Sharing Small Group Experiences

It would be great to hear from others who have been trying to incorporate small group work into their large  classes. This is something I’ve been able to do successfully in the past with classes of no more than 30 or so, but trying it with a class of 70 this year was challenging. It’s not the actual working of the groups that declined– the level of participation there, with groups tasked specifically, has remained high. My concern is how to maintain the same level of involvement when we come back together to report on what the groups came up with. With at least 13 groups, that’s 13 Recorders/Reporters. So those 13 are involved, but keeping the rest in “active-involvement” mode is the challenge. And, if the culmination of the small group project doesn’t engage actively the other 50 in the class, I’m not going to be satisfied. Have any if you developed ways to solve this problem?  If you have, could you please share them with us so we all can have a better handle on making large classes feel smaller?

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9 Responses

  1. I am teaching Legal Ethics (PR) in a class unconnected with any clinical class. This spring I had 50 students. I would break them into small groups for discussion followed by report back. One week I scheduled each small group to meet with me separately. Each group reported that the small groups with me were much better than the small groups without me (or at least without my expertise). So I am also interested in hearing ideas people have to using clinical method in a large classroom group setting. Thanks. liz

    • This is an issue. If the students get so much more out of these experiences when the professor can be a part of it, how can that need be satisfied in a group of at least 50? Even if the professor can meet with 2 small groups on each occasion, it’s unlikely that each group will get the chance over the course of the semester. Thus, the problem ….

  2. We have a system different from US colleges, but our class size is normally 80-100 students every year. What I have done for group assignments is to group the students in teams of 10 members each, with each group having one rapporteur selected by the students themselves. Each of the students are free to approach the teacher at any time, for any matter ranging from group dynamics to guidance on the problem given to the students, though the students has to work generally as a group and solve the problems among themselves. Finally the rapporteur had to report, in addition to the final solution, the contribution of each of the members of the team towards the group work. I think this mode helped the students to keep all the students in active engagement mode and at the same time gave sufficient control to the teacher.

  3. John,
    Thanks for sharing from ….. across the pond? I love that idea of the observor/rapporteur. I assume student groups do not use the same person as rapporteur multiple times?

    • Hi,

      I didn’t see the comment till now though I regularly visit your blog (almost daily!).
      I see the pond as really small since our aims are quiet closer ):-though in India, we ought to travel a lot in your way, as we enjoy much less autonomy that yours):-
      In my experiment, I had told the students that though generally I would give the students the freedom to choose the rapporteur, I could also ask any one of them to be the rapporteur, and this worked since all of them were prepared, when called.

      • So happy to have a fan in India!!! I agree with your emphasis on a “rapporteur” role and wonder if you defined that in your syllabus for students or in class. I am working on my fall syllabus and want to do so!

  4. Hi,
    (I don’t know how i got to get the reply posted in my College’s name! it is my personal comment-not actually authorized to comment in college’s name!)
    I didn’t see the comment till now though I regularly visit your blog (almost daily!).
    I see the pond as really small since our aims are quiet closer ):-though in India, we ought to travel a lot in your way, as we enjoy much less autonomy that yours):-
    In my experiment, I had told the students that though generally I would give the students the freedom to choose the rapporteur, I could also ask any one of them to be the rapporteur, and this worked since all of them were prepared, when called.

  5. Hi,

    We have a different system here in India. Individual teachers have no freedom to design the syllabus, and have only a limited freedom to change the elements of the internal assessment. I had to work within this limited freedom and had applied this to a class.

    • I could not log in for a while (some technical difficulty) and am trying again now. I believe by posting this comment some people (everyone on the list?) will see that there is some activity on the “sharing small group” experience topic/thread. So this is a test…in the hope of generating a bit more discussion – after all, in only a few weeks classes begin again. 🙂 liz

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