why......;One point of view is....;How...
Students were encouraged to refer to their notebook prompts and write any thoughts about the issues or plan next steps for their research in their notebooks. They were given approximately five minutes at the end of most sessions to do this.
The teacher encouraged spontaneous discussions by questioning students and responding to their questions. Other small group discussions were purposeful. These were on the issues of cancer treatment, genetic screening, euthanasia and human rights. Activities were incorporated to promote social interaction as a way of mediating and extending individual meaning making. During these discussion the teacher acted as a mediator, modelled respect for opinions and shared his own opinion willingly.
The teacher also gave direct content instruction. There were three lessons on the nature of cancer, the aetiology of cancer and the meanings of key words related to cancer such as metastasis, oncogene, malignant, carcinogen etc.
Completed draft essays were checked by peers to allow the sharing of ideas about what could be written and how it could be organised. It was hoped that peer checking would prompt reflection on the content and structure of what an essay should be like. It was also hoped that by reading others’ essays, students would be exposed to a range of viewpoints about social and ethical issues.
The research methodology employed for this part of the study was based on an interpretive case study approach (Merriam, 1988). I took detailed field notes of observations. I also discussed issues with the teacher frequently, as was natural from our previous relationship as colleagues and co-teachers of similar classes in the past. My classroom observations and interviews with the teacher and the students provide the data sources. These were analysed to illustrate aspects relating to the role of the teacher.
Appropriate ethical procedures were sued in the conduct and reporting of the research – all participants gave informed consent, only pseudonyms are used in all data reporting and so on.
Teaching as a facilitator
I will now describe how the teacher acted as a facilitator in this unit of work by giving examples of how the teacher acted as a mediator, an instructor and as an encourager.
Teacher as mediator
The teacher acted as a mediator in both whole class and small group discussions. Exploring students’ beliefs or feelings was instigated through clarification and analysis procedures. For example personal accounts of cancer patients on video clips, and case studies and activities that required students to relate these situations to themselves, created opportunities for students to evaluate affective perspectives. During these video sessions, the teacher wrote key words or words that he thought were technical or new to the students, on the black board. At the end of the video, he clarified the meanings of these words with the students. During whole class discussion, the teacher would keep students on the topic by asking open questions that had no right answers e.g. What do you think might happen if…? He actively promoted students talking to each other. The teacher established this culture by modelling mutual respect. He insisted that only one person spoke at a time, allowed wait time after asking questions and accepted all students’ answers. He also did not allow individuals to dominate during whole class discussions, nor allow students to put each other down.
Other activities designed by the teacher emersed students in making personal decisions. For example, a treatment choice activity where small groups were given a scenario about lung cancer to discuss and had to give reasons for the treatments they chose. Another activity involved small groups deciding whether they agreed or disagreed that a doctor should have administered an overdose of morphine for a terminally ill cancer patient. Such activities required them to apply their prior knowledge, rather than merely identify it.