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(This document started on 24 Nov 2003.)
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Department of Psychology,
University of Glasgow.
These are notes, originally meant for psychology PAL facilitators, on how to
design a PAL session.
They cover both low level details and high level sketches for session plans.
use the Contents above to jump to what you want.
It's been easy to think up to now (week 8, 2003) that planning a PAL
session is about choosing some specific topic i.e. course content such
as episodic memory, statistics, doing the critical review. This has been
important in pre-advertising agendas which in turn we believe is crucial to
attracting clients. It is then natural, if you are preparing a talk, to
prepare some content under that heading. But in fact in PAL, facilitators are not
meant to be giving talks or teaching content. Instead what they need to do is
to plan an activity: a set of actions they will take. Furthermore, we
need to remind ourselves, some of the key benefits of PAL are
side-effects of successful session activities, and not things that can best
as agenda items, nor even as a structure for activities. For instance, getting
clients to know each other and feel at ease talking together will come out of
any successful joint activity, but on the whole not mainly out of sitting down
to say "now we'll do agenda item 2: making friends"; and similarly getting
panicky students to feel more confident but also more constructive about what
they might do next on the course will come out of talking through the steps
they might take and hearing what peers' plans and actual actions are. Being
told "now relax", or an agenda item called "panic reduction" is less likely to
We have therefore three independent elements to consider, but the key one for
which to do detailed plans from week to week is in fact the activity in the
session, not the others. I've been extremely slight in the advice I've offered
on this: this document is mainly an attempt to offer a set of example activity
plans, and share my feeling of insight that it's activities not subject
content that is the necessary thing to pre-plan.
It's also become clear from facilitator comments that at least two further
issues or dimensions sometimes have a big impact in practice on whether an
activity plan works well: the client group size, and whether clients
have done preparatory homework for the activity. We therefore have five
dimensions or largely independent issues.
Ideas from Bournemouth are here.
- Content/topic: both for pre-advertising, and the relationship to the
course curriculum. For advertising, it's probably not just deadlines and marks
that can be attractive to all; but other (specific) topics, ideas, ...
- Activity in the session. A lecturer's plan is often simply to speak (do
monologue), and the details of their plan are then just a long list of points
to make. A PAL facilitator's plan will be to interact, and often needs to be full of
alternative probes, prompts, suggestions depending on the clients' responses or
lack of them. Because it depends on the clients' responses, it needs in some
ways to be much more complex than a plan for a talk, BUT it doesn't need to
have much or any technical content in it.
- Actual educational benefits / outcomes. These are what we use in the medium
and long term to judge our success, as will clients looking back. But perhaps
apart from getting feedback in the last 2 minutes of a session, these may not
be explicitly related to the activity plans nor the advertised agenda items. I
may say I like this salad because of its taste, but the nutritional benefits
are in (say) the vitamins; I may say I like hill walking because of the views,
but the health benefits are in the exercise, the social benefits in the
companionship, the mental benefits in the break from work.
- Preparation and homework: whether each participant did homework in advance;
brought their notes; is knowledgeable or not on this topic. Some activities
won't work without preparation (e.g. critiquing previously distributed critical
reviews), others can exploit differences (e.g. get a knowledgeable student to
teach the others), others may be neutral on this.
- Group size. If there are only 1 or 2 clients, it is impossible to get peer
interaction. Similarly, if there are more than 6 then far fewer clients
tend to talk than in small groups. So it is better to split a group on the
spot. Have parallel sessions (same time, adjacent rooms). But all this is only
important for discussions: not so much for other aims e.g. mentoring.
Though the advertising is probably about , the planning/preparation is
really about . And  depends on  and .
Thus I think the thing is to pre-advertise a topic, but bring an
activity plan rather than topic content, and to know/expect that a
substantial part of the actual educational benefit is different again
e.g. integration, letting them let off steam, get reassurance. In putting
together the following suggestions on activity plans, I also try to take into
account group size (some plans won't work groups that are too small or too
large, but others may), and client preparation.
In selecting activities I also suggest we should allow for three things that
may not be obviously in a PAL remit.
- Firstly don't think the fear of deadlines is the
only possible motivator for clients. There is probably a significant, even if
minority, taste for "deep" discussions done for interest in psychology, not
mere panic about course requirements.
- Also, a regular review of work and content too: perhaps a little like the
way people go to exercise classes as a way of making themselves do it because
they are not independent enough to keep on doing it alone.
- And finally, we clearly do get some clients who only come because they have
a last minute panic about work deadlines. We should be ready with a plan for
dealing with them.
They may in fact be doomed because it is too late to do a good job
before the deadline, and they haven't done any work yet, nor even got a plan or
made any decisions. They will also be in no position to listen to peers, and
be likely to cling to you asking for the answers. This is not your
responsibility. But telling them the truth bluntly may not be helpful, as well
as unkind. What could help? What is ideal? What is the right aim to have
- Turn their blind panic into a realistic view of the task, with a plan.
