Educational Philosophy, Concepts, Methods, and Skills in Teaching 11 I need some more time to think about it, what do others think about it?” mod- els nondefensive behavior for students to emulate when their clients ask them a question that they do not know how to answer. Maintaining a flexible focus. One of the main challenges associated with the discussion method is balancing being flexible in response to students’ questions and concerns and moving through the material in a timely fashion. Where focus is insufficient, students might talk at one another from personal agendas, narrating one incident after another without listening or attending to responses, which impedes movement toward educational goals. Too much control, on the other hand, results in mechanical responses and interferes with the free interplay of pertinent ideas and the exploration of new ones. Because students’ self-expression is not the reason for discussion, the teacher must take responsibility for keeping the discussion focused while allowing the exploration of ideas by clarifying how a new idea relates to or expands upon the original topic. Occasionally, students’ interests or concerns may veer altogether from the focal point or occur ahead of the teacher’s planned sequence of topics. In such a case, the instructor can follow the students’ lead, explicitly acknowledging that the original point is being temporarily laid aside and will be returned to later in the present discussion, or that the class will return to the new topic at a later point. Periodically during the session, the teacher will need to pull the threads of the discussion together, and at the end of the session relate them to what has been achieved and what still remains to be done. It also is helpful for the instructor to check in with students by asking, “Does this make sense?” Using the monitoring skill from group work, the instructor might say, “I notice some of you looking confused [or “you all are so quiet”]. Should we go over this again to make it more clear?” In some instances, especially those involving ethical dilemmas or gaps in knowledge, a clear resolution may not exist—again, because social work involves shades of gray rather than black and white. The instructor can point out that students are experiencing firsthand the need to wrestle with the ambi- guities that accompany social work practice, which enhances their critical thinking abilities. As students become more familiar with one another and their instructor, the teacher can consider having students take responsibility for pulling the discus- sion together, since the technique will be a useful tool for them in their practice with individuals, families, and groups. For example, the instructor might stop the discussion and ask, “Where are we right now? What one or two ideas are you pulling out from our discussion?” Ideally, students leave each class session having wrestled with signif- icant issues and with a sense of having deepened their understanding of
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