Observing a peer – with Rebecca Jackson from the School of Languages.
I observed Rebecca my collegue on the PGCAP for one of her linguistics sessions. Her session lasted one hour and was delivered to ten eager students. The session began an hour before I arrived led by a lecturer in Linguistics who supplied some quite complex looking language formulas, I didnt even know you could have formula for language! Then Becky took over for the remaining hour.
My post-meeting with Rebecca generated lots of interesting debate about learning and this is one of the major benefits of partaking in peer observations. The first thing that struck me in the session was the pleasant atmosphere of the classroom as Rebecca and the learners exchanged pleasantaries and banter. There was a clear high level of respect by the two parties. Rebecca began the session by introducing the Intended learning outcomes then continued the powerpoint presentation into the instructions for the task, she then divided the 10 students up into two action groups to set about the Problem Based Learning (PBL) task. She elected one chair person to lead each group and in our meeting she explained that this was a way to help the less confident member of the group take a more pro-active role, the selected student’s comment was interesting as he was elected ‘I will try’. I think this is a good tactic to help the less confident group members but it needs to be managed by the tutor if one of the other group members is becoming to dominant. Also I think it would have help to explain what the role of a chair-person is and discussed this quickly with the group. A female member of the group did take control away from the male chair but he was still a very active member of the group. This group activity did show value when certain students asked other group members questions about their uncertainties about the topic, this is a very constructive dynamic when students help each other to learn. The role of the teacher or facilitator -which I think works better for PBL scenarios – is to ensure group dynamics function in fluid, constructive way which benefits all participants. What else can be done to enable more effective communication and collaboration? The more I question the effectivness of student groups the more I realise that before any group work is conducted (at the start of the course) there should be a session how to work effectively in groups. Moon (2009) is a good start point for teacher’s and learner’s. She suggests a framework to sessions but also suggests how group members can be ‘academically assertive’ to produce a group that works and respects each other. She spends time framing and analysing what ‘assertiveness’ is, and how it can be balanced in ones own being to make a person more effective and productive in life. It is clear that this is a key life skill and something we would want our learners to appreciate and would fit very well into transferable skills that are growing within University education. Moon uses the stronger word ‘assertive’ in her quest to make groups work whilst Race (2009 -) acknowledges followers are as important as leaders, he suggest’s ‘no amount of leadership can work on its own, without a substancial investment in ‘followship’ by those who don’t happen to be leading at the time’.
So in short ‘the students would conduct a PBL task on what it means to be an effective group and an assertive group member’, then use these new found skills in more subject based PBL tasks.
It is clear from the text and my observations that group work tend’s to work better in short task’s up to a day long, anything more than this can cause team separation and breakdown. But there is nothing to say that group session’s can’t be built on top of each other, rather like building blocks. In my practice I sometimes have groups working together for many weeks which causes many other problems such as attendance, punctuality, and differing expectations. I think teacher management of the group has to be very responsive and regular. How could this be done? Connecting with the students more through digital networks and setting of regular group targets. I have ‘today’ made what I would consider to be a big step forward in my ‘connectiveness’ with students. After helping then generate an e-portfolio platform using wordpress I have made my first digitally networked conversations with them. I feel this is a big step forward but am now frustrated that it is becoming towards the end of the academic year. I would hope to continue to connect with them over the summer months to help me embed this workflow into my practice in anticipation of next year.
Rebecca used a subtle strategy to extend the time limits of her session and this was to not give the answer at the end of the session but to promise it would be communicated to them in a few days time. This would have urged the ‘deeper’ learners of the group to continue to find the answer before it was given to them by Rebecca. Or would it? I would be interested to get Rebecca’s opinion on how this went? Should the answer have been given at the end of the session? Did the students think ‘well I won’t bother trying to find the answer because Rebecca is going to give it me anyway’? Was the session to ambitious in what could be done in the hour? Peterson (2012) mentions various ways to ‘inspire students to have emotional involvement with their subject’ that will extend beyond the boundaries of the classroom, one being ‘creating a mystery to arouse your student’s curiosity’ (online). I think Rebecca does have elements of this in her scenario and think we must all ‘create mystery’ in other ways and I think we would find that this is a nice addition to out teaching toolbox. I have recently created mystery before a session happened by telling the students that something big was happening on the following Monday which had them guessing what there next project could possibly be. I will not let you the reader wait so long as I made the students wait and I will reveal the mystery to you now, go on admit it you can’t wait can you! We borrowed a large truck/sleeper cab and placed it in our car park for them to climb, analyse then respond to this with new design proposals. (more about this project can be found by doing a tag search on ‘truck’). Mystery does create anticipation and I think this helps with the staff/student relationship.
Moon, J. (2009) Making Groups Work: improving group work through the principles of academic assertiveness in higher education and professional development, Bristol: Higher Education Academy.
Race, P. (2009) The Lecturer’s Toolkit: A practical guide to assesment, learning and teaching. (3rd ed.). Oxon: Routledge.
Peterson, C. (2012) Teaching with Emotion: Approaches Across the Disciplines -SUCCESS in Teaching, Part 5, 5 March, available at http://uminntilt.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/teaching-with-emotion-approaches-across-the-disciplines-success-in-teaching-part-5/ [accessed 19 May 2012]