- Hope that they end up with the perception that the real problem is not
having started earlier (but this is the desired END state, not what you start
- It is not your job to give them an answer, nor to give them a plan. You
need to scaffold them into constructing a plan.
- Either get other clients to suggest plans (perhaps articulate the steps they
have actually already done, or that they are planning to do), and write these
out. By plan I mean not a simple statement of the objective to be achieved
(hand in an essay), but a set of steps, breaking down the actions needed into
steps (e.g. choose a topic, find books and papers to read, plan the essay, write
each part in the plan, read over the whole and revise it). If different
clients have somewhat different plans that is even better: put them up side by
Then perhaps get people to pencil in how long would be comfortable to take for
each step; and how that relates to when this bit of work was announced (no
need to draw the moral explicitly). And
then after that, how long this client will actually take.
- If you are dealing with this client one to one, reflect back a series of
scaffolding questions, getting them to come out with a plan. Write (either
they or you write) on a board or a bit of paper, each component they mention,
and gradually shuffle these into order, review for completeness; perhaps add
times; then start to elaborate how each step might be done.
"What is the bit of work", an essay, how long, 2000 words, what is the topic,
don't know, where is it defined, there are several listed in the handbook, have
you got the handbook, no, here's a copy [in the PAL room], OK so the first step
is choosing a topic? yes [write this down; and write down finishing and handing
in the essay as final steps]. So when you've chosen a topic/title can you
start writing? no, what else has to be done .......
Your real job is overcoming the paralysis of panic and of facing a new task not
done before, by breaking it down into steps, and perhaps breaking each of these
down in turn, until it's down to steps that seem manageable to the client. In
fact the idea of breaking down tasks into steps is really the key lesson here;
plus having broken them down, assigning time-lengths to each and hence
reasoning back from the deadline to when you must start. This is a very simple
idea, yet many people don't have it in practice. Don't lecture them however,
have them work through it implicitly especially if they are in a panic.
Reflecting on it, discussing it explicitly might however be a good exercise for
people who have done it once or more already.
Thus this activity can be done (with variations) with either one client or a
large group, and with clients who have done nothing and those who have done
plenty (provided you get the description of what they have done whittled down
to a concise to-do list for those who haven't).
Get them first to list ongoing activities; and then to sketch and
compare their personal plans for each. Keep it short, breezy: the main aim is
to get them thinking about it early and often; and to give them a sense for how
different students do this differently.
They will probably only mention the next deadline: but prompt an
acknowledgement of later deadlines too. And prompt them to discuss
what they do about current lectures i.e. an ideal student might read over and
re-structure their lecture notes every evening, and do some reading about each
such topic. "Are you going to lectures now, or is the essay the only thing you
work on?" "Do you look at your notes, or are you just leaving all that till
later? will you remember what they mean then? are you reading the relevant
chapter / papers for the current lectures? ... what do each of you think about
If an essay, get them to sketch up a plan of the component actions for doing
it. Then also for current lectures: actually sketch up alternative strategies
e.g. go to lectures, don't look at their notes until week before exam OR 10 min.
review each evening OR read textbook chapter before lecture, ....
Do your best to avoid sounding preachy, and to elicit what the clients in the group
are each actually doing. Delay saying what you yourself a) did do b) are doing
now in your year. Merely raising the topic will do more to make them think
about it later than preaching will. Or if you are playful, then act out for
them two contrasting imaginary students or tutors: a) hellfire sermon on what
they should do; b) the Rake's Progress and how they will feel later in the
year, as they drop out, ...
This can be done with one or many clients. It can be done without preparation.
The main issue is how to keep it brief, since without preparation clients may
tend to chat vaguely for a long time, when really there are only a few activity
headings being reviewed.
Can always get the group to work through in detail a specific
task/problem e.g. an exam question from statistics; other exam questions: get
clients to propose an outline essay answer, or rival ones. If they haven't
prepared in advance, don't hesitate to get them to do 5 minutes silent work
individually, then present and argue what they've come up with. Group
discussion only happens really if people have different views and are
internally committed to them so they have justifications for them. So
developing their own outlines individually before the discussion is often
important: otherwise they just agree with the first thing suggested because
they haven't thought of any alternative.
On the other hand, if it's something they feel daunted or stuck with, then
"brain storming" combined suggestions on how to get started at all may be best:
but you can suggest that once they are unstuck, it is left to finish
individually afterwards (and perhaps report back next week).
This can be done with either preparation or not: adapt the activity to this.
It probably can't be done usefully with a single client; could be done with two
if they are knowledgeable enough to construct what is needed; can probably be
done with pretty un-knowledgeable clients if the group is a bit larger so there
is more to pool.
