| Training and teaching: learn how to do it |
|6 Didactic methods|
6.3.1 Guided discussion
6.3.2 Group discussion/circle discussion
6.3.3 Discussion methods
Not every theme allows for practicals. The presentation of theory, however, may be enlivened by various conversational forms. Some forms are listed below.
6.3.1 Guided discussion
This is a strictly controlled discussion form in which the trainer leads the students to certain insights step by step and in a purposeful manner. The trainer sets the topic for the discussion. A precondition for a guided discussion is that students possess a certain knowledge of the facts that are being covered. If not, they are unable to contribute to the results of the discussion.
A guided discussion can be employed for the learning of rules, definitions and principles. This kind of information can also be learned from books. However, by holding a discussion to which the students contribute an important part, knowledge is much better retained. The students are induced to actually produce the theory themselves. Romiszowski calls the result cognitive skills on the productive level.
By following the step by step structure of the discussion, the trainer is assured that the students understand the essence of the subject. Using the following kinds of phrases you can invite your students to react: give an example... would that also apply for... how do you know that... why do you not agree... can you say that in a different way as well...
A guided discussion with health care workers in training could focus on arriving at a joint definition of what sensible nutrition is. The staff of a newspaper, following a refresher course, could discuss rules which might contribute to a better lay-out of the paper.
One important advantage of this method is that you allow your students - who might have norms and values very different from your own - to bring forward points that you may never have considered yourself. You include your students' contributions in the lessons and will often learn something yourself as well.
Do not forget to summarize the discussion and draw conclusions (or have this done by the students).
6.3.2 Group discussion/ circle discussion
This differs from the guided discussion in that it is less controlled by the trainer or teacher. The point is that the students bring forward personal experience and that they react to each other. The trainer leads the discussion, which means that he or she ensures that it is not dominated by only a few students, that everyone is not speaking at one time and that the mood remains pleasant.
A group discussion has no clear objective as to knowledge transfer or problem-solving. The goal is to determine what is going on with the students, what their problems are and what opinions they have on various subjects.
In the starting phase of your course, when you are still sounding out what your lessons should focus on and what your students think, group discussions can certainly be very meaningful. Do not view lessons in which such discussions take place as lost time. Instead, consider them as a means to promote your target group analysis!
A group discussion is also called a circle discussion. The reason for this is that the ideal set-up for the group discussion is to have the students seated in a circle. The students can look at each other and this improves communication. If the group is too large for one circle you can choose to form an inner and an outer circle. The students in the inner circle carry on the discussion while those in the outer circle observe the proceedings. The latter may also be given the task of presenting a short summary and evaluating the performance of the debaters. In this way you work on an important objective with your students, namely the development of interactive and reactive skills.
Mention has already been made of the role of the trainer. A group discussion is often a spontaneous event which one has little to prepare for. Its outcome is hard to predict, however. In one way this is attractive, but it is also troublesome, since it may make you feel unsure of yourself. This is the especially the case if you (still) have problems with the language spoken by your students. You may be able to cope with this handicap in situations where you can compensate by preparing yourself well, but not in spontaneous discussions of this kind. It does not seem advisable to use the group discussion method as long as you feel that you do not have sufficient command of the language.
6.3.3 Discussion methods
Discussions can be shaped in numerous ways. The previously mentioned methods can accommodate a discussion, but you can also consider:
1) Group discussion: the students discuss a topic in small groups. Monitors are appointed to report to the whole group who can subsequently discuss the material.
2) Carousel discussion: here the group is arranged in an inner and an outer circle. For example the trainer can decide that those in the inner circle will defend a particular proposition, while those in the outer circle bring forward counter arguments. After some time the roles can be reversed.
3) Forum discussion: various people are invited (possibly professionals in the field) to voice different angles or points of view on a particular topic. Each member presents a short introduction to illustrate his or her position. After the introductory round, the students ask questions (which may have been formulated during a break) and there is an opportunity to discuss the various positions. The discussion can take place between the forum members and/or between the forum members and the audience. A capable discussion leader must be present.
As a form of role play you can also allow a number of students to act the part of professionals in a forum. You must then give them the opportunity to immerse themselves in their roles. The attractive point in this method is that the students often become very involved.
It is advisable to set out a number of rules for your students before beginning. If the students are not too comfortable with the phenomenon you may also begin with short 'practice discussions', followed by a debate on what went right and wrong in the discussion technique.
Some points of interest for the discussion leader are:
Choose a proposition/topic the students have something to say about! If necessary give them material from which they can draw additional information.
You are responsible for starting the discussion: define the problem and illustrate the backgrounds.
Ensure that the discussion remains on track, therefore keep the objectives and the topic in mind.
If you become involved try to make neutral statements; remain impartial.
If silences occur, ask questions.
Give everyone the opportunity to speak. Encourage withdrawn students but do this in a tactful manner; do not put shy students on the spot.
Regularly summarize what has been said to that point, and ask if your summary is accurate.
Ensure that those discussing are working towards some sort of a conclusion. If there is disagreement try to find a formula for compromise.
Make sure the students do not focus on you as the discussion leader but on each other.
End the discussion on time. Discussing for too long a period can become tiresome.