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Study Group Guide

Contents

  1. The Goal of Study Group Learning
  2. Benefits of Study Group Learning
  3. What to do at Your First Meeting
  4. Your Role in Your Group
  5. Common Problems and Possible Solutions
  6. Study Group Locations at UMass Lowell

The Goal of Study Group Learning

It is believed that students learn by doing. As opposed to being spoon-fed knowledge in lecture, study groups encourage students to go above and beyond what is being taught and to develop their own understanding of subject material. The goal of study group learning is to help students take ownership of course material; to learn to learn.


Benefits of Study Group Learning

  • You can verify with each other any confusing or complex subject material.
  • Learning math is more fun.
  • Math is better understood and retained.
  • Prof/TA will be seen as more approachable.
  • You will have a chance to dialogue with classmates and therefore opportunity to make friends; hopefully you will feel less isolated.
  • Fellow students can be a source of encouragement.
  • Math-anxious students will see themselves as tutor/teachers, not just recipients of someone else's knowledge.
  • An increase in confidence of mathematical ability.
  • You will have opportunity to learn new study habits from peers. In a nutshell, learning math is more personally relevant, and intellectually stimulating.

As you can see from this list, being in a study group can be really helpful. BUT these benefits come only to those who are serious about making their group work well together and serious about learning. So, although I expect you to have fun (eh, there is no reason why you can't have a study group meeting at a pub once in a while) the study group component of your course is serious stuff.

Are you interested in joining a group but don't know how to start? Talk to your classmates or instructor.


What to do at Your First Meeting

We hope that, 10 years from now, you will look back upon this first meeting of your study group with good sentiments. We realize that not all of you will form those "college-days" relationships that TV glamorizes, but some of you will. You just never know what might happen. Here are some things that will help get started on the right track:

Check off this list as you go.

  • Fill out the form called: Study Group Roster with your group members names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers. Guard this sheet. You never know when it will come in handy (or, put the information in your funky address book...just make sure you have it.)
  • Get to know one another. How? Well, ask each other what your majors are or where you are from or how much you love to work in groups...etc. Make sure you have fun.
  • You may want to look around at the rooms that are suggested in this booklet for your study groups. You are going to spending a lot of time in these places (or wherever you hold your meetings).
  • Establish when and where you will hold your next meeting. In fact, I would advise you to decide exact dates for some of your meetings. Make dates--solid dates--right up until the end of term. This way, you will be sure to be able to keep these dates.
  • Establish a network by which you can contact each other for impromptu meetings.
  • Talk more. Give your group a name if you want.

What to Do at Other Meetings

Below is a list of things you should/can do at your meetings. Suggestions in bold I would recommend you do at every meeting.

  • Establish what you hope to accomplish at your meeting.
  • Review lecture notes together, discuss anything you did not understand.
  • Discuss key concepts from lecture.
  • Work on assignments.
  • Assign yourselves questions and work on them.
  • Study for tests or exams.
  • Discuss what questions you expect to be on tests and exams.
  • Go over copies of past exams.
  • Set aside time to talk about anything under the sun other than math.
  • At the end of each session, determine or verify location and time of you next meeting.

Your Role in Your Group

This page contains a section called Problems and Solutions. It's a good idea to read it so you know what can happen and so that you can recognize it when a problem arises. A lot of the problems can be prevented if you work hard not just at the math, but at making your group work. Below is a list of guidelines that, when followed, help to avoid the common pitfalls.