Whenever I've seen a TV documentary of any interest, or go to a lecture,
or am in the middle of writing a paper, then I like to lie in the bath and try
to list in my head the main point or points; or alternatively go to a pub and
answer someone's question about what I've heard or what I'm writing (they'll
only want the 60 second version so summarising the key points is the thing).
This is important for re-structuring in the mind from the topic name to the
main points, in order of importance. It can also be done as an exercise any
time with no preparation in PAL sessions. And it would be a good habit for
students to acquire doing for themselves (i.e. it's good as modelling a
desirable study skill). I may need to do it up to a dozen times before I'm
really fluent on a talk or topic. And this ease of organised recall is the
best possible preparation for exams, especially ones that require you to use
the ideas for some new question you haven't been told about.
What's the most interesting lecture you've had in the last week?
What was the main message? / why was it interesting? / what was the most
interesting point in it?
It's fine if they don't agree with each other (so explicitly check round to see
if others have a different view): write up the rival views side by side on the
It can be expanded by a) asking for rival views b) asking for a fuller outline
of the points covered c) asking for reasons/ explanations of the key points,
once these have been established.
Some lectures are not organised, and leave the audience with a jumble of
points. But this discussion is still good: clients can decide how it should be
organised, and use this as an agenda for followup study i.e. what they need to
find out to organise the topic for themselves.
This exercise type can be done by a single person or a group; without
preparation by clients, or they could come ready to give their 2 minutes' worth
each on a different one; without preparation by facilitators: just ask about
which was the most interesting or difficult or important lecture recently, or
alternatively pick in advance a topic notorious for being problematic. Or
spring on them a topic from weeks ago, to test/demonstrate whether they
remember anything (if not, what are they going to do about it). This is often
a reassuring exercise: that at first they don't think they remember anything,
but actually can reconstruct quite a lot given a little time, and collectively
reconstruct almost anything.
Any discussion is good for PAL because it a) practises peer interaction
on course material, b) gets clients doing mental reprocessing of the material
and so promotes learning, c) is an occasion for them getting to know each other
better, feel more part of the class. You can hardly lose.
But "deep" learning is defined as done for interest, and to try to understand,
rather than to get marks, and to pass tests to please others. So any discussion
not tied to a bit of coursework, but about the real and/or wider meaning of the
concepts connected with the course counts. Generally speaking, there is not
much right and wrong about views on these topics, but rather discussion about
connections, implications, arguments pro and con. So chairing can be aimed at
equal speaking time for all (including the facilitator's own views if you
like), and keeping people interested, but not at reaching a specific
conclusion or action plan. Very often the main learning gain is raising
awareness of alternative reasonable views, rather than learning about one best
A good deep learning discussion could be based on trying to come up with
any one (or all) of these different types of connection.
on types of deep learning.)
- Concept to example(s). Can you give specific examples of the concept?
Given a suggested example, can you decide whether or not it is
a valid example?
- Concept to personal experience.
How does the concept relate to a) things that have happened to you,
b) how it looks when you witness it in others.
- Concept to alternative (rival) theories of this topic.
What are the rival theories/models?
- Concept to contradictions or inconsistencies, real or apparent, with any
other facts and theories (in other areas). What other cases,
laws, commonsense can you think of that seem in conflict with
- What prior basic questions, independent of theory, does this concept
address? Is this a neat academic game limited to one experimental paradigm,
or does it explain a feature of everyday life, or solve a real problem e.g.
make sick people better?
How to get it launched? 3 types of source for this
- Totally generic, you can have prepared for any day, any time, any level.
E.g. the nature of psychology: why does psychology have such a range of
topics from social to physiological, why such a range of methods and could
you do all of psychology with just one method? which do you prefer? and why:
because it suits your study patterns, or gives results you value more?
In my view this is a question that is worth revisiting repeatedly (say once or
twice a year) by every student, to reflect on their views as informed by doing
more and more psychology (which nevertheless almost certainly won't answer the
question). In a sense the question is "what is the point of
researching/studying psychology?" and it's nice to have a personal answer to
- Manufacture a topic on the spot as above for recent lecture topics.
You can do this without preparation by either clients or facilitators, apart
from getting this recipe ready:
What's the most interesting concept you have had in lectures recently?
[short discussion, pick something]
OK, now lets work on a statement of this concept
[may only take a minute, but get clear what is to be talked about e.g. episodic
OK now lets go through various types of "deep" connection in turn for this
- First: what would count as a personal experience related to this?
[each person comes up with, or you jointly agree an example e.g. going to the
first lecture of the term; leaving home this morning]
What do I actually remember about this? do I really remember much detail, or
is it controlled by semantic-memory type stuff. Do you know how many others
were in the lecture? or the colour of the car passing my front door when I
left? is it really episodic then?
