Critically evaluate your roles in groups, with particular focus

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The value of groups has long been recognised in adult and community education, self-help, personal, social and cultural development. This essay will attempt to analyse the implication of groupwork in adult and community education and my roles in groups, and what I have learnt in this module. Attempt will also be made to analyse key themes and concepts and ideas that inform the theory and practice of groupwork such as groups situations, its development, processes, dynamics, and groupwork facilitation, its pros and cons, its approach and methodology. Groups and Context

In our social world the term group usually refers to a number of individuals gathered, located or interacting together. The reason for this gathering and formation vary and is relative to purpose/agenda, which in turn determines the composition, size, and type. Different types of groups exist such as, a group of blood relatives (family), peer group, business or work group, therapy group, community group or educational group, etc. They all vary in size (big or small), composition (homogenous or heterogeneous) and purpose/agenda (aims and objectives). Size matters in any group.

When a group size tend to be big depending on group’s task, groupwork practitioners adopt various strategies such as, breaking participants into smaller mini groups to avoid chaos or poor activity/task performance. The composition of any group differs but could have similarity or commonality of themes and this depends on the agenda or purpose/intention for group formation, which in turn determines the type and vice versa. It is also important to note that groups are relative to contexts, such as society, culture, environment, socio-political and socio-economic factors.

Our social world has always recognised the value of groups as in families, communities, schools, and so on. This essay will pay particular attention to group situations in adult and community education, its implications and methodology. Groups and Groupwork in Adult and Community Education Usually groups in adult and community education comprise adult learners engaging in educative activities for various reasons and are predominantly associated with complex life histories some of which are pathological. Research has confirmed that majority have unresolved or problematic psychosocial issues, which they bring along to the classroom.

This issue is endemic in adult and community education and have become axiomatic – prompting practitioners to wrestle with strategies, or device effective approach and methodology to address it. But this has never been an easy task for groupwork practitioners because adult education does not have a single coherent theoretical framework and it is a field that is highly complex and controversial with divergent theories, approaches and methodologies (Merriam and Caffarella, 1999), that tend to discriminate between therapeutic and non-therapeutic settings and this have implications for practitioners.

As Connolly (1999) puts it While practitioners are asked to be reflective, the lack of theoretical emphases leaves them without the tools to fully examine their perspectives. That is, the necessity for group work to be practical and applied means that the analysis is conducted without the framework of knowledge (p. 111). It is not only the lack of coherent theoretical framework as Connolly has identified but also, as I have argued elsewhere, that the adult educator (facilitator) is not well trained to handle psychosocial pathological issues that may arise in classrooms.

Many theorists such as, Robertson (1996) argues consistently about the implications both ethical and otherwise for the lack of training the adult educators to deal with these psychosocial pathologies. I argue that this is a very crucial issue in adult learning classes because majority of adult learners have some sort of psychosocial issues, and our goal as educators/facilitators is to bring about effective learning, that is in line with the purpose of adult education being that of empowerment, transformation and change, and this have to do with behavioural and social changes.

I believe no individual can help another solve such problems except he/she is well trained to do so and I will continue to argue this. Lewin (1951) also informs us that behaviours depends on the psychological field, or ‘lifespace’, or that one’s participations in various life spaces (like the family, work, school, church) is determined by the totality of the individual’s situation. Educator’s Attributes Alan Rogers (2002) argues that the “most important attribute for any teacher to develop is sensitivity” (p. 112).

That is being sensitive to various behavioural or personality traits of the group’s members and how it affects the group dynamics and processes and vice versa. The educator/facilitator too is obliged to be sensitive about h/her own personality trait, which to my understanding according to research, suggests that it exerts great influences on group dynamics, development, processes and outcomes. This is why the groupwork module attempts to equip the educator with the necessary facilitation skills and methodology significant in working with groups.

I will like to point out that no single specific attribute is sufficiently most important but rather the overall qualitative nature of personality attributes. Therefore, I support the notion of holistic training of the educators that is inclusive of how to effectively deal with learners’ psychosocial pathologies. This is because the quality of the educator’s personality or behavioural attributes will determine h/her ontological and epistemological underpinning and thus influence his foundational values.

