Newsletter January 2009
Keeping the group with you
One of the most interesting courses I’ve been on was run by one of the most – potentially – boring tutors. He gave the impression of being a dusty old professor, wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, speaking in a ‘low-energy’ manner and rarely smiling.
It was a night class in astronomy at my local college.
However the way the tutor approached his subject made it so fascinating, that my enthusiasm for the course resulted in my husband enrolling part way through the term.
What did the tutor do to keep the group engaged and interested?
Firstly he knew his topic thoroughly. He was passionate about the subject matter and had a huge wealth of knowledge to call on. Every question we asked was answered fully and with enthusiasm.
Secondly he had thought about how he would impart the knowledge, and had crafted the course so well that invariably any question a member of the group would ask related to the next topic he was just about to cover. He could therefore simply answer most questions by moving onto the next part of the course. Preparation is the key, his ‘iceberg’ was well worked out (see our July 08 newsletter).
Thirdly he made the course extremely varied – there was some ‘chalk and talk’, experiments for us to do, we watched videos, we looked in the daily newspaper to see the astronomy guide, he showed us a working model of the solar system, we went outside with binoculars to look at the moon, we played fun games related to astronomy, he told interesting and amusing stories about star gazing, and so on. In addition there was plenty of opportunity to interact with others through discussion or experiments. This helps with group dynamics and memory retention.
Fourthly he knew how to read the group. No part of the course was long-winded, each was fairly short in order to maintain people’s attention. Whenever the group energy was becoming low, he would get us up and moving around and onto a different way of working or the next part of the course. This strategy is sometimes referred to as the crest of the wave i.e. understanding that the group will have a level of interest, that this will continue for some time, then the level of interest will begin to wane. At this point, it’s useful to give the group a break, and/or move onto another form of interaction, for example group work, or a demonstration. 45 minutes is the recommended maximum time without some form of change.
It is completely possible to keep the group with you at all times, even if you feel you aren’t as charismatic as some people. Use the 4 aspects of Knowledge, Preparation, Variety and Crest of the Wave as your guideline, and you will do well.