Bond Better, Doodle, and Control Disruptions in the Classroom
A friend and colleague, Kay Aubrey, and I just discussed some techniques she learned through focus group moderator training. She recommended Moderating to the Max for both running focus groups and energizing lectures. I was especially interested in this because I recently offered advice to a retired elementary teacher who wants to run focus groups. Her classroom skills seem ideal: listening, pulling out the ideas behind the words, and making sure everyone is heard.
I run strategic planning sessions, which is a great way to refine moderation skills, since otherwise you can’t accomplish the group’s goals. Before this conversation with Kay, I never consciously thought about how many of the skills for teaching, moderating, and presenting overlap. The introduction to the book (courtesy of Amazon’s Search Inside!) says that moderators need to know how to lay the ground rules for participation, help people feel comfortable, encourage responses, ask questions, probe for clarification, segue between topics, and stay on course. This is the same as teaching and presenting.
Kay offered me some further insights into these overlapping skills based on her experience teaching:
“I teach qualitative research skills to my classes as part of teaching usability and design. I use my class time as a way to improve my overall moderating skills and have found that it helps me develop stronger bonds with the students. I encourage each person to express their thoughts at least once during every class, which keeps the students’ attention more focused on the class as they never know when I will call on them. As they talk, I listen very intently to what they say, probing to get them to clarify their thoughts. The best classes are when the students ‘go on a roll’ which in focus group parlance means the moderator steps back and lets the group run the discussion, as long it meets the study objectives.
“Sometimes when I am teaching a group of people who seem to be able to handle a bit of whimsy, and the class energy level dips, I use exercises from Moderating to the Max. One of my favorites is ‘pass the doodle’. I ask each student to take a blank sheet of paper. I announce a topic that most will have a definite opinion on but that won’t create strong negative emotions. I ask them to doodle a quick picture to express their thoughts. After two minutes I ask them to pass their doodle to a person to their right, who adds to it, passes it along, and so on until everyone has doodled on each page. Then we post the pictures and as a group interpret the meaning of the drawings. This is not only a fun activity for adults, but it also is a valid qualitative technique that you can use in a focus group!”
Kay went on to say that she has used techniques from her training in focus group moderation to control disruptive students. I assume she uses more sophisticated techniques than time outs.