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Setting up student groups

I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to set up student groups since I have watched the enrollment in the class I will be teaching starting next week grow from 7 to almost 50 students in the last month (not what I expected!). Given that I intend to have every student facilitate one session, and I have scheduled 8 block sessions for students to conduct discussions, I will probably end up putting students into six different groups.

For two weeks prior to small group formation, the entire class will participate in a simulation of the IF process, with the instructor (me) modeling facilitation and notetaking skills. I intend to also use these two weeks to observe individual student discussion styles (who talks a lot, who doesn’t), and which students hang together. My thinking is to use this information, along with gender, ethnicity, and age differences, for distributing these characteristics among groups as I place students into them. Hopefully, this will accentuate understanding and development of diversity of perspectives and discussion styles, important goals of the course.

In each group, members will take turns serving as facilitator and as notetaker. Facilitators are responsible for preparing a facilitation outline that includes discussion goals, questions to be asked, and ideas and concepts (from the week’s assigned readings) that could be useful in group discussion, and will complete a reflection paper on the facilitation experience. Notetakers are responsible for recording group discussion content and flow. Group participants are expected to have read assigned readings, actively participate in discussion, and share their own perspectives while practicing perspective-taking. Students – both individually and in groups – will be assigned points for their work in these tasks and thus held accountable. Students will also simultaneously complete assignments outside the classroom (in their communities) and bring that ‘knowledge’ into the discussions as well.

I am looking forward to seeing how students react to a course built entirely around small group discussion and field work.