- Rival theories: could we possibly not believe in episodic memory?
what would be an alternative? if no alternatives it is merely a restatement
* What is the evidence for it? what evidence doesn't support it? ....
- Further consequences. Do I retain all my life a complete memory of every
such episode? .... Is it true? if I meet someone will I always connect their
face, name, and what we talked about? could I remember some of these pairs but
- Independent judgements of the theory. What would I want from a theory of
memory before I read the literature? what prior problems should it solve or
explain? E.g. forgetting, having no memory of things you have in fact done,
the differences in people's ability to remember things ...How do current ideas
like episodic memory stand up to this?
- Are there any other things I know that ought to be connected to this theory?
E.g. Proust's famous novel about memory: how does this connect? The Peanuts
cartoon "Can I go home Miss? my brain is full". Why do we sometimes feel
that laying down new memories is too much effort, ....
- Collect deep learning discussion topics from lecturers in advance (or from
their course materials). An ideal such topic is not just a statement but also
a sketch of an argument for and against, to get discussion launched.
- [L3 physiological]
At birth a baby's brain contains 100 billion neurones. Essentially all the
neurones the brain will ever have are present at birth. If this is true, how
do we account for the physical changes observed, even in individuals of
advanced age, depending on the environment in which they live?
What consequences does this have for public policy?
- [L3 cognitive]
What is the usefulness of a the distinction between episodic and
semantic memory if all memories originate from episodic experiences?
- [L3 cognitive]
In order to understand language we have to make all sorts of
inferences and we have to assume that much of the knowledge we use to
understand the text is shared with the speaker or writer (this is
called "mutual knowledge"). Are there limits to the inferences we
can make? Are there limits to what we can assume about the speakers
intention? If there are limits, what are they and how do they come
- [L3 perception]
The are more than 20 cortical areas in the primate brain that have some
kind of retinotopic coding (neighbouring cells in the brain respond to
neighbouring regions in visual space). How is it then that our
consciousness is unitary (that is we perceive only one object at one
place at one time)?
- [L3 perception]
(from Gregory, RL (2003). Seeing after blindness, Nature Neuroscience, 6,
The empiricist philosopher John Locke addressed the issue of whether
experience is important in the development of vision in 1694. The
question was originally raised in a letter from his Dublin lawyer
friend William Molyneux:
"Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to
distinguish between a cube and a sphere of the same metal ... and the
blind man made to see. Query whether by his sight before he touched
them, could he distinguish and tell which was the globe and which the
The acute and judicious proposer answers: not. For though he has
attained the experience that what affects his touch, yet he has not
attained the experience of how the globe, how the cube, affects his
touch so and so, must affect his sight, so and so ..."
The main aims are probably
a) to reveal to clients examples of how
rather different pieces of work for the same "task" can be equally good in
their way. And hence aspects of examples we may want to try to imitate.
b) to give practice at judging what is good and bad about a piece of work. We
all have to govern our own work by such judgements: we need more practice at
making them. And also relating bits of work to the (abstract) statements of
what we were asked to do: an example of an introduction, of being critical in a
Best format is probably to have 2 or 3 people (only) read the same thing, and
compare comments. After that, more people don't generate much that is new in
comments. This implies very small groups to work in.
A CR takes say 30 mins to read: so must be done in advance. A lab report can
be read in a few minutes so could be done on the spot. If at all possible pick
substantially contrasting examples, and usually ones that are neither great nor
terrible (though another tactic would be to give a very bad and a very good
My formula for critiquing in such exercises is:
- Everyone MUST say what is the best and what is the worst aspect of the item
(not just one or the other).
- If possible, (it isn't always) when saying what is bad say specifically how it
could be done better.
- Preferably give best and worst about each section or part, in addition to
- If the person who wrote it is there, they should give their (self)evaluation
If it's a level 1 essay: pick a topic not being set this year.
If it's a lab report or something that is set this year, do not reveal what
marks it got or even your own judgement: focus discussion on good and bad
features of the examples, and what makes them good or bad.
This is about getting them better at exercising judgement of work and giving
reasons for the judgement, not about agreeing with the marking of a particular
member of staff.
Some courses or course elements assume students already know material which in
fact many may not, or may not feel comfortable with. Facilitators will
probably know from their experience of the course which these are. A good
standard practice, only occasionally organised by staff, is to lay on a
"pre-lecture" session. The simple version is: to advertise this topic, and
have the group assemble basic knowledge on it, guided by the facilitators who
know roughly what will be assumed.
A full version of this, organised only by particularly good course teams, is a
session where a set of "self-assessment questions" (SAQs) have been provided
for each student to test themselves, and then tutors (or in this case PAL
groups) are available so that students can then get the help their
self-diagnosis shows is necessary. Even students who do well on the SAQs in
fact usually benefit from this as a warmup exercise so that they can take in
the first lecture with technical terms etc. flying around.
