In this chapter we begin by defining small-group teaching. We review the strengths and limitations of various types of small-group teaching before considering when it is an appropriate teaching strategy. Practical tips follow on how to prepare for such teaching. As small-group teaching can be quite difficult, we discuss issues and challenges that might arise and how these might be addressed.
First, though, spend a little time on the exercise presented in Box 8.1.
Box 8.1 A reflective exercise on small-group teaching
Consider the last learning event that you attended that had small-group learning as a strategy.
• How effectively was this managed by the facilitator?
• What were the strengths of the facilitator?
• What would have helped the session to run better?
What is small-group teaching?
Small-group teaching is a generic term that can be used to mean tutorials, seminars, discussion and problem-based learning (PBL) groups, or workshops. For the purposes of this chapter, small-group teaching is defined as teaching that aims to promote student learning through working with peers and a facilitator. The most common types of small-group teaching format are outlined on the following page.
Students are set a task or assignment and the tutorial is a mechanism for providing them with support to meet that task. In teaching undergraduate medical students, for example, this might be a format used for helping them prepare their clinical portfolios.
Students research a topic and present their findings to their peers, with more learning from the ensuing group discussion. Seminars therefore tend to be led by the learners, but the context and preparation need to be clearly identified. A suitable topic for an undergraduate seminar might be the use of antidepressants.
Participation is to be encouraged. Once one student has presented the topic, the others might want to ask questions or share their experiences. The facilitator can clarify and add to the students’ learning. If students are not experienced, their presentations can be lengthy and/or poorly prepared, so the facilitator needs to monitor this carefully. At the end of the seminar, the facilitator or a student assigned the role should summarise the learning.
The students discuss a specific issue with specific learning tasks, for example how to manage a particular disorder or situation.