught to gauge their understanding of the subject matter. All these can be used effectively together to enhance proper learning. The teacher can therefore enhance active learner’s participation by using Vygotsky’s theory by assisting the learners in doing the tasks until they reach a level of independence in performing the tasks and solving problems.
Atherton, J.S. (2009) Learning and Teaching; Constructivism in learning. (Online). Web.
Hadler, G. (2005) Solving Problems using a group – advantages and disadvantages. (Online). 2009. Web.
Gross, D. B. (2002) Collaborative Learning: Group Work and Study Teams. (Online). 2009. Web.
Jacques, D. (1991). Learning in groups: a handbook for improving group work. 2nd Edition. New York, Taylor and Francis Group LLC.
Morino Institute (2001) The Art of Asking Good Questions: The Key to Engaging Students in Learning. (Online). 2009. Web.
Shapiro, A. (N.d) Engaging your class through Group work. (Online). 2009. Web.
Van Der Stuyf, R. R. (2002) Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy. (Online). 2009. Web.