As mentioned above, working on standard problems that the staff set like past
exam questions is one obvious possible activity. Another, though, is to
consider different kinds of task not usually suggested by staff but which may
help. Thus for any repeated task such as exam questions on a course, it is
generally enlightening for a learner to:
Split into groups. Even if not enough facilitators, split, and the
facilitator just rotates round groups which get on with it themselves. For
discussion, 5 or 6 may be the best number. If more, the discussion proceeds,
but many stay silent.
- Work on examples set by staff
- Mark answers on such examples by other students, discussing what is good
and bad about the answer, and what mark they each think it deserves. This
encourages explicit discussion of the judgements, and also gives exposure to
how differently different students answer the same thing. The CR activity
above is a form of this, but doing it for exam answers can be useful too.
It gets learners to think about exams from the other side as well.
If you cannot mark and critique answers, you won't be able to tell how good
your own work is as you produce and try to improve it.
- Setting exam questions. Again, gets learners to think about the course
from another angle; and also to pay attention to the wording of questions.
- Set multiple choice quizzes (MCQs). Setting and answering tests of a
quite different format than the one you will actually be assessed on won't
help by way of being a direct rehearsal, but again it gives a different kind
of exercise by chopping up and exercising the knowledge in a different way.
- Do a vocabulary exercise
like Bournemouth suggests. I.e. pick a technical term, look up or discuss its
meaning, and then look up or come up with examples of it.
- Tell them you (the facilitator) will now simulate (role play) another
- Merge with another group if there is one in parallel i.e. at same time but
in another room.
Facilitator asks a question, no-one replies.
What shall we talk about?
OK, the agenda topic is Episodic memory. Who knows anything about this?
What is the most important thing about it; its definition?
OK we'll do a quick group reconstruction of what you've been told about
it. The person who speaks first has the easiest job because others have to
think of something new to say. So who knows the absolute least about this?
[if silence, pick someone at random or on your left "OK we'll pretend you're
the most ignorant about this"; otherwise pick the volunteer]
So what's the first thing that comes into your head on this?
[write it up]
Is this right?
OK, what else should be added in?
Yes? why?: how would you justify that? [ask the next person]
No? what is wrong with that?
[Go round whole group in turn. If new contributions run out then start
Does that look like it all, or do you think there is other stuff no-one can
remember that should be there?
Or alternatively, put up a stupid suggestion yourself and have them improve
it: because by setting the standard of contribution low, you reduce fear of
saying something unworthy; AND you get them thinking of reasons, AND it is
easier (for them, for most of us) to say what is wrong with something than
what the right solution is -- destructive criticism is an easy starting
"OK, I'll make a suggestion and you correct it.
Memory is just like a tape recorder except you can't hear the tape whirring.
How do we know it's not like that?"
Really we must try very hard to prevent this: merge groups ruthlessly, and
so on, because an important subset of PAL benefits require peer discussion, and
this cannot be done with only 1 or 2 clients in a session.
However, here you are this time with a single client. Best substitute may be a
"counselling" mode of discourse, where the facilitators relentlessly reflect
back the client's questions, and scaffold them into constructing a solution
themselves. If that seems too socially deviant (too unhelpful in manner), next
best may be to, not give them answers just like that, but construct them in
front of the client to demonstrate the construction method.
What do I do about CRs?
Well, where's your handbook right, lets look at the section on CRs, ... get
the deadline, find the ref to the web document, .... work out a schedule and
component actions, ....
I can't do stats
Where are your notes? lets pick a problem and see if we can use your notes to
work through it.....
We (in the psychology PAL scheme) seem to have found that pre-advertising
agenda items for PAL sessions is crucial. Contrary to intuition, it looks as
if this is most successful (in attracting large numbers of clients, and then
having a session they say is good) if:
- The topic is as specific as possible e.g. not "the cognitive psychology
module" but "memory"; not "memory" but "semantic memory"; not "semantic
memory" but the question "How do studies of semantic priming contribute to our
understanding of the organisation of semantic memory?"
- Add something of interest to the item. Not just "Essays" but "How to get
an A"; not just "Piaget" but "what's the one thing you need to know about
Piaget" or "Why do so many researchers spend their effort trying to prove
- Setting work to be done before coming to a session often seems to
increase attendance, not avoidance (perhaps again because it looks specific,
One view of PAL is that it is not teaching but peers assisting each other: the
contrast between an authoritative source and mutual assistance and
construction. This goes with a contrast between how in most cases a
lecturer is pursuing a curriculum, and has a fixed unnegotiated agenda of topic
content for a session; while in PAL the default assumption is the opposite that
there is no particular topic picked for a session, and it depends on the
- Writing stuff on the board (or a piece of paper between you if only one
client). The point is that everyone remembers stuff in random order, and you
need to put it into a structure later; you need to "capture" the bits that come
out or else they'll get forgotten; and conversation often puts even less
structure on the bits than was actually there in the head of the speaker.