The “Foundational values about learning determine the learning goals and influence the methods that will be selected based on the situationalities of any given learning environment” (Beatty, 2002). Beatty’s concept of “situationalities – knowing when certain methods are likely to achieve desired instructional outcomes based on specific instructional conditions” found currency with Reigeluth’s (1999) “instructional theory” whose key components includes instructional method, condition and outcomes, and are relative to the instructor’s/educator’s foundational values.

The implication of all these prompted Robertson’s (1996) recommendations, and also this is what Connolly (1999) as quoted above attempted to explicate and point out. The aims and objectives of groupwork are also intricately intertwined with the purpose of adult education, which values empowerment, transformational learning and change both individual and social. Therefore, its implication in adult and community education cannot be underestimated or overlooked. Groupwork complements other modules and equips the educator with very crucial and useful strategies in facilitating adult learning classes.

Hence, the essence of groupwork module in adult and community education is an attempt to prepare students (adult educator trainees) to become effective in facilitating a class of adult learners. It also tends to encourage students to work together as a team in order to foster or cultivate in them team or communal spirit and also introduce them to different strategies and methods of working with adult groups. This is why it is more of practical than of theory because it is from practice that experiential learning takes place through the fusion of theory/practice.

Freire (1996) talked about non-dichotomisation of theory and practice that is praxical (cyclical action-reflection-action) and predicated upon authentic dialogue and communication. Lewin (1951) also was so concerned for the integration of theory/practice and thus, consistently stipulated that, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory” (169). Some theorists like Douglas (2000) argues that “No one ever truly learned how to operate in a group situation by reading a book, no matter how good or how well written” (p. 132).

This is because groups are organic and dynamic and thus undergo complex processes that change from time to time, which is relative to contextual factors, and situationalities. Group Dynamic, Development, and Process Group dynamics refer to the way in which the individuals in the groups interact and form a pattern of interaction. This is the most sensitive aspect of groups because it involves behaviour, which is inherently complex. Group dynamics tend to influence group development, which in turn determines how the behavioural pattern of the group changes over time, which is referred to as the processes.

In the preceding paragraphs, I have identified the sensitivity of learners’ life histories and its implications and challenges to the educator. Also equally important is the educator’s own life histories, which I argue remain the most influential to the group’s life cycle or processes. According to Douglas (2000), group processes are patterns which emerge from the interaction between various elements – that is, the characteristics of the members; the constraints under which the group operates; the tasks which it sets itself to perform; and the element of direction which it receives from any leaders it may have (p. 1).

Group development refers to the life-cycle developmental processes of groups or stages groups undergo which have particular characteristic. Many theorists have attempted to delineate these stages. The most popular among them is the Tuckman and Jensen’s (1977) stage model, which has five stages: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. Tuckman suggests that for any group to grow amidst its constraints, able to find solutions to its problems and challenges, and work towards it goals and achieve an outcome, that group must have gone through stages of development as delineated in his theory.

Rogers (2002) informs us that, “Not all groups, nor even all adult classes, pass through all of these stages, though many will” (p. 109). This is because some groups never develop passed some stages, and some even omit stages due to “situationalities” (Beatty, 2002), context, and other factors. Similarly, Peck (1987) in his community building theory delineated four stages of development that community groups undergo: pseudocommunity, chaos, emptiness, and true community. It is therefore, the duty of facilitators (adult educators) to help groups during its stages of development, including conflicts.

Theorists have suggested that practitioners should understand conflict as a normal feature of group life and to interpret conflict not as a mark of personal failure by the group leader but rather that the group has been facilitated in movement through various stages. Or else, the group may undergo what Rogers (2002) referred to as “killing the group”. It has emerged constantly that the biggest issue in groups and groupwork practice is behaviours (good or bad), that is, how individual behaviours affect group situations and how collective behaviours shape the group and also how it affects the individual members and the wider society.

