STUDY GROUP GUIDE FOR PROFESSORS AND TEACHING ASSISTANTS

DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICS AND STATISTICS

YORK UNIVERSITY

By Katie Caldwell


The Goal of Study Group Learning

The change from lecture style teaching to a practice of study groups is drastic for both professer and student. The professor/TA is going to have to put in a lot of extra time and effort. Students will have to grapple with new and higher expectations, the responsibility to cover course material on their own?

It is believed that students learn by doing. As opposed to being spoon-fed knowledge in lecture, study groups encourage students to interact with the material at hand and to develop their own understanding of subject material. The goal of study group learning is to help students take ownership of the course material; to learn to learn.

Food for Thought

"I used to be a good lecturer: well-organized, clear, concise and even humorous. I encouraged Q & A and class discussion, through me. Students liked the classes but would comment frequently that when they went home they didn't really understand the material. I could see people's eyes glaze over in class after about 10 minutes. I have [now] moved into interactive group learning exclusiveley in all my classes while still providing direction using schedules, worksheets and test schedules etc. I am very involved in the class in a variety of ways. Students say they look forward to my classes the most. Can you believe it?! I teach classes everyone loves to hate...ALGEBRA! The benefits are enormous....."

Benefits of Study Group Learning

For the Prof/TA

For the Students


The Role of the Prof/TA in Study Group Learning

"As one of my colleagues pointed out, many of us love to be the contre of attention. It is very hard to let go and let the students have their say without rushing in to correct them. Facilatating discussion after group work is not simply making bril liant points for the students to respond to. Then again, groups can't simply be formed and set to task. Students have to be groomed to work together and then encouraged over and over..."

How to Groom Students

I. On Day 1 (or sooner) establish a serious learning evironment.

HOW?

II. Try a Warm-Up Activity on the first or second day of class (see the section on Warm-Up Activities). It's important to provide students with the opportunity to hear each other's concerns or anxieties about the course so that they realize they are no t alone.

III. Througout the course, keep your finger on the pulse of the class. Try to be responsive to feedback.

HOW DO I GET FEEDBACK EFFECTIVELY?

HOW CAN I BE RESPONSIVE to PROBLEMS?

More Advice:


Problems and Solutions

My goal here is to assure you that initial glitches are both common and natural and that they many be a cause for concern but not from panic or dicouragement. The trick is knowing how the process works taking a few precautionary steps to smooth out the bumps, and waiting out the inevitable setbacks until the payoffs start emerging.

Below is a list of some possible dysfunctional situations in which a study group can get stuck, along with what you can do to help in the role of Prof or TA. This list is not exhaustive. Please see the student's booklet for suggestions to students to h elp solve these and other problems.

Problem #1: Lack of Interaction

Possible Cause #1: Lack of Experience with Learning in Study Groups

Suggestion: Have a meeting with the group. Express your concern. Give students a simple, practical exercise. For example, ask a student to present an opinion in a sentence or two and then ask two students to restate the sentence in their own words. Rep eat for each student. Or you could ask a student to voice an opinion and then ask another student to disasgree with the opinion but without attacking the person.

Suggestion: Review with students the hand-out given to them about how to sucessfully interact with each other.

Suggestion: Encourage students to provide feedback on the effectiveness of their interactions. Students need to feel comfortable to switch from talking about math to talking about groups dynamics. Insist that when a student makes a complaint, he or she provides some sort of suggestion to remedy the problem.

Possible Cause #2: The Authority of the Prof/TA is Overwhelming.

Suggestion #1: Talk less. Too many words can overwhelm students.

Suggestion #2: Point out your own mistakes. You will seem more human and students will feel more relaxed.

Suggestion #3: Refrain from personal comments, sarcasm and threats.

Suggestion #4: Refrain from making wide-sweeping proclamations of praise or put-down. State your observations without any sort of judgement. If you must praise or put-down, do so on very specific instances. "Your group seems to always be in some sort of a bind," is not helpful, even as a joke. "I noticed an arugment between Peter and Monica," would be more likely to get a helpful response.

Possible Cause #3: Students Feel Coerced to Participate.