And clients like it too because they can go on thinking / reviewing the bits
as others talk or pause.
- Can try to get clients to do the writing. But it's actually a good role
for the facilitator because it moves them away from looking as if they should
contribute content, gives them even more of an excuse for asking what a bit
means, why it's right, what is missing. Perhaps ask clients to do it after
several sessions of facilitator doing it.
- If you are a mind-mapping practitioner you can do this too. (Because you
like it, because it's good, because it's a model for clients to see.)
- Nothing wrong with re-writing all the board notes after a bit to
- If different clients/ subgroups come up with different lists/maps, nothing
wrong with having them side by side for comparison and perhaps debate.
- This applies to everything: items when discussing a topic, the agenda for
the session, a plan for doing a major bit of coursework, ... worked solution
to a problem.
- After a bit, ask them to produce explanations/ justifications by voicing
dumb-sounding objections or queries to the fragments they suggest.
- [Kim's rule] Never use the word "problem"
- In advertising, this makes them come expecting answers from expert
- In the session e.g. don't start by asking if anyone has a
problem: then they start expecting you to answer.
- Leave the room for a bit. This certainly reduces their attempts to get
you to answer, and if they are set up with something to do, leaving is possible.
- Technical terms (vocabulary items): if a client asks, or perhaps
periodically a facilitator should ask: what does a given technical term mean?
It's handy if you have a Dictionary of Psychology handy, or alternatively
discuss and assemble a definition. You can extend this exericse (spending a
few minutes on this regularly, as terms come up, might be a good standard
practice) by then recalling and/or inventing examples of the concepts (e.g. a
cow is an example of a mammal) as
suggested by Bournemouth.
(In fact jargon (technical vocabulary) is a serious and pervasive problem in
all subjects at university see
this web page.)
However another view is that PAL really is teaching: it's no
different than the skills a lecturer ought to have, though often doesn't. So
in designing PAL we should draw on all those skills and techniques other than
direct presentation that are available for lecturers; and view PAL as filling
in the missing or under-provided aspects of an ideal and rounded learning and
teaching process. In which case we could draw on all the techniques we have
ever encountered, or even read about in books on how to teach in universities,
and ask ourselves how we would apply them to our subject, our course, our PAL
It's about interactive teaching: where the fundamental reason for having a
campus university (rather than doing distance learning) is exploited: useful
contact with other learners in ways that directly help learning. It's about
contingent teaching: where what gets done next depends on the learners and
their response and requests (as opposed to following a fixed agenda or
procedure regardless of learner response). PAL is this in that voluntary
attendance, client suggestions, and facilitator memories of the course have a
big effect in deciding what is done and how long to spend on it.
To some extent we could extend this and also ask if there are missing topics
or material students would like to be covered e.g. a reflective view of the
contrasting methods in psychology, practical sessions on web searching, ...
And in these ways, view PAL overall as a student-driven complement to the
course in both topics and learning methods, that is likely to cover any and
all issues routinely missed or under-provided in the "official" part of the
- More opportunity for practice and feedback on exercises
- Possible content e.g. why is psychology diverse?
- Possible activities e.g. peer discussion not just tutoring
- Missing skills e.g. mind-mapping, web searching, using e-journals
- Reading other students' work and trying to form a rational judgement of it
- A real discussion on why psychology uses such a diverse mixture of
methods and whether it really has to.
- A place to think for yourself
- Explicit chunk on ethics training like what the medics get: i.e. content
on principles and cases [L4?]
- Explicit chunk on ethics training: introduce consent forms, basic
principles, most common cases for psychology projects. [L3]
- Practice using journals in levels 1 and 2 for further reading for essays.
- Linking real life examples to concepts.
- Use photos of (everyday?) scenes, and discuss what connection they could
have with a given psychological topic e.g. children and development, ...
- Warn them to get started on the professional skills portfolio: it takes a
lot of hours, and keeping up with it during the course is much better than
leaving it all till the end. Solution may be to show an example physically
that a facilitator did last year (the bulky and often fancy folios handed in).
- Revision and practice for the honours exams exam. What is required now? [L3]
- Revision and practice for the practical exam [L4]
- Designing and then answering each others' MCQs on recent lectures.
- Talk over what is expected next of you on the course, rather than having
to work it out only from the handbooks without being able to check one's grasp
of this with other people.
- Video sessions: where there are excellent videos.
- Similarly, sessions with 3D (plastic) models of the human brain.
- Group mindmap for selected past exam questions [L1, ....]
- [L3] Get them ready in advance for the physiological lectures, which
assume competence at some of the material and come as a shock to students not
ready for this.