Behaviour is the main precursor of conflicts and presents challenges, diverse problems/difficulties in classrooms, which most inexperienced educators think groupwork module will help them to address. Although the groupwork module through its methodology attempts to help bring meaningful suggestions and practical training that will equip the educator but it does not and cannot address the main issue identified in this essay. Furthermore, group dynamics is an important concept in groupwork as it tends to describe individual/collective behavioural pattern and changes over time.

This is an area that interest practitioners whose works concern perspective transformation and empowerment like in therapies or educational settings. However, “Views differ about the advantages and disadvantages of groups in adult learning” (Rogers, 2002, p. 105). For example, according to Lewin’s (1951) law of change, “It is usually easier to change individuals formed into a group than to change any one of them separately” (p. 228). Many leaders and theorists in adult and community education value highly groupwork – that is, working as a group with a collective agenda, which is usually concerned with change, transformation or empowerment.

The advantages and disadvantages of groupwork Groupwork tend to break the culture of silence and learning in isolation that have alienated adults in their past socialisation, or schooling, which Freire (1996) believes to be associated with the “banking concept”, which is prescriptive and thus, domesticates and maintains the status quo of the learner and the society in general because of lack of critical social inquiry, which is only possible through “public spheres” (Habermas) or through Freire’s collective efforts that adopts “problem-posing concept” as in “consciousness-raising” groups.

I believe this is one of the key objectives of groupwork in adult and community education – that is, to cultivate collective or communal spirit, encouraged through collective critical inquiry such as in problem-posing concept or “ideology critique” (Gramsci), which adult educators are being encouraged to bring about in their classrooms. Through this module we have been introduced to various strategies we can adopt and apply in adult learning classrooms or any group setting.

From this module I have come to understand and learned through the practical activities and tasks solving, the roles I should be playing when participating in groups as a learner or as an educator facilitating adult learning classes. For instance, I have learnt how I can get students to work as a team, by dividing them into sub-groups to tackle specific learning tasks. I have also learnt the importance of creating learning contract, getting feedbacks and evaluating both my performance and the learners. I have also learnt such valuable ideas as the “fish bowel” concept.

Above all I have learnt more through the practical aspects than theoretical by closely monitoring, observing and critiquing how the lecturer was facilitating the class and how she divides our group into sub-groups to engage us in some tasks. For me this is one of my biggest learning so far, one I will always remain very grateful for. People always claim they have been working with groups but you find out that none have been brave enough to put their learners into sub-groupings to undertake a task as a team, so as to build or develop team spirit in them.

This is because they themselves have no practical experiences, and past training or schooling never prepared them. What they had experienced is actually what they bring to their work as adult educators, which research has shown to be incompatible with andragogy (teaching adults), which involves consciousness-raising (Freire, 1996), transformative learning (Mezirow, 1991), and communicative ethics (Habermas, 1984, 1987) or adult education dialogic methodology.

Mezirow (1991) believes that transformative learning, occurs through reflective learning and communicative learning and are predicated upon rational collaborative discourse. My roles in groups vary from time to time depending on the task, instructional method, condition and situation. Sometimes I have taken leadership roles voluntarily and also unintentionally. People bring different potentials to the group and their roles tend to be representative of the individual’s established attributes. I believe my roles are consistent with my attributes.

Just as people come to groups with established behaviours and values, group life, also tend to reshape individual’s attitude because of scrutiny of behaviours by group members, which influences behavioural changes and could be advantageous or disadvantageous, satisfying or dissatisfying. My role in any group I am a member involves questioning any idea, or suggestion that is not critically sound and this consistently creates conflict of interest and discomfort to many who are highly susceptible to “groupthink”.

Janis (1983) defines groupthink as: a mode of thinking people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in- group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgement that results from in-group pressures Conclusion

This essay has consistently shown the importance of qualitative personality trait or attributes and how this can affect or influence adult learning groups. It also recognises the importance of training educators to be able to deal with adult learners’ psychosocial pathologies. Also the implications of groupwork in adult and community education were delineated, key concepts analysed, my roles and what I have learned from this module explicated and analysed.

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