Who are they talking to?

I realized that I wrote about classroom management on this blog only once (but have been thinking about managing large and small groups of students and participants a lot)

Today I read a comment to my recent post about managing/running feedback sessions on a training course, and the question from Linda-Marie made me get back to the topic of working with groups.

The original question was:

Who are participants talking to during a feedback session: the trainer, the teacher who taught, everyone in the group? How might the choice impact participant learning?

The part that inspired me to write this post:

I’m thinking I’d like to find a way to make the same energy change during workshops, when I’m eliciting from individuals or groups after a think-pair/group-share. How can I set it up so that they address their peers and not me? That’s something to reflect on. And I’d love to know how others do it.

This is one of the questions that (to me) address how teacher and trainer skill sets are linked and inter-connected. As a teacher, I firmly believe in having student-centered classes and do my best to encourage students to speak to each other, not me. (wrote a short post about it last year on ptec site)

Can I transfer this skill into the training sessions I run? Absolutely yes. Some reasons for doing so would be to model student-centered classroom, to step back and listen to the participants’ needs and questions, to shift the focus ‘off’ the trainer and let participants to learn from each other, to establish peer community. One (almost obvious!) reason is that the training course will be over but the relationships formed might last for years after the course, on personal and professional levels. Those group discussions and tasks might be the time they are born!

Lions in Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

Lions in Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

One of my favorite articles I have been referring to for years was written by Amanda Gamble and is called ‘Alternatives to whole class feedback’. It is about teacher and students dynamics, but I found it helpful for any training session in general.

Some of the simple things I have also tried are:

  • making sure the seating arrangement allows students/participants to face each other while talking
  • explicitly ask students/participants who they will be talking to (not me as their teacher/trainer)
  • stepping away/aside from sight (becoming literally ‘invisible’ for the group); one example I saw my colleague doing was sitting on the floor so that no-one saw him in class!
  • turning calm music on and write the time of group work on the board asking students/participants not to turn to me during those 10-15 minutes but write the questions on a poster for future clarifications
  • leaving the room and observing/listening through the open door
  • [in the groups whose L1 I don’t speak]: asking the students/participants to discuss the questions in their L1 and be ready to ask 2-3 questions to me, in English
  • [in the room where there is a whiteboard on the wheels]: writing down notes/questions on the other side of the board while the (small) groups are working

This helps me turn the group work — both in small groups and in larger groups — into a stage where less depends on me as a ‘body of knowledge and authority’ and makes the shorter open-class feedback more productive by only focusing on the questions everyone needed the answers for, or a lot of people disagreed about.

What else can be done? What are your some ‘tricks’ you can share?

Thank you for reading 🙂

About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Who are they talking to?

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    Dear Zhenya,

    Just a quick note on what I do to divert my students’ attention from my ‘omnipresence’: I sometimes explicitly say that I’m not going to react (speak) for as long as their group conversation goes on. It usually takes them a couple of minutes before they finally stop looking at me when reacting to a peer’s comment. As you implied, it’s good to change the environment a bit, i.e. withdraw physically in case you want your students/trainees to take you as one of them. So I usually sit somewhere among them while I observe and take notes. I mean, if the address me directly, I do reply, but otherwise I try to be as invisible as possible.



    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Hana

      Thank you for the comment – I have never tried to be explicit about ‘teacher/trainer silent time’ – sounds great (and confirms the idea that nothing is too obvious or not worth sharing!). Will definitely try it my class/session soon! Re sitting down with students – another cool reminder. Have done it, and love it – again, because it allows to literally become ‘one of many’ and be dissolved in the room.

      Simple steps making a huge difference! 🙂 Thank you very much!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amanda Gamble says:

    Hi Zhenya,
    I’m glad you have found my article useful. I like your ideas here too especially the music one. I am still trying to find ways to make feedback better but more so now as a trainer rather than as a teacher. I’ve recently started reading a good book http://www.amazon.com/Thanks-Feedback-Science-Receiving-Well/dp/0670014664

    This has some really good ideas and explores the whole feedback process thinking about training the receiver as well as the giver. It might give you some inspiration 🙂



    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for the comment Amanda – and for the article of course (a great chance to say it personally to you!) Used it with teachers in our school back in 2006 (I think) and still find it great.

      Also, thank you for the suggested book – I think I will read it once the intensive training of trainers course I am currently running is over. A lot to reflect about – and the search for inspiration is never ending!



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