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By the time he had taught about children’s play for twenty years, Kelvin had developed enough concerns about discussion as a communication strategy that he shifted approach again. This time he began using a form of collaborative group work: small teams of students carrying out projects on aspects of children’s play that interested them, making observations of children at play, reporting on their results to the class, and writing a common report about their work.
Kelvin hoped that by giving students a common focus, communication among them would improve. Conversations would deal with the tasks at hand, students would necessarily listen to each other, and no one could afford either to dominate talk excessively or to fall silent.
In some ways these benefits did take place. With a bit of encouragement from Kelvin, students listened to each other more of the time than before. They also diversified their tasks and responsibilities within each group, and they seemed to learn from each other in the course of preparing projects. Participation in the unit about children’s play reached an all-time high in Kelvin’s twenty years of teaching at university.
Yet even still there were problems.
• Some groups seemed much more productive than others, and observing them closely suggested that differences were related to ease of communication within groups.
• In some groups, one or two people dominated conversations unduly. If they listened to others at all, they seemed immediately to forget that they had done so and proceeded to implement their own ideas.
• In other groups, members all worked hard, but they did not often share ideas or news about each other’s progress; essentially they worked independently in spite of belonging to the group.
Here, too, Kelvin’s experience corroborated other, more systematic observations of communication within classroom work groups (Slavin, 1995). Furthermore, when all groups were planning at the same time communication broke down for a very practical reason: the volume of sound in the classroom got so high that even simple conversation became difficult, let alone the expression of subtle or complex ideas.
Teacher’s Notes - Lectures
Gathered are excerpts of the notes that Kelvin used in class, for each of the four different participation structures he used. The sections of notes shown all correspond to the same section of courseware.
These are the notes that Kelvin brought with him to class when he was lecturing.
Note: A copy of Kelvin’s notes can be downloaded in the Resources section for this module.
Year one) Kelvin’s lecture notes
Teacher’s Notes – Questions and Answers
These are the notes that Kelvin brought with him to the lectures interspersed with questions-and-answers. The change between these notes and the lecture notes is apparent.
Year three: Kelvin's question-and-answer notes
Teacher’s Notes – Class Discussions
These are the notes that Kelvin brought with him to the class discussions. Instead of outlining detailed content, he now just made concise notes that listed the issues about children's play that students needed to consider.
Year eight: Kelvin's discussion notes
Teacher’s Notes – Group Work
These are the notes that Kelvin brought with him to the collaborative group work classes. They are no longer notes for him, but guidelines for the groups.
Year twenty: Kelvin's guidelines for group work