I asked Chrissi to feedback on the following aspects of my lesson: 1) how do I interact with the class, and 2) how possibly could I make the session more interesting. We were covering introduction to DML and DDL parts of the SQL language. This material is quite complicated, so I was prepared to spend quite some time covering it. And yet it went even worse than I expected. When we discussed the observed lesson afterwards, Chrissi gave the first hint: I could have used group work for students to research the same material, instead of me explaining everything. I could have set a time constraint and given three tasks to do, with the first one being compulsory, second one being desirable and the last one optional. Given that I struggled to deliver this material, I decided to research further on this idea and see how my session could benefit from this technique for that particular session. I found an interesting suggestion in Biggs and Tang’s (2007) book. In it the authors talk about students being actively engaged into their own learning by ‘teaching’ each other in the context of small discussion groups which are then reunited for a lecture class and points that students could not have worked out by themselves (or were confused about) are addressed and clarified by the lecturer. Biggs and Tang quote a discussion between the students and the lecturer in relation to this topic:
“S Wouldn’t it be better if we had discussion groups of students teaching the same subjects as we do? Then we can share experiences on similar problems.
T Certainly. I thought you’d want that. I’ve already booked the room next door. You can meet there.
S But we’ll need direct teaching on some things. Won’t you lecture us?
T Yes, but only when that’s suitable. There’s a topic for each session, I’ll give you some pre-reading, just a few pages, before each session with some written answers needed. I’ll then meet half the class at a time, while the other half is having a discussion group. We can clarify each topic in the lecture, as necessary.” (Biggs and Tang, 2007, p.56)
This approach would allow reaching several goals. First of all, students would be actively engaged in the session [UKPSF, A4: Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance] rather than sitting passively and trying to answer all my questions. Second, even those students who are usually shy (or not as brave as the others) would get perfect opportunity to involve actively and show their knowledge. Third, this would give a chance to the most able students to get involved too. Usually, they simply answer my questions thinking “yeah, yeah, I know that” and maybe even wondering what they are doing in that particular class. In the group work environment they would get involved as they would be challenged [UKPSF, K2: Appropriate methods for teaching and learning in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme] to find answers to all three questions. Ramsden (1992) in his book, also highlights necessity to address not only a problem of teaching students in modern large classes but also a problem of teaching students with wide range of academic abilities within those classes. The author says: “Today’s lecturers are expected to deal with an unprecedentedly broad spectrum of student ability and background. […] As a result, courses and teaching methods must be amended to deal with classes that are now not only larger, but also more mixed in their attainments” (Ramsden, 1992: p.2).
The next thing Chrissi noticed was that some of my comments may have looked interrogating. I have never thought about the way how my comments could be perceived by learners who are at the different level of skills and knowledge. I think that recording my own sessions over some period of time may help to address this issue. This is important because this is live feedback on students’ progress, and if they do not feel positive after attempting a difficult question, they may not want to participate in the discussion again, and even not to turn up to that class again.
Finally, the last important point was made about the general environment. In that particular class, there was no feeling of group spirit. Students sat on their own, in their own shell. Social aspects are important in the learning process and this is was missing on that day. Students did not feel comfortable in that environment, they did not feel like the one class. All of this together could be looked at as missed opportunities for them to get positive feeling from the learning process. I have consulted some literature on this topic and have found out that one of the influential factors in ensuring effective and successful student participation, collaboration and social integrity in the classroom during group work is a TYPE of group work that students are asked to do. Edythe Johnson Holubec (online resource) talks about Positive Interdependence; she states: “Positive Interdependence is what distinguishes a cooperative learning group from a casually connected group. This aspect is intentionally planned so that all members must participate in order for the task to be completed. It is the “glue” that holds the members together”. So it is not group work alone that can ensure students’ engagement and social collaboration it is also a unique goal that they have to accomplish by the end of the task, and this goal can only be accomplished as a group effort, i.e. every student needs to contribute to the task in order to fulfill it. I know one good way of doing so – by setting micro-tasks (according to each student’s ability) within the group so that all students are engaged. Johnson & Johnson (2000) state that there are several different types of positive interdependence that are evident in effective learning groups. These are: positive goal interdependence, positive resource interdependence, positive role interdependence and positive identity interdependence. I will try to ensure that these are present in my future group work activities.
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8th January 2013
Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University (3rd edition). Berkshire, England: Open University Press / McGraw-Hill Education.
Ramsden, P. (1992) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge.
Johnson, D. W., and Johnson, R. T. (2000). Joining together: Group theory and group skills.. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Edythe Johnson Holubec. Social Aspects of Learning and CSCL [online] Available at <http://ows.edb.utexas.edu/site/computer-supported-collaborative-learning-2011/6-social-aspects-learning-cscl > [Accessed 7 Jan 2013]
The Higher Education Academy, 2012. UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). [online] Available at: <http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf > [Accessed 17 November 2012].