Suggestion #1: Make it clear to students that the study groups are for their benefit. If their study group isn't serving their needs they should please speak up. Reiterate that attendance isn't taken during class and that students' primary obligation i s to themselves and to one another, not to you, York or some set of rules.

Suggestion #2: If possible, do not assign grades for participation in study groups. Students will more likely want to attend study group meetings if attendance isn't made mandatory. You could meet this idea half-way by setting a minimum number of study group sessions students must attend.

Possible Cause #4: Physical Arrangement

Suggestion #1. Make sure students are sitting, facing each other and no one student feels isolated by the seating arrangement.

Suggestion #2. Make sure the group is not too large. In a group larger than six people students feel like they are presenting to a crowd instead of sharing with classmates whenever they speak.

Problem #2: Students are Participating Unequally

Possible Cause #1: Intolerance of Silence. Some people feel a strong need to fill in moments of silence with speech. In the same way the nature abhors a vacuum, some people ahbor silence in conversations.

Suggestion #1: Have a meeting with the group of students. Explain the positive role of silence. Silence allows us time to think and to collect our thoughts. It gives those students who are more on the quiet side a large window of opportunity to get int o the conversation.

Suggestion #2: Demonstrate an acceptance of silence. When giving a lecture or talking with a group of students, allow for long pauses in your speech to show that you are cofortable with breaks of silence.

Possible Cause #2: Dominant Speakers Monopolize the Discussion.

Suggestion: Talk to the dominating speaker privately. Find out why this person is talking so much and if he or she is aware of the problem. Usually such students are unaware of the problem and are simply outgoing by nature. If the student is aware of t he problem, usually he feels he has not had his point fully appreciated, or feels some need to compete with his classmates. In all three cases, just recognizing the student this way often reduces the student's need to dominate conversations.

Possible Cause #3: A Student has No Interest in Speaking. Some students feel that they learn better by listening than by talking. Some students feel that speaking and helping others requires too much effort.

Suggestion: Talk to the withdrawn student about helping others. Explain how you think they could be very helpful to the learning of everyone else. Most likely the student will feel flattered for being taken aside like this and will want to contribute a t least a little more.

Problem #3: Incorrect Use of Mathematical Language

It is quite easy for a group of students to all mistakenly agree that when they get zero over zero they can cancel to get one. Or to all misread what it means for a function to be continuous. Or to confuse 'if' with 'only if'. And who will be around t o point out these errors?

Suggestion #1: Do your best to drop by the nearby study rooms: N537Ross, the math lab, and even 204 in Bethune College. Casually ask students what they are working on. Do not hang around for more than five minutes.Suggestion #2: Give eight-minute pair quizzes. Pair quizzes cut the marking in half. If the quiz is brief enough, a class of 50 (25 quizzes) can be marked in 15 minutes. (In a pair quiz, students first attempt the question on their own and then pa ir up, submitting the best work between the two.) These kind of quizzes give the students regular feedback and also wake them up first thing Monday morning!

Suggestion #3: Insist that those who are sensitive to the careless use of language make a practice of requesting clarification.


Study Group Locations at York

Bethune College - Rm. 204, Dining Hall - Seminar rooms on ground floor

Calumet College - Study Group Hall for Calumet Students only - must be booked

Stong College - Dining Hall, JCR in basement (excellent for study groups), Seminar rooms on ground floor

Vanier College * - Dining Hall, Mary-Sue McCarthy JCR in basement (excellent place for study groups), Several Seminar rooms on ground floor

*- free phone available to students in room 121

Founders College - Dining Hall, JCR in basement (excellent for study groups), Seminar rooms on ground floor

Winters College - Dining Hall, JCR in basement, Seminar rooms in basement and first floor

Mclaughlin College - JCR in basement (not much seating), Seminar rooms in basement and first floor

Ross Building Seminar Rooms (Not Including First Floor), S701, S612, S416, S202, S736, S623, S501, S447, S737, S638, S536, S777, S537, N501, N537

Student Center - Nowhere except for 2nd and 3rd floor lounges (not great for group studying; lots of noise!)


Questions? Comments? Send to:

studygroups@mathstat.yorku.ca