Who are they talking to?

by Zhenya

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 🙂