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4. Fives: here there is the ‘casting vote’ opportunity. The group is now getting just about large enough for the odd ‘passenger’ or ‘bystander’ to get away without contributing much to the work of the group. This for many is the ideal size to maximise engagement and build a critical mass
5. Sixes and more: researchers suggest that the larger the group, the more likely it is that students  nd it easy to be inactive and let others take the strain. Sixes and sevens can be manageable with close monitoring but groups much larger than that rarely work well.
SOME WAYS TO HELP YOUR STUDENTS TO GET THE
MOST OUT OF SMALL-GROUP SESSIONS
• Help your students to become ready for assessment. This is the sharp end of small group teaching, not least because most forms of assessment involve winners and losers - and it
is very uncomfortable to be less successful than your peers. Perhaps the most important attribute of excellent tutors is
the ability to be felt by students to be ‘on their side’ in the assessment battle. Even when tutors are going to be doing the assessment themselves, it is really helpful for students to feel that everything possible is being done by their tutors to maximise their chances of succeeding at the assessment hurdle.
• Preparing for assessment should not degenerate into the ‘guess what is in the tutor’s mind’ game - there should be no guesswork involved, students should have a clear idea of what’s in their tutors’ minds. In particular, it helps when tutors strive to help students to make sense of what they have learned, so that they feel they have ‘digested’ the information involved, and turned it into their own knowledge, and have
a sense of ownership of their achievement well before the
time when they are required to demonstrate evidence of their achievement of the learning outcomes.
• Negotiate agreements with your small-group students.
The main advantage of learning agreements is that they help students to take ownership of the need to learn, and that because it is an agreement they feel they have played a part in working out the timescales involved, and deciding what to learn, and how best to go about learning it, and at what level the learning needs to take place. The best way of making it feel like an agreement to students is to ensure that they see that their tutors have their own parts to play in bringing the agreement to fruition.
• Help students to make sense of their learning goals. In particular, clarify exactly what is meant by the intended learning outcomes. The problem with such outcomes is that they are often written in a language alien to students - ‘academese’!
It is all very well to use phrases such as ‘demonstrate your understanding of...’ but students need to know exactly how they are expected in due course to do this. They need to know what the evidence will look like when they have ‘understood’ something to the level required. They need to know what the standards are that will be applied to this evidence. They need to understand the contexts in which this evidence will be generated - whether it is exams, coursework, practical work, independent work and so on. Small-group contexts are ideal for helping your students to  nd out exactly what the intended learning outcomes mean in practice.
• Help students to see the importance of becoming better at learning. Academic literacy skills are important, not just
in the context of helping students work their way towards succeeding in their present studies, but for life in general. Students will continue to need to learn new things far beyond
the years when they are involved in formal study, and the better they become at being able to take on new learning targets, and work systematically and purposefully towards achieving these targets, the better the quality of their future lives. Even when an element of learning has proved unsuccessful, there are usually useful study skills lessons to be gained from the experience. There are a range of study skill guides, workshops and support available for your students to access: https://isguides.hw.ac.uk/academicstudyskills
• Such skills cannot be directly ‘taught’- they are (like
just about everything else) picked up by doing, practice,
trial and error, and experience. Tutors can use small-group learning contexts to help by setting up practice opportunities, responding to the trial and error, and helping students to learn productively from each other’s experience.
• Help students to manage their time. Time-management is not only an essential study skill - it is a life skill. Probably the most important single element of time-management is ‘getting started’ on each task - if something isn’t started it will never
get  nished! Therefore, tutors in small-group contexts can help students to get their learning underway by pointing out that human nature is to  nd ‘work avoidance tactics’ which delay getting started, but that once recognised as such it is perfectly possible to counteract them. A task that has only been started for  ve minutes is much more likely to be completed than a task which has not yet been started. Therefore, tutors can help by making sure that students make a start on key tasks in face-to- face contact time, even if only for those vital minutes which will allow students to go away and continue them in their own time and at their own speed.
• Help students to balance their efforts. An important addition to good time-management is good task-management. In other words, you can help students to prioritise their tasks. This involves making sure that the important ones get done, and the less-important ones aren’t given too much time. Tutors can help students in working out what exactly are the most important tasks, and putting these at the top of the agenda. Tutors can also help by advising on sensible limits for the important tasks, so that they don’t just swallow up all of students’ available time and energy, and leave other important tasks un-started. It can be better to do an hour’s worth on each of three tasks than to spend all three hours on one task, especially if all three tasks contribute to the assessment agenda.
• Help students to identify questions, and seek the answers to these questions. ‘If I knew what the exam questions were going to be, I could easily prepare for the exam’ many students say. But they can know what the questions are going to be. ‘Any important piece of information can simply
be regarded as the answer to a question’ is a useful way of helping students to think in terms of questions rather than information. Once they know what a question is, they can  nd out the answer in any of the following ways: Look it up in a book or journal article using library databases and Heriot-Watt’s Discovery tool (https://discovery.hw.ac.uk/) to locate reliable sources;
+ Ask other students and see if they know the answer;
+ Ask other people altogether;
+ Ask an expert witness - for example you or a partner or employer.
Encourage students to make question banks of their own. In other words, get them to jot down all the questions which they might later need to be able to answer, to demonstrate their learning. It is really useful to start with the intended learning
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