Page 25 - In_at_the_Deep_End_Document
P. 25

2. Some students don’t turn up. This follows on from the problem above, but it makes our job all the more dif cult regarding preparing for a small-group session if we don’t know until the last minute what size group we are likely to be working with.
3. Some students come unprepared. They turn up without having done the pre-reading or preparatory work which we set in advance of the small-group sessions.
4. Some students tend to dominate. It can be tiresome for their group-mates, and we may need to change group membership regularly, so that the dominating students are spread around.
5. Some students are ‘passengers’. In large-group teaching, we can rarely get everyone to participate actively (though we can try), and passengers/lurkers can usually get away with not contributing. In small-group contexts, however, these behaviours become more noticeable, and we need to try all the harder to make sure that small-group learning is active for all present.
6. Students may fall out with each other! Con ict can arise in small-group contexts, particularly when student contributions to the products of the work of a group are assessed, and when contributions have been uneven.
HOW WE CAN SPOIL SMALL-GROUP WORK
Before we look at what we can do to make small-group teaching work well, it is useful to think about some of the things which can get in the way of small-group learning. Later in this section, we’ll return to some of these in more detail in the ‘what can I do when...?’ section, but for now, let’s just list some of the potential problems, starting with dif culties which some students can cause us.
1. Tutors sometimes carry on teaching, rather than keep students working actively. Particularly if the students don’t engage actively, or ask questions, it’s all too easy just to keep the small-group session going by expanding on what we may have covered in lectures, or even add some more content!
2. Tutors can sometimes make students feel uncomfortable. For example, when students turn up but have not done the expected preparation for a small-group session,
it is natural enough to exhort them to greater efforts in future. However, if they respond badly to such pressure, they become more likely simply to skip a future session if they haven’t prepared for it.
3. Tutors sometimes allow domineering students to get away with it, and fail to engage ‘shy violets’. We need to  nd ways of equalising contributions in small-groups, such as using interactive tasks to get everyone to contribute ideas before opening up for discussion.
4. Tutors sometimes fail to make it clear what each small group session is intended to achieve. It is useful to continue the practice used for lectures regarding specifying what students can be expected to achieve in small-group sessions.
5. Some groups can become ‘disadvantaged’. For example, if a particular group gets into detailed discussion of what the assessment standards are, or what would be reasonable exam questions to expect, and other parallel groups do not have this discussion, the latter are disadvantaged. If you do have crucial issues cropping up in one of the parallel sessions, it might be helpful to make your responses available either in the next large group session or on Vision.
SOME WAYS WE CAN HELP STUDENTS TO LEARN WELL IN SMALL-GROUP CONTEXTS
1. Help students to want more strongly to learn. Our best chance to achieve this is through our own passion for the subject - enthusiasm is infectious. We can also make it obvious that we have students’ best interests at heart and want them to succeed. If tutors seem bored with a subject and going through the motions, it is hardly surprising that students will not be excited by it!
2. Help students to take ownership of their need to learn.
We can do this by reminding students of what’s in it for them to succeed with their learning, and helping them to see exactly what they need to become able to do to succeed. This boils down to making it very clear what sort of evidence of achievement they need to be working towards. It also helps if we remind students that this is going to be perfectly manageable for them, and that even the most complex outcomes are achieved one small step at a time.
3. Make sure students understand that learning happens
by doing. Help them to see that very little happens just sitting looking at some materials on-screen or in print, but that learning starts when they engage actively with the materials. Also, help them to see that learning happens one step at a time, and
that even the most dif cult tasks can be broken down into
small steps. When learning from books, articles, or on-screen resources, two useful maxims are “not much learning will happen unless you’ve got a pen in your hand and are using it” - or “you should be annotating on screen materials with your own notes, comments, and questions”. In other words, in small-group sessions, tutors can help students not to ‘drift’, but to make notes, jot down questions, practice answering questions, and so on while working with learning resource materials.
4. Make sure that students get quick and useful in-class live feedback. Help them to assess their own achievements, and to re ect on things they have done successfully, and think quite deliberately of what worked in their learning, and why it worked. Even more importantly, we can help students to learn from their mistakes. If we can help them to see that getting things wrong at  rst is a very productive step along the way
of getting them right, they can gradually become able to look at learning by trial-and-error as a valid and productive way of going about their learning.
5. Help students to make sense of things. Point out the bene ts of collaborative learning here. Help students to  nd out how much they have gotten their own heads round something they have just learned by explaining it to some fellow-students who haven’t yet seen the light, and talking them through it
till they too have made sense of it. It can be important not to allow students to worry too much about ‘not understanding’ something - especially when ‘troublesome knowledge’, dif cult ‘threshold’ concepts or ideas are involved. Sometimes, the understanding will take its own time to dawn. Some things have to be lived with, and worked with for a while before understanding begins to dawn. Indeed, sometimes there’s actually no need to understand something to succeed at assessment with it. All one may be required to do is to use it or apply it, and this may often be done perfectly successfully even without understanding it. In an ideal world it would be good
for everyone to understand everything, but in the real-world students are measured on their demonstration of the evidence of achievement, not necessarily understanding. It can in fact be enormously comforting for students who are struggling for
a tutor to say “don’t worry that you don’t yet understand this - just keep practising with it, and the understanding will come in its own time”.
LEARNING + TEACHING academy | IN AT THE DEEP END 25


































































































   23   24   25   26   27