Math 146, Winter 2015

Some Suggestions for Learning in a Group

As you work in your group, try to monitor how you spend your time. You may need to negotiate when deciding which problems to look at and the degree of resolution you need before turning to another problem. Sometimes it is best to decide to leave a problem that is only partially resolved and return to it later. However, there will be times when you are very involved in a problem and connected as a group and choose to stay with it for most of the class time. Try to monitor those decisions as a group, taking into account the needs and preferences of the group as a whole.

As you monitor and negotiate the group process, do not lose sight of your own learning. Are you too passive in the group? Do you spend most of your time listening to others discuss their solutions? Do you have questions and ask them? Are you developing as a problem solver through the group process? Developing as a problem solver entails sharing your questions and strategies, as well as listening attentively to others' questions and strategies.

Do you dominate in the group discussions? Why? Do you spend a lot of time "showing" your solutions rather than discussing them together with others' solutions? Do you leave room in the discussions for others to enter? Do you listen?

Below is a list of what seem to be the primary responsibilities of a group member. These arose from experiences as a participant in a group as well as a teacher in a group setting. Can you think of anything that has been left out?

  1. Arrive prepared and ready to start. Bring a clear depiction of your specific questions about the material.
  2. Take responsibility for your own learning. Share strategies/questions with the goal of having others understand what you are getting at and where/why you are stumped. This is different from saying "I couldn't get..." and the expectation that you will leave with someone else's resolution to the problem. This is difficult since most of us are accustomed to having someone else (a teacher, for example) take over and resolve the problem for us when we are stumped.
  3. Avoid accepting responsibility for someone else's learning (since then they will not learn). Listen to others with the goal of understanding their strategies and questions. This is different from the goal of simply showing them how to do it "your way". It is also more difficult.
  4. Even when you have no questions, spend some group time sharing resolutions. It feels great to show something amazing you've come up with or to share in someone else's resolution. Take time to enjoy these moments. You will be wonderfully surprised by the diversity of strategies and by how much you can learn by looking at just one problem from different perspectives. Keep in mind that learning several approaches to a problem may, in the long run, be even more valuable to you than finishing an entire worksheet.
  5. Acknowledge the contributions to your resolutions and understanding. Let your group members know when they do something that helps you.

Adapted from the work of Dr. James Epperson, The Universiy of Texas at Austin, who got it from Dr. Kelly Gaddis, Buffalo State College

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