  • Listen carefully to each other. Try not to interrupt. Respond to, or at least acknowledge, comments made or questions asked by other group members. To do so shows respect.
  • Do not accept confusion passively. If you do not understand the information that someone is presenting, try to paraphrase what was said, or ask someone to help you paraphrase it.
  • Ask for clarification whenever someone uses a word in a way that you find confusing (you will likely help him or her.) The correct use of terminology is an essential part of successful communication in math. If you can say it, you understand it.
  • Do not split up the work. I know it's so tempting...but it leads to SOOO many problems. Everyone should focus their attention on the same thing at the same time. It is much easier to resolve conflicts when group members work together and check for agreement frequently.
  • Make a habit of explaining your reasoning or of "thinking out loud," and ask others to do the same. The process of constructing and refining explanations helps everyone to relate the information being presented to what they already know.
  • Be aware of time constraints. It is appropriate (and important) to ask each other how what you are doing will help your group complete an assignment
  • If your group gets stuck, review and summarize what you've done so far. This process creates new opportunities for group members to ask questions, and often it will reveal important connections that have been overlooked.
  • You should always feel comfortable to switch from talking about math to talking about how your group is working. If you have a concern about how your group is functioning, bring it up. Be direct, honest and calm.
  • When someone raises a concern about your group, listen to it carefully. If you have a problem with his or her problem, be sure to criticize the problem and not the person.

Common Problems and Possible Solutions

There are some problem situations in which a study group might find itself. Occasionally a group just doesn't have any interaction among its members. More frequent is the problem of one student is doing all the work, either because no one else will or because he or she doesn't trust the other group members to do a good job. These problems undermine the whole idea behind study groups and are actually detrimental to learning. Not to over-dramatize this but: BE AWARE!!! Just knowing about what can happen helps to prevent or nip in the bud serious problems.

The following list is offered to increase your awareness of potential problems as well as to offer advice on how to deal with them. We cannot stress enough how important it is to discuss your problems in your group. This is why it is so important to establish an open working environment in which you can be objective about how things are going in your group and comfortable enough to point out problems.

Problem: Lack of interaction

Possible Cause: Lack of Experience with Learning in Study Groups

Suggestions:

  • Talk about the problem.
  • As a group, review the section of this booklet entitled, "Your Role in Your Group." You may find that you have not been following one of the guidelines. For example, the impulse to split up the work just kills group interaction.
  • I know this sounds a little corny, but maybe you need to practice how to learn in your groups. Forget about math for the moment and try this activity: choose a really hot issue like abortion or immigration. Let someone in your group make a clear statement about a point of view (it does not have to be their own point of view). Then another person has to counter that opinion without criticizing the first person. Interruptions are not allowed. Go around in a circle until the issue is exhausted.

Possible Cause: You Feel Coerced to Participate

Suggestion:

  • Recall that your study group is for your benefit. If your study group isn't serving your needs you should discuss the matter in your group. Try to come up with strategies for making the group work better for you. Remember, your primary obligation is to yourself and to your group members, not to your professor, UMass Lowell, or some set of rules.

Possible Cause: Physical Arrangement

Suggestion:

  • Make sure you are all sitting facing each other and no one feels isolated by the seating arrangement. When your meeting starts, mentally put yourself in the place of other group members. Is there anyone who you think might feel cut off from the group?

Problem: Group members are participating unequally

Possible cause: Intolerance of Silence

Some people feel a strong need to fill in moments of silence with speech. In the same way that nature abhors a vacuum, some people abhor silence in conversations.

Suggestions:

  • Ask for silence. You could cut into someone's aimless babbling by saying
    "Wait a second! I need some space to think about this!"
  • Bring up the problem carefully with the person one-on-one. Often people who rush into a conversation to keep it going don't realize they are doing it. Explaining that you like long pauses in conversations in order to think could solve the problem.
  • Make sure you are not talking non-stop.

Possible Cause: Dominant Speakers Monopolize the Discussion.

Suggestion:

  • Talk to dominating speakers privately. Find out why they are talking so much and whether they are aware of the problem. Often such people are simply outgoing by nature and are unaware of the problem. If they are aware of the problem, usually they feel they have not had their point fully appreciated, or they feel some need to compete. In all three cases, just talking to them in private can reduce the need for them to dominate conversations.

Possible Cause: A Group Member Has No Interest in Speaking.

Some students feel that they learn better by listening than by talking. Others feel that speaking and helping others requires too much effort.

