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Discussion Groups Weaving Social Connections

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Discussion groups can foster social bonds that are critical for student success

Greg Johnson was a Computer Science major with a problem. He had a rather severe stuttering condition. Normally this wasn’t an issue in his CS classes, but Greg was required to take a small group communication class. The class had a heavy discussion focus. Greg petitioned his advisor to substitute another communications class that didn’t require group discussions.

“Let’s see if we can make this work,” responded Greg’s advisor. “One of the complaints about IT professionals is that they don’t work well with others. But I’m going to see what our Learning Services Unit can do to help.”

When Greg met with the Learning Services Unit, they worked out a plan with the communication instructor. Greg would be assigned to a discussion group who would agree to work with him on his stuttering issue. An intern in the Learning Services Unit was a Speech Pathology major and she joined the class and was placed in Greg’s group. Throughout the semester a specialist met with Greg’s group to show them how they could help Greg. Greg also met with the specialist privately.          

As the semester progressed, Greg was able to better manage the speed of talking with the help of finger signals from his group. Each of his group also practiced breathing regulation with him. The comradery of the group also helped him reduce his anxiety. The group also was very mindful not to intervene when he was struggling with a word. But perhaps the greatest benefit of all was that Greg finally had friends on campus to socialize with. Up until that semester, he was a loner who was embarrassed by his stuttering.

Discussion groups can play an important role beyond just the classroom experience. In Greg’s case, they were a support group that was helpful in reducing his stuttering. Discussion groups can also become relationship groups, building social bonds that are critical for student success and retention.

Rather than thinking of discussions as simply an academic activity, faculty should also think about how these groups can benefit students in other ways. Discussion groups can create student enrichment opportunities in ways that traditional lecture-based classes cannot.

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“Stuttering is painful. In Sunday school, I’d try to read my lessons, and the children behind me were falling on the floor with laughter.” – James Earl Jones (An actor with one of the most famous voices in show business )


This post is part of our “Think About” education series. These posts are based on composites of real-world experiences, with some details changed for the sake of anonymity. New posts appear Wednesday afternoons.