Monday, March 30, 2009

Topic: Working Successfully in Small Groups (1)

Topic. Working Successfully in Small Groups: Maintenance Roles. (1)

Secondary School

10-second review: Describes the roles played by various personalities in making groups work successfully or keeping groups from working. In this blog, I will describe “Maintenance Roles.”

Title: “Small-Group Discussions.” Raymond Stopper. Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris. 2004.

My experience with working in small groups as a student in graduate courses has been that it is a complete waste of time. Usually, “getting into small groups” meant “BS-ing” about irrelevant topics, and group projects usually became the responsibility of one or two people to complete the project. However, in the real world, group projects involve a variety of talents in producing results that could probably not be attained by any one individual. Teaching students how to work in groups needs to be taken seriously.

English teachers have the responsibility to train students in the skills and attitudes needed to participate successfully in small group discussions and projects. They need to teach students how to moderate a discussion and how to act as leaders in projects, how to take notes for later reporting to the larger group and how to analyze the roles of various participants in order to learn what helps a group to achieve its goals and what prevents a group from achieving its goals. As usual, the teachers’ performing these tasks as they work with the students provides models to follow.

David M. Litsey (“Small Group Training and the English Classroom.” English Journal, September 1969, pp. 920-927. Copyright, 1969 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission) suggests 18 roles that people can play in a group enterprise. He divides these roles into three categories: “Maintenance Roles,” “Task Roles” and “Self-Serving Roles.”

Maintenance Roles
1. Encouraging: Being warm and responsive to others; accepting the contributions of others; giving others an opportunity for recognition.

2. Expressing Group Feelings: Sensing feeling and mood, or relationships within the group, and sharing one’s own feelings with other members.

3. Harmonizing: Attempting to reconcile differences and reduce tension by giving people a chance to explore their differences.

4. Compromising. When one’s own ideas or status is involved in a conflict, offering to compromise, admitting error, disciplining oneself to maintain group cohesions.

5. Gate-keeping. Keeping communication channels open and facilitating the participation of others.

6. Setting Standards: Expressing standards for the group to achieve; applying standards in evaluating group function and production.

Probably a good idea to take time to let students explore the implications of each of these roles. They need to describe each role in their own words. Also try to help students reduce the explanation for each role to a few, clear key words.

Tomorrow: Task Roles and Self-serving Roles.

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