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Group processes

In addition to thinking about the impact the size of a group can have on learning, it is also useful to think about some group processes. Many useful books and resources are available about group dynamics and process (see Further reading section) and so we will not go into detail here. However, a traditional (but still useful) way of thinking about the processes through which a group goes when carrying out a task is Tuckman’s (1965) framework:

Source: http://www.infed.org/thinkers/tuckman.htm

 

Forming

This is when a group comes together for the first time. The teacher can help by facilitating introductions, using ice-breaking tasks, and explaining the tasks and purpose of the group.

Norming

 

The group begins to share ideas, thoughts and beliefs, and to develop shared norms (group rules). The teacher can help by clarifying ideas and ground rules, encouraging more reticent people to participate and moving the group towards its purpose.

Storming

 

This stage is when the group is actively trying to carry out a task and there may be conflict between one or more group members as the group sorts itself out and becomes more functional. The teacher can help by clarifying and reflecting ideas, smoothing over and moderating conflicts and acting as a go-between between members.

Performing

This is when the group focuses on the activity and starts to work together as a team to perform the set tasks. The teacher’s role is to keep the group focused and to encourage and facilitate as necessary.

 

We might also add some final stages, such as ‘adjourning’ or, in the case of a group that has successfully worked together, ‘mourning’. Groups that have worked together for some time (such as students on a postgraduate advanced practice degree course or clinical skills lab group) will often look back over what they have achieved, how people have contributed, on what they have learned and on things that could have been done better,

Groups can loop back into the norming or storming stages, especially if there are some personality clashes in the group or difficulties with learning or understanding the tasks. The tutor needs to keep an eye on process as well as task or outputs and intervene if necessary. ‘Being a democratic discussion leader involves making the right sorts of nudges and interventions. The role can be made a lot less demanding by using more structure and less intervention in the group process’ (Jacques, 2003, p. 19).

So, let us go on to look at different ways that small group teaching sessions might be structured to enable effective group working.

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