Thursday, June 22, 2023

Techniques of Teaching : Why we should not Force Grouping before the course

Whenever I enter a training classroom in a corporate setting, apart from the greetings and smiles from the HR personnel, there's an 80% chance that I'll see a seating arrangement chart, indicating that the participating learners have been intentionally grouped. This is because most corporate training sessions involve participants from different departments, and HR always aims to provide opportunities for cross-departmental interactions. They also prefer to avoid having familiar faces clustered together in the same group, as it can create a small circle where participants who know each other too well might engage in distracting conversations during the training (XD). This could have a negative impact on the course delivery. Therefore, experienced HR professionals are considerate enough to randomly assign learners to groups, either by specifying their seats on the attendance sheet or asking them to sit according to the group numbers indicated on their table cards.

Every time I encounter such a situation, I always pick up the attendance sheet and erase the group assignments! Then, looking at the surprised expression on the HR's face, I say, "Let's not enforce the groupings today. Please feel free to choose your own seats!" If there are already group indicators on the name tags, I'll erase them too (XD). Even if someone has already checked in, I'll ask him/her to choose a seat they prefer. At this point, the learners are usually a bit taken aback and ask, "Really? Can we really choose our own seats?" I intentionally emphasize, "I'm the instructor for today, and I have the final say (XD)." Then, the learners will find a good seat (usually somewhere towards the back in a more secluded area, haha, I understand!) and sit happily.

HR personnel often rush to me and say, "But, teacher... we don't want people to gather with their own colleagues, that's why we randomized the groupings..." I smile and say, "I understand your intention, and I will help you achieve your goals, just in a different way!"

Let's first emphasize the drawbacks of forced grouping:

1. Unhappy learners from the start: I always emphasize that learning is a benefit for the teacher or training organizers. However, for the learners, it can be a source of pressure, something they have to do. When they enter the classroom and see the seating arrangement chart, some may end up sitting at the front ,thinking to themselves, "What bad luck to be assigned to such a lousy spot today", while others are seated at the back ,thinking "Why am I so far back? I can't see clearly!". Regardless of where they sit, everyone has something to say because it wasn't their choice! So, they're unhappy right from the start.

2. Varied arrival times for each individual: People enter the classroom at different times, which can sometimes result in one group having more members while another group has very few. The awkward situation arises when a group has only one person present, sitting there all alone... it feels extremely dull! If the course is about to start and the group sizes are uneven, adjustments may need to be made.

3. Uncertain effectiveness of communication: The intention of training organizers is to allow people from different departments to get to know each other and engage in communication. However, the reality is that because they don't know each other, most people won't initiate conversations. You'll notice that the majority of participants quietly flip through their handouts or focus on their familiar companion, their mobile phone! In the beginning stages of the course, people generally don't engage in much interaction.

Deliberate Casualness

Therefore, I always encourage everyone to choose their own seats and deliberately emphasize, "Please select a seat you like!" Just set a maximum limit for each group (chairs and seats can be controlled). You'll notice that most people tend to sit towards the back (feeling more comfortable), and they choose to sit next to someone they already know (feeling more familiar). During this time, the teacher can play some relaxed music and not worry about how everyone is seated or force them to move forward. It's all about being effortless from the beginning! You'll find that the atmosphere becomes more relaxed, and people feel at ease chatting and exchanging reasons for attending ("Why are you here too?"). (Only the HR personnel might feel a bit anxious about everyone sitting towards the back, but I always reassure them with a smile, "Don't worry, I'll handle it!")

Some more alert participants might test the waters and ask me, "Teacher, you won't make us change seats later, right?" I always respond with a smile, "What do you think?"

Then, as the 9:00 session begins, within 10 minutes, through the random grouping method facilitated by the teacher, everyone will be separated from their closest friends (the ones they sat with earlier) and placed in different groups!

Oh, did you forget? Do you remember the articles we wrote? Take a look at how the course introduction is conducted! Each technique is interconnected, one after another! Behind every aspect in "The Techniques of Teaching," there is a purpose!

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