Suggestion:

  • Try to draw the person into the conversation without being obvious about it. Occasionally ask for their opinion.
  • Make it clear that you appreciate what the person does contribute.

Problem: A Group Member is Doing All the Work

Possible Cause: Lack of Trust between Members to Work

Suggestion:

  • Tell the group member directly that you would like to help. Interrupt the group member with an "excuse me," and voice your ideas. Sit beside the group member and give your opinions about what he or she is doing. Question this group member about what he or she is doing.
  • Talk to the group member in private. Explain how you want to help with the work. After a private discussion with the person, he or she may come to view you as a serious student and open up to your ideas. Demonstrate cooperative learning to this student by involving the rest of the group in the work at hand.
  • If you are the group member who doesn't trust anyone else to do the work, then it is your responsibility to work with your group to make changes so that trust is reestablished. Although you may have a personal goal to complete assignments perfectly, it is a fundamental principle of study groups that everyone in the group understands the material presented in assignments.

Possible Cause: The Rest of Your Group is Slacking Off.

Suggestions:

  • Don't be so eager to be the person who asks to get started. Wait until someone else takes the initiative to start the work. It may take a long time for someone else to pick up the reins, but after you do this a couple of times, the others will realize that they can no longer expect you to be the baby-sitter. Let them see the consequences of their inaction.
  • Enlist the help of other members either by asking them for it directly or by pretending you don't understand something. When they see that you can't do all the work on your own, they have to help.
  • Talk about your problem with your group as a whole. Say that you are ticked off (I realize that it takes a lot of courage to say that you are miffed— What if the rest of the group doesn't care that you are ticked off? Then again, maybe the only way for your group to care a little is for you show some emotion. Maybe they do not realize that you are upset.)

Possible Cause: A Group Member is the Brightest Student In the Group.

Suggestions:

  • Talk to the brightest student. It may be as simple as saying "It's clear that you really get this stuff. But since we are all supposed to understand, going slower would help."
  • If you think you are head and shoulders above the rest of your group, then your task is particularly challenging. Although it is difficult, you must strike a good balance between contributing your own ideas and listening to others to ensure they understand your, their own, and others' ideas. One of the best ways to learn is by doing. Clearly, your group members need the opportunity to do mathematics. Make sure your zealousness doesn't take that away from them. Also, accept that there are many ways to approach a problem. Even when you know one solution to a problem, there is a lot to be learned from listening to alternative approaches. You also learn more by helping other students understand the material. Professors will tell you that they really began to understand math/stats well when they started to teach it!

Problem: A Group Member is Being Uncooperative.

Suggestions:

  • Try talking to the group member in private. He or she may have a problem with how the group is being run but doesn't feel comfortable bringing it up with the whole group.
  • Hold a group meeting and invite your professor to discuss the problem.

Problem: Reinforcing Misconception

It is quite easy for a group of students to mistakenly agree, for example, that when they get zero over zero they can cancel to get one. Or to misread what it means for a function to be continuous. Or to confuse "if" with "only if." Who will be around to point out these errors?

Suggestions:

  • Those who are sensitive to the careless use of language must make a practice of requesting clarification. If something doesn't sound right to you, say so. You may actually discover a wide-spread misconception.
  • If you are uncertain about what is correct or incorrect, have someone in the group ask the professor at the end of the next class or during their office hours. Have the phrase repeated to the professor. You could also ask a prof or tutor in OS219A.

Study Groups Locations at UMass Lowell

  • In Olsen Hall, the lobbies in the middle of floors 2 through 5 are large enough for a meeting.
  • Most departments have a lounge for their majors. As long a one member of your study group is a major in a department, it should be appropriate for the whole group to use the lounge for meetings. Mathematics and Chemistry majors share a lounge in Olney 407.
  • CLASS - Second floor of Southwick.
  • Basement of Southwick- good for meetings, particularly at mealtimes.
  • Off - campus
    • Places on University Ave. would love to have you as long as you buy a drink, at least.