Tutor’s Guide to Leading Study Groups
Facilitating a Study Group
Before a session, check in with the course instructor whenever possible, review notes from previous sessions, prepare any group assignments, and list topics/questions you want to review.
At the beginning of sessions, set time aside to review the previous week’s session; review and discuss the preceding week’s concepts. This allows members a chance to voice any confusion, issues or problems they are having with the material, and allows you to share knowledge as a group. During these brief reviews, group members can discuss confusing concepts and concerns, and members familiar with complex topics can explain them to confused members. Tutors keep the conversation on track and monitor information exchange for accuracy.
Set a goal for the session. Each student should identify key points and areas of confusion within the material to be covered in the group. Knowing what you want to achieve at each session helps the group manage time and stay focused.
During the remainder of the session, spend time reviewing homework problems or course concepts. You won’t have time to cover all the homework, so decide as a group how much of the homework and how much lecture material you want address. Confirm that students understand what is being asked in a homework problem/assignment. Identify the main concepts underlying homework problems/assignments. Each group member should then attempt to work through some homework on their own.
Group members should take turns leading discussions while working through problems/concepts. As a group you can address any issues which come up as members work on the material individually. This is especially effective when some members better understand concepts than others. Tutors monitor information exchange for accuracy and ensure that no one voice dominates. Jot down the steps taken to solve a problem. Don’t be shy about asking for students’ feedback: “Am I rambling too much?” or “Did I present your point of view correctly?” If reviewing reveals points of disagreement or confusion that you cannot resolve as a group, record questions to ask the professor or LRC faculty.
At the end of each meeting, make a plan for the next session and allocate times for each task. During the last 10 minutes of a study session, briefly review the concepts discussed during the session and wrap up by identifying any tasks or responsibilities needing to be addressed prior to the next session. Also take time to identify concepts and problems that need to be reviewed during subsequent sessions. Periodically evaluate your performance as a group (the Teamwork Rubric provides some worthwhile criteria you can use to evaluate your group), then work to fix areas where you are weak.
Tutors’ Roles in Study Groups
Goal Setter: Establishes purposes; poses questions.
Informant: Provides information; suggests new ideas, perspectives, or opinions; translates information.
Processor: Probes for meanings; clarifies information; elaborates, interprets, or applies information.
Evaluator: Defines and monitors progress; check to see if group is ready to decide or come to a conclusion; summarizes and synthesizes results; resolves conflicts; judges results and outcomes.
Facilitator: Motivates group members; provides support and encouragement.
Avoid Allowing The Group To Become A Place For Note-Gathering: Discussing notes and sharing notes can certainly be a part of an effective study group, but try to discourage members from using the group as a way to get notes from class. Discourage members from seeing the group as a replacement for attending class.
Respect Different Viewpoints: We are a diverse university with students from around the world. Thus, it is advantageous to encourage all members to contribute; it is equally important that members listen to and consider input from all members and avoid quickly dismissing an idea. Each person brings a unique set of experiences and background that can add an important dimension to the group discussion.
Create A Safe Environment By Accommodating Different Learning/Working Styles: Some members of your group will jump right in with their thoughts and comments, but other members may need more time to process information and to consider ideas before commenting. Furthermore, some members may not feel comfortable participating because they are not confident in their knowledge. Therefore, it is a good idea to structure different activities in the group to allow people of varying working styles to participate. For example, incorporate 5 minute activities that require members to write down a response before sharing it with the group. If the group consists of 6 members, it might help to occasionally divide the group into pairs to work out a problem together and then share with the group.
Offer Tactful Comments: Allow a member to finish his/her idea before responding and then offer tactful, constructive comments. If members feel that their ideas are being attacked, they will stop participating or stop attending. Ultimately, a group will not work if members perceive it as an unsafe environment to share their questions and thoughts.
Avoid Allowing One Or Two People To Dominate The Group: Groups can address this before it becomes a problem by setting guidelines when they form the group. For example, the group can decide that no one person can speak for more than three minutes or that once a person speaks he/she cannot speak again until another person offers a comment. The group could also elect a facilitator who guides the discussion, keeps the group on task and is responsible for asking feedback from all members. Be sure to rotate the role of facilitator to allow each member to have the opportunity to guide the discussion and help to ensure that all members’ voices are heard.
Do’s for Study Groups
- Create an outline or chart that summarizes class notes or readings.
- Tackle practice questions.
- Solve a set of problems.
- Develop examples.
- Create models.
- Simulate case studies.
- Teach the material to one another.
- Evaluate each other’s essays.
- Predict exam questions.
- Rehearse a presentation.
- Play games, particularly for review before tests.
Don’ts for Study Groups
- Slow down for students who are not prepared or are not keeping up with their work.
- Let dominating students take over sessions.
- Let criticism and negativity permeate sessions.
- Be rigid with plans.