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Troubleshooting Common Problems in Small Groups


 
The facilitator becomes the focus of the group; there is little “cross-talk” among group members

Suggestions:

    • Turn students’ questions to you back to the group. e.g. “What do the rest of you think?
    • Suggest that students look up the answer and bring it back next time
    • Wait ten seconds to see if a student will respond
    • Hold back to see if there is a way to get students to actively discuss material and to encourage them to talk to each other.
    • Emphasize students should be active participants in their own learning

Deadly silences: it is difficult to get a discussion going or to keep it going; it seems to stop short and you are left feeling you need to keep asking questions

Suggestions:

    • Personalize discussion – ask students about personal experiences relating to topic. “How does this fit into your own experience? Do you feel differently?” (Take advantage of people’s different backgrounds.
    • Assign one or two students to take the lead on discussing the lecture content or readings for the session. Students can take turns throughout the year.
    • Check questions you are asking: are they appropriate for the setting and for the level of the students’ knowledge?
    • Use open-ended questions
    • Do not intercede after the first student talks except to ask if there are any other comments. Be sure your responses are not closed ended, opinionated, or seemingly judgmental.
    • Raise the issue with the group: “The group may seem quiet today…What can we do? Is there anything I can do to better facilitate the discussion?”

One or two students are consistently quiet

Suggestions:

    • Give them a lead: “How would this fit in with your own experience?”
    • Do a round robin
    • Set up a time to meet with students outside of session to assess the situation: cultural factors (it is not polite to interrupt), boredom, anger, prior history of bad interaction, fear, shyness. Jointly come up with ways to address the situation.
    • When they do make a point, reinforce and support it; connect it to other issues

One or two students consistently dominate the discussion

Suggestions:

    • Say to the student: “Lets open up the discussion, hear from others”
    • Involve the group by putting the issue on the table: “Are the rest of you having the same opportunity to participate?”
    • Acknowledge the input of the talkative ones, and then ask others to join in: “That is an excellent point, but does everyone agree or does anyone have another view?”
    • Review ground rules: “It's important for everyone to contribute ideas”

A student comes late or not at all

Suggestions:

    • Invite student into group. At the end of the session, ask student privately why he/she was late, remind student that attendance is required and emphasize importance of participation for group cohesion. If happens repeatedly, email the course director, and inform student repeated lateness can mean a non-passing grade.

A student says something you disagree with or find offensive

Suggestions:

    • Solicit the opinion of others: “I understand what you are saying but I am not sure I agree. What do others think?

There are some unspoken differences between students such as an ethnic or gender split, or a wide range of experience or knowledge among the students

Suggestions:

    • Offer extra help to students whose knowledge base is weak.
    • A strong student can be given extra responsibilities.
    • A gender or ethnic split may need to be brought out in the open early on to make it safe to bring up issues that may arise later.