- Reviewing papers (like in history seminars), and looking at the important
parts and its drawbacks etc., then comparing this with what others thought. It
would need some preparation by the students, though people already seem
willing to do this (shown by the level 4 practical exam PAL sessions), and it
might also help encourage debate in the groups.
- Practical training on experimental design -- maybe getting a study brief
and looking at possible designs, the relevant stats and problems. I think
this would help a lot, as it wasn't covered well in the course and we don't
get any design practice when we do the mini project.
- Claire Munro's teaching and testing of mind-mapping as a note taking
technique. I.e. one or two training sessions; plus testing which consists of
getting participants directly after one of their lectures; letting them do
some minutes revision from the notes they took or rewrite; then take a
pre-prepared MCQ test. This requires some real work by facs/presenters, but
may still be valuable.
[L3 especially; any level]
- [L3] Show past exam answers and marks: for the level 3 class exam,
facilitators can bring these in. Best are where detailed feedback comments
were given; but examples of poor answers are actually very useful, along with
the mark, and the facilitators' comments about what is actually required more
than these answers show.
Other ideas can be found
Have 90 minute sessions? 120 minute ones?
Vary CR exercise above by Abercrombie's: take a published expt. paper; ask
what the author's claim is; do you (each student) believe it?; discuss (and so
expose what other factors in fact are going into your personal judgement about
Record a PAL session; then play it back to same or different group.
Abercrombie recommends this -- at least where participants are really working
through an issue they struggle with. It demonstrates how you often don't hear
something the first few times it is actually said.
Cameo appearances by staff. E.g. group gets finally stuck working on a
statistics example, and pop downstairs to persuade the lecturer to come and
explain it for 10 minutes. While this is against some of the original idea
for PAL sessions (no staff), it can when it works contribute to inceasing
students' feeling of being integrated with the staff, able to speak to them,
etc. (i.e. to integration).
Here are some examples of designed PAL session activities, written out in fuller
detail (as opposed to just having the idea in the facilitators' minds).
A complete example should be designed to appeal to a particular class,
and include a rationale (why it is a good idea), how it would be
pre-advertised, what the activity in the session itself would consist of,
what preparations and material are needed.
Rationale. Designed to address a need for the level 3 course element
on physiological psychology: basically a case of "pre-lect" needed, because
the lectures assume as a pre-requisite some basic knowledge by students, that
in fact they don't have, or at least don't have at their fingertips.
Advertised agenda: "Get up to speed with physiology! -Believe us you
will need this! We were taken aback by what we were expected to remember
from past years' work."
Activity. 1) A "deep learning" topic supplied by the lecturer,
discussed in small subgroups. 2) Drew a diagram of a cell, got clients in
groups to name the parts.
Materials: Getting the deep learning topic from the lecturer.
Comment: This was a successful session. It combined: an identified
need on this course, a mention in the ad by the facilitators from their
experience, a group format that didn't require advance work by clients but did
draw on their partial memories.
Rationale. Designed to address a fear that the level 1 course is
slipping by and they can't tell if they are learning the material OK.
Advertised agenda: "How much have you actually learned from the
lectures so far? this session will have you writing cunning MCQs
(multiple choice questions) to test your class mates with, and see if you can
answer their questions. This is like both a pub quiz and the MCQ part of
the level 1 exams. Bring your text book so you can prove your answers are
Activity. Decide the rules e.g. a) 10 mins to design a qu. of your
own on any topic so far lectured on i.e. qu. plus 4 answer options; b) The
designer MUST find the page of Gleitman that proves which option is right; c)
then all must shut the textbooks and you all (including facs?) do each others'
questions in turn, writing down the answer (i.e. A or B or ...) physically to
stop cheating changing of minds. After each question, designer gives the
answer, and may discuss it. d) go back to (a) and do another round of design
Bear in mind that 1) it may be OK not to force people to reveal their
answers: but if they write them down, they'll know themselves whether they got
it right. 2) Even if the discussion proves there is a fault in the question,
really the value is still there of getting them to think and discuss the
A comment you might make or have in mind after the first round:
students are usually much more tough on each other than staff would be.
And the best questions can be a simple question but with difficultly tempting
Activity 2/ variant/ or instead of (d) above.
What kind of question or issue (in the course) seems important, but cannot be
well fitted into an MCQ? Design an essay question or short answer exam
question on this. Write out the marking scheme that should be used with it;
i.e. the criteria for giving a grade to an answer to your question.
Activity 3/ variant/ or instead of (d) above.
Facilitator gives them the question: they design the response options.
Materials: bring the text (Gleitman?) or arrange to borrow a copy from
the lab; bring/have access to an example or two of MCQs from the test bank (on
the web??); have clear (look in the handbook) what topics they have already
covered; possibly have a (simple? jokey?) example of your own to demo.
