We have seen how the role of the teacher can be more or less directive and how particular activities, and indeed complete sessions, can vary from being more teacher-centred to being more learner-centred. It is the role of the teacher to select the most relevant methods and styles for the task; good teachers can switch styles and pace to suit the needs of the learners and the moment.
In the diagram above, we can see that the teacher is in a more didactic role, with interactions being between the teacher and individual learners. This would be appropriate for giving a talk to a mixed group of health professionals on a new blood transfusion policy for example. While in the diagram below, the participation is much more active, with interactions between participants as well as between the teacher and the participants. The teacher might start off by being more didactic (with a set up as above) then ask the participants to move their chairs for a general discussion.
How can we facilitate discussions and promote the interactions that are one of the hallmarks and purposes of small groups?
In addition to setting activities that encourage discussion between participants and get them engaged with the topic, one of the main techniques that a teacher can use to stimulate discussion is the use of appropriate questioning. Jacques (2000) suggested that by using different types of questioning technique teachers can shift the learning and participation focus (see the diagram below).
We can also use different question strategies to pose to learners so as to elicit different responses, stimulate deeper thinking and reflection, and promote critical thinking and discussion. Some examples are given below.
- Evidence – How do you know that? What evidence is there to support that position? (‘What does the latest Cochrane review say about screening for breast cancer using mammography?’)
- Clarification – Can you put that another way? Can you give me an example? Can you explain that term? (‘give me an example of what you mean by “there are huge implications for not spotting hypertension in pregnancy”’)
- Explanation – Why might that be the case? How would we know that? Who might be responsible for…? (‘so how do you think women’s hypertension is first diagnosed and by whom?’)
- Linking and extending – Is there any connection between what you have just said and what Y said earlier? How does this idea support/challenge what we explored earlier in the session?
- Hypothetical – What might happen if…? What would be the potential benefits of X?
- Cause and effect – How is this response related to management? Why is/isn’t drug X suitable for pregnant women? What would happen if we increased/decreased X?
- Summary and synthesis – What remains unsolved/uncertain? What else do we need to know or do to understand this better/be better prepared?
(adapted from Brookfield 2006).
The final task of the facilitator is to close and conclude the session. Here it is important to leave time to wrap up activities and review the learning outcomes, making sure that you also attend to concluding group processes as well as task functions. It is helpful also to link the session to the learners’ next steps, ensuring that any follow-up activities are clear and that any evaluation requirements or other activities are set in place.