538Challenges for Bioethics from Asia
The teacher’s comments about the activity indicate that he considered “on- task” behaviour as important.
Teacher : The discussions, they were quite happy to discuss that but I felt that dealing with one whole group wasn't probably as useful as making them go into small groups but there is a risk putting them into small groups, they are such good mates, that they often get off the topic.
He also commented on his role during small group discussions.
Teacher: I think when there is a discussion, I've got to facilitate it and make sure that I keep bringing in the ones that aren't saying anything.
During these discussions, the teacher moved around the room, visiting each group, listening to what they were saying and asking them questions. When he noticed that some groups had not progressed very far and were stuck on the conditional aspects he called the class back to attention and asked for feedback from each group.
The students appreciated having the opportunity to voice their own opinions rather than the content only revolving around written information. The following two students’ comments also exemplify the student-directed ownership of the discussions.
Mary : I thought it was good. I thought you’ve got more of a say rather than the other parts of the curriculum. You can put your own opinion in and you knew something about it so it wasn’t just what you’d been taught.
Sally :Yes, it makes you concentrate more. It is easy to tune out if you are just taking notes, you don't really read what you are writing, if you have to put input into it [your own ideas].....You have to know more about what you are talking about.
Sally’s comment shows that she thought that discussions provided a more active way of learning for her. Active participation was an inherent aspect of the small group discussions. The comments about “having to know more” indicate that some students felt they had to demonstrate their knowledge when taking part in discussions. There was also a sense that they could use opinion and what they knew from informal sources.
Teacher as instructor
The teacher acted as an instructor to indicate what he expected the students to do in terms of researching and writing and in terms of group discussions. The instructions were supported with teaching materials (Appendix 1) and overhead transparencies that contained factual information. Students were given the opportunity to choose what notes they would make from this information. The teacher made it clear that he did not expect the students to copy notes directly from the sources, but rather choose what they thought was appropriate. He gave instruction about discarding “trash” (irrelevant information) and keeping the “treasure” (relevant information).
The teacher’s comments below about how students liked being given information, indicates that he knew some of them preferred to be told what to do and that some of these students were unaccustomed to independent inquiry and self-directed learning.
Teacher : Then the background information I gave them, some of it was me getting them to take notes, but I did provide some notes. They liked that, mainly because it is what they are used to I think, at school. Especially the ones like Marianne who are very efficient in their working, they don't like to be mucking around having to find stuff. If I already know, they want me just to tell them, and they remember it. They don't want to waste time. [The students are thinking] “To hell with discovery, just tell me.”
The teacher considered that for some students, teacher-directed information was seen to be an efficient way of gaining the important information and saved time, whereas for others it was linked to not knowing what to do or just simply being lazy. Despite his acknowledgement of what students would prefer and empathy towards this approach, he wanted the students to take a more active role and responsibility for their own learning.
The teacher then gave an example of how to use key words/ideas to write an essay about keeping a dog. The class brainstormed the key words that might be useful and the teacher wrote them on the board. Then the teacher showed them how to group the key words by putting numbers next to them. He allowed students to have input into the lesson by asking questions during the