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Dealing with Personalities

I’m into week two of my IF-oriented course, and I’ m learning more everyday.  On Tuesday we had our first official IF-style discussion.  I had to bite my tongue often as I suspected, and allow them to generate ideas.  I could think of half a dozen objections to each of the ideas they proposed, and I had to keep my critical self hooded and gagged.  Our topic is the nature of art, and I began with some thought-provoking real and hypothetical cases of works that challenge conventional notions of what art is.  There was plenty of discussion, but I found that in a class of 12 students, about 3 of them contribute 90% of the ideas.  About eight of them occasionally speak, and four never willingly joined in.  I’m feeling the need to hurry the class into small groups and give them each more responsibility for the group’s work than they have presently.

I also have a peer mentor in my course who is a senior.  She has no grading responsibilities, but she is there to model college learning in my classroom and serve as an advisor to the students.   Through her I’ve learned about some of the interpersonal issues that have arisen among the members of the class, and these issues are forcing me to consider how to best navigate this group so they can have constructive discussions.  So far, it’s going alright, but if the present dynamics are left as they are, things will take a turn for the worse.  Fortunately, some of the facilitation techniques have helped, and I’m going to include more think/pair/share and other techniques to ensure that discussions are more balanced.  A round-robin activity already worked well on Tuesday, since it forced some of them into more active roles.

I summarized our Tuesday discussion and posted the summary online for my students, and they responded well so far.  They produced two conceptual possibilities that could describe the nature of art.  Both possibilities are only in a nascent stage – they are more like germs of ideas rather than fully formed possibilities.  They also produced a list of 6 important concepts surrounding art (intention, appreciation, context, etc.) which we will pick up again in next Tuesday’s discussion.

Finally, wish me luck this Sunday as I attempt to use an IF-style discussion model in a Board of Trustees retreat for a local school, where I’ve been asked to facilitate a discussion.  I’m going to try to get 16 Board members to generate a set of possible responses to the question “What can we, as a Board and as Board members, do to further the mission of the school?”  I only have 2 hours to get the job done, so I’m going to have to work quickly with them.  I’m packing my flipchart and markers!

All the best to everyone!

Michael Gettings