Application to the Classroom

A class is also a group and in the academic sphere has a special place in developing skill in group process.

I would often begin with some form of signing in. I did not call the rolls, but I did require a recognizable initialing. It was designed to acknowledge that the signer was a part of the process, c.f. John Hancock.

Perhaps I would walk inside the circle for a while to focus my thoughts (over time the class would learn to quiet) and then I began by broaching a new subject or a new perspective on a recurrent theme. I thought of it as turning a gemstone in the light. If we were reading a literary piece, there might be various aspects to consider: its relevance to some larger picture, or something special about the way it was constructed, or if there was a literary term that described the technique, or what was emerging in a characterization or the history of the times in which it was set or how tone mattered. And then I sat down, signaling it was time for other speakers to address the topic.

Or perhaps the class had no lecture form at all, but an activity I was prepping — with its meaning and discoveries to be arrived at afterwards. Here are the guidelines for the day, that sort of thing.

One day I offered a class on perspective. I had already set up the desks ahead of time. I asked for voluntary models who thought they could hold still in a pose of their choosing for 20 minutes. I offered chairs if they wanted them. I distributed drawing paper and pencils, and asked each participant to draw something they actually saw. I asked that no one took ownership of their work or in any way signed their name. I collected the papers and shuffled them and asked for volunteers to redistribute them to the drawers who were instructed to just accept whatever they got. Then I asked who didn’t get their own work. When hands went up, I suggested that the distributers rethink their decisions — perhaps by standing just behind the drawing circle. It proved surprisingly easy to do, and there were thoughtful comments afterwards on the meaning and importance of perspective, on how much was just there and how much was contributed by the seer (sic) and drawer.

Or it might not even be verbal. One day in a drama class I mimed that I had a sore throat and could not talk. Then I motioned to someone else in the class to use their bodies to communicate something to someone with their own mime. Simple as that. No words were spoken during the period, though laughter often emerged spontaneously.

One of the rarest techniques I ever saw was having the class choose its next literary work. Individuals would suggest possibilities. They would make the case as to why their suggestion would be a reasonable sequence to what came before. Or how much they had enjoyed it. Or what made it special. Perhaps the class was working from an anthology and thus a reader with searching eyes might have discovered it or re-discovered it. Ultimately the class reached agreement. If necessary the book was ordered and the semester unfolded in new and impossible to predict ways — ways somehow specific to that group. Wow. (Thank you Tom)

The Group Process: Now and again at the end of an activity there might be discussion on how the process unfolded, how the class and its individuals functioned as a group. Who were actively participating. Who appeared removed from general discussion. Was there a reason for that? How did the group respond to interruptions? Did the loudest, most persistent voices dominate the classroom? Did the listeners encourage and support the group’s progress? In what way did this discussion provide a kind of closure and maybe a transition to whatever would come next?

The underlying idea is the process of group itself. Whether family around a dinner table, or a class, or a reading group or as a far larger society.

Imagine what would happen if, say, on the first day of each month, new bills in congress would be available for viewing on line and each interested person could offer in simple forced choice or sliding scale style what they thought of it and why. Or we could use Emojis. Any takers? !

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