Victoria Jack – CELT Education
Victoria Jack from the Centre for English Language Teaching (CELT) at the University of York led Session A at the 11th University of York Learning and Teaching Conference which took place on 10th June 2015. The title of the session was ‘Giving everyone a voice: all students in small groups want to say something’ and it was attended by around 40 students, lecturers and academic support staff. The session was cleverly designed to be a seminar in which participants worked in groups to share their thoughts and ideas and discuss literature on seminar-based teaching. I found talking about the very teaching method in which I was participating to be a very powerful and thought-provoking approach. The use of different group sizes for the discussions from 2 to 40 people was particularly enlightening as it allowed us to see first-hand how the number of people in the group matters when trying to ensure that everyone has a voice. Overall this session made me very more aware of how session design influences group dynamics and has led me to develop a wide range of ideas for encouraging more active student participation in discussions during my own seminar teaching. These include appointing student chairs for small-to-medium group discussions so that someone takes responsibility for ensuring everyone has a voice, and varying group sizes within single sessions (e.g. from pairs to whole class discussions) so that everyone has an opportunity to work in an environment in which they feel comfortable. Seminars clearly hold an important place in higher education as they give students the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and ideas with their peers and to extend and apply their knowledge. However, it is well-established that issues with engagement and preparation can mean that students do not get the benefit from these sessions. Victoria’s session at #YorkLT15 should help those involved in programme design to maximise the benefit that students gain from small group teaching, and will also hopefully help the students participants to engage more effectively in future seminars within their degree programmes.
Claire Hughes, Environment Department, University of York