Rationale. Better teaching for lab reports: they get pratice at
writing them: how about using them in various ways.
Advertised agenda: "You have to learn to write lab reports: this will
give you an opportunity to see their use in other ways."
- Given a bank of reports (e.g. from previous year), and
given a set of questions (pre-prepared by facilitators), pull out the
information from the reports (i.e. practise using the structure of the
reports). E.g. how many subjects, what was the conclusion, if I was going to
replicate it what apparatus would I need to get hold of?
If some of the reports had bits missing (were not first class work) then some
of these questions couldn't be answered: bringing home the point of including
all that stuff.
- Given a published paper or two, run the same questions.
- Given bits of information (e.g. data; conclusions; lit.refs) which section
would you put it in?
Materials: A few reports to duplicate and pass round (maybe from
last year, of from another level, ...). Photocopy plenty of copies: one per
A published paper or two.
Rationale. Practice at churning out essay plans (as opposed to
getting the material, or writing actual paragraphs). The plan is probably
the place to turn a D into an A; and getting slick at generating plans will do
more to reduce anxiety than practice at the other parts.
Advertised agenda: "You know you will be judged and assessed by essay
writing throughout your degree. And you probably aren't clear about the
standards that will be used, what is meant by an essay, or how to go about
writing a good one. So come and get some practice of a different kind."
Activity. The theme is: generating essay plans off the cuff, on the
spot. a) Get a level 3 to show off at this (or invite a guest virtuoso e.g. a
postgrad): given a topic, spout out a plan.
b) Clients try it:
Rationale. There's a real problem in grasping what is wanted in a
psychology essay for students who are used to writing in another style, and
still more for those required to write in another style in a simultaneous
other level 1 course.
Advertised agenda: "Having trouble getting on top, not of the main
work of an essay, but the style and structure required?
Worried that what counts as good writing in one place is seen is bad writing in
psychology? Here's some activities around this."
Activity. Point is to address the tone, nature, purpose, and style
of psych. essays.
a) Given a paragraph in the wrong style, translate it into the right style.
b) Give examples of material that does and doesn't fit in. E.g. personal
c) What is the point ...
If you have a video on a subject that will interest the clients, then a
session based on showing it can be good. It's best if the video is no more
than 30 minutes so there can be discussion, or if it is shown in two halves
over two PAL sessions. The department may have some relevant videos, or you
may have one yourself.
Similarly, base a session on other practical materials e.g.
PAL has put on some very well attended career related talks. These might be
where a student who is better informed than average about a career area
outlines what they know and starts a discussion. Or where a member of staff
or from the careers service does this, or a serving professional (e.g. a
clinical psychologist) comes in from outside. It is perfectly possible to
cover at least two career areas in one session if it is chaired properly.
Here's some recipes for PAL sessions that might help students facing revision
for exams. They can be done conveniently in small groups in a PAL session,
but proably they will have much bigger benefit if students, having tried them,
then go away and do them by themselves.
On courses examined by MCQs (multiple choice questions), or even on others,
much more learning is gained by having each student take a question, and
instead of just choosing one answer, writing down against each response
option, a reason why it is or is not the right answer to the question. I.e.,
for each question, they write 4 (say) reasons. In PAL, they can then discuss
their reasons in a small group. Facilitators (and clients) can prepare for a
session by getting MCQs e.g. from the textbook, or an online question bank.
You'll need them printed, with at least a blank line of space under each
response option (possible answer).
This and the next activity are useful in revising for essay exams.
The first step in answering any essay is to recall all the points on and
around the topic that you can. This musn't take longer than a (very) few
minutes. However many students only revise by looking over their notes and
telling themselves they recognise all that: not testing whether they can
recall it. For this exercise the facilitator springs a question on the clients
from the past i.e. they are not warned in advance which question it will be.
Then all scribble down a list of points that might be used for a short fixed
time e.g. 3 mins. Then small groups share and discuss their lists.
Given a list that is a hasty brain dump from recall, the next task is
selecting those points that are not just vaguely in the same area, but are
fully relevant to the specific exam question.
In a PAL session, facilitators hand out copies of 1) an exam question;
2) a list of bullet points (perhaps taken from the course learning objectives
or lecture notes) of things from the same part of the course. The task is,
without consulting one's lecture notes, to cross out the points that are not
relevant to the question. Having done that solo, clients discuss their
choices in small groups.
A format that has worked well at least in levels 3 and 4 gets feedback on exam
questions from the lecturer. The session is announced as about a course. At
the session, the facilitators pick a past exam question, unprepared by the
clients. The clients split into groups of 3 or 4 and sketch out answers, and
the course lecturer comes in (after about 20 mins or so) and circulates,
commenting on the sketched answers.
- doing a Kelly grid exercise.
- The plastic model of the brain, for practice at anatomical naming
- Photos: what connections with psychological theories could they be linked
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