Creative Discussion using Plain Pair Groups

Creative Discussion – a key to insight and change

William Plain
Emeritus Professor, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Plain Pair Group Teaching (Plain PGT)
- for universities and schools
Plain Pair Group Discussion (Plain PGD)
- for decision making and staff development
- for informal or community creative discussion

A flash of insight is the spark of cosmic intelligence.
Small group sharing of insight can change the pattern of human intelligence.

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A rationale for groups

In choice of method and materials as well as approach to teaching, the teacher carries a hidden background of beliefs and assumptions that leads him to choose, or accept, certain modes of teaching. It is important therefore that each teacher attempts to become conscious of some of the basic principles behind an ongoing choice of methods and materials.

In my opinion, it is important that the learning experiences available to the student not be limited to learning only about a certain subject or developing a specific skill, in this case language use. It is also important that the student develops his learning skills as such, and in particular that he develops a capacity for independent learning and for deciding to make use of learning opportunities. He has to become conscious of the fact that he is an active participant in the learning process and that learning, especially at university level, cannot be equated simply with being fed information by the teacher.

The needs of the student are much longer term than the simple duration of the class that the teacher is preparing. The student needs to acquire a consciousness of the learning process which will help him to continue learning, by himself, far into the future. He will be helped towards this goal if he is able to discover the use of the target language for himself, and often by himself. It will also be helpful for him to discover something about his own inner processes while he is discovering aspects of his learning. Finally, teaching English to students with a long and largely passive background in English study means that most classes can profitably be oriented towards the activation of knowledge already acquired, rather than towards the acquiring of new knowledge.

In language teaching, the choice of methodology is also influenced by the student’s school background. It would appear from an examination of the Japanese school system that the Japanese student has had a long training in the development of a ‘group spirit’, of belonging to and working in a peer group. This may sometimes limit his capacity for individual learning, but it has also given him the capacity to learn efficiently in a group, and to make use of the group to test out his knowledge. As a result, he will tend to exercise a sense of responsibility to the group by helping other members of the group to perform better. He will also do as well as he can himself out of a sense of duty to his colleagues within the group.

Belonging to a group then that is a permanent group, not the ephemeral one-activity-only type of group often used in EFL, can provide a supportive framework which allows for enhanced learning and peer teaching. I therefore believe that this constant in Japanese society and schooling represents a strength that can be capitalised on, and that it can provide the basis for developing a capacity for active communication in English classes with large numbers of students — in other words, the typical undergraduate English language classroom.

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© William Plain  1990-2016 (print) 2005 - 2016 (website)