Vignette C2. Melanie’s Story: How do I include and involve all the students during seminars?
Melanie is a graduate teaching assistant in the Literature Department of her university. She teaches classics, and often organises group activities in order to foster conversation and let students express their opinions freely on the study materials. But sometimes she realizes that the makeup of the groups and the students’ personality can affect group dynamics and student engagement, and undermine the participation of some students.
Reflecting on her experience Melanie says:
due to the presence of two more talkative students in his group, one of the students in the ‘anti-democracy group’ had less chance of expressing his thoughtsMelanie
On this particular occasion, Melanie noticed that the less-talkative student started talking, but another student ended up finishing his thoughts for him. She went on to say:
I tend not to interrupt students when they start speaking, especially when they are interacting with each other or when they are following up on what other students said. Next time I will make sure that all the students have the chance to engage and express their thoughts freely, and I will pay more attention to the group dynamics, so that the more talkative students will not obscure the less talkative ones.Melanie
What did her peer suggest?
During the iPO session, Melanie discussed the organisation of group work with her peer, Kathleen, who made several initial suggestions:
Group work is obviously an effective method to engage students in learning. Have you thought about differentiating tasks or roles among group members, to value specific skills. Maybe even role playing, where you have some students who talk, some others who take notes, judge, or prepare the script and presentation of the arguments. In order to assure that each student engages with the assignment and maximise the learning opportunity with roles that fit with them.Melanie
Kathleen also asked Melanie about rule-setting:
Do you think that setting in advance ground rules and expectations about activities to be done in class can help? Building an agreement with students can set clear directions and functioning rules, and progressively get acquainted with professors’ approach and expectations . What do you think?Kathleen
Kathleen then made a number of proposals regarding hands-on activities and the use of technology:
And I was wondering about simple hands-on activities to foster inclusive engagement: if students produce something and then show it, they might feel more comfortable and empowered in class and learn new skills. I often use project cards and posters to scaffold their engagement. But also using pooling systems to collect answers to simple questions and voice opinions. Have you ever tried? And if you think, even with online learning, forums are powerful means to foster debate on specific topics and/or the learning materials, and you can monitor and moderate the discussion offering appropriate feedback. Do you have experience in face-to-face and/or online learning?”Kathleen
After listening to Kathleen’s suggestion, Melanie concluded:
Yeah, I agree with you. Next time I will think more carefully about the group work activity. I think that being transparent about what I expect from them is key. Build a learning contract. And about role playing and using cards too! I will try next time to use cards to activate them and voice their opinions, and role playing to ensure that every student has a role in the learning process and can develop more soft skills. I like that!”Melanie