Communication and Work in Groups
For this review I have opted to study a group of learners of which I am a part, namely the afternoon session of the FENTO Level 4 Literacy course. I have two reasons for making this decision, firstly since the start of the PGCE (FE) programme all of my teaching experience has been on a one to one basis (thus limiting my options considerably), and secondly I feel that I have a different perspective of the sessions as a learner within them, both with regards to the other learners’ responses to the methods and approaches used and also my own changing views and understanding as the PGCE (FE) programme progresses.
In this review I intend to compare and contrast the approaches of the two teachers currently teaching the course, outline the effect each of these approaches appears to have on the learners and the group dynamic and finally I will examine how my own views have changed since the start of the course. At this point I feel that it is appropriate to provide an overview of the composition of the group and the general context of the teaching. The sessions last three hours and take place once a week.
There are currently two modules being taught (language ; literacy frameworks and personal skills) with each module having it’s own teacher and being taught on alternate weeks. The group itself consists of 23 learners, approximately half of whom are also studying on the PGCE (FE) programme with the remainder being basic skills practitioners. As such the group has a very diverse mix of age, experiences and qualifications, indeed several members of the group have never before studied at this level.
Given this, it is very easy to see that choosing an approach or method to use with the group could be very problematic. Having said that I recognise that this is likely to be the case with any group of learners and agree with the view that learners play a great role in the learning experience and that due to differences in experience, personality and ability (amongst other things) no two students are likely to respond in the Kirsty Harding
same way to the same approach (Joyce, Calhoun and Hopkins 1997:14)1. With this in mind the group is particularly interesting to study as the two teachers have opted for very different approaches, which have had starkly opposing effects on the learners. In the following section I will outline the approaches and methods employed by teacher A (language and literacy frameworks) and then compare and contrast this with those employed by teacher B (personal skills).
Teacher A essentially uses the same approach and methods for every session. The sessions are highly structured and the same structure is applied in all sessions with little modification. The methods employed by the teacher are predominantly didactic; each session consists of a lecture accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation (a copy of which is given to each student at the beginning of the session) with no deviation from the order or structure provided by the PowerPoint slides.
The lecture is interspersed with paper exercises based upon what the teacher has just covered which can be completed individually or in small groups and answers are then given for each exercise. Some discussion is encouraged but this is largely limited to discovering why students may not have arrived at the ‘right’ answer as a great deal of emphasis is placed upon getting the answers right.
The teacher displays a leaning towards a cognitivistic approach and the analogy used by Kramlinger and Huberty of ‘the full pail of the wise teacher pouring its contents into the empty pail of the less informed learner’ (1990:42)2 certainly rings true as the teacher is imparting knowledge she possesses and we don’t. Further evidence of this is the fact that the learners’ knowledge is ‘tested’ periodically in each session by way of exercises that have ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers and again Kramlinger and Huberty, in their article Behaviourism Versus Humanism
Kirsty Harding (1990:43), point to the use of tests as being a predominantly cognitivistic method. 3 As with teacher A, teacher B often uses the same methods and approach in every session. However, the sessions are far less structured in nature and are often highly unpredictable. Whilst didactic methods are occasionally used, in the form of ‘miny’ lectures, such lectures are unstructured and are often the unplanned result of classroom discussion.
There is a great deal of emphasis placed upon discussion, both in small groups and as a whole group, and these discussions are often based around a set reading exercise or similar text based exercise such as editing a piece of text. The exercises that are set in sessions differ substantially from those set by teacher A in that there is rarely a ‘right’ answer, the focus is essentially upon what the learners think about the task in regards to how easy or how difficult they have found it and how it could relate to their own learners experiences.
The approach favoured by teacher B is far more difficult to categorise. There are some cognitivistic elements apparent in the short lectures given but these are certainly overshadowed by the humanistic elements present. Knowledge is built up through a mixture of lecture and discussion with the teacher largely acting as a facilitator. The most obvious humanistic element is the emphasis upon self-assessment and the learners’ drawing their own conclusions based upon their own experiences and insights ‘….
like drawing water from a well’ (Kramlinger and Huberty 1990:42). 4 The two approaches provide vastly differing experiences. On the one hand sessions taken by teacher A are very much teacher centred and require the learners to adopt a passive role in the learning experience and on the other hand there is a more student centred approach from teacher B in which the learners are encouraged, and indeed expected, to assume a far more active role in their own learning. However, whilst the two teachers provide