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Agenda for PAL sessions

We plan to offer each week to our facilitators a recommended agenda to use in the sessions, while making it clear they can do a quite different one themselves. Whatever they use, how it went should be discussed in the weekly mutual feedback sessions.

Each week's should have some different specific items on; in particular the deep learning questions and hot topics emerging from the clients will change. But here is a possible outline: specific items could be slotted into this framework. Some items will perhaps be featured and used only in one or two weeks e.g. "auto-PAL" and extended discussion about study skills.

Policy statement to facilitators

There are about eight potential kinds of benefit to the clients from PAL groups. Covering all of them is a remote ideal. Focussing the time on whatever is of most value to the particular group on the particular day is the aim; while any session that is spent on any of them is worthwhile. It needn't be narrowly about psychology course content: wider aspects of being a student may turn out to be what they need to discuss.

Do not feel you either must or should answer the questions yourself: if the group can't find the answer among them, at most you should give pointers to where they can look for the answers afterwards (we'll supply you a reference sheet for this).

Generic Agenda 2

This generic agenda is most relevant when a specific topic has been advertised in advance (e.g. the coursework essay). The idea here is that besides the explicit agenda that was advertised and is the main reason the clients come to the session, there could be some tacit or implicit items that are good for clients in reality but that might not be a reason for them choosing to come, and anyway would usually be very short.

  1. As clients come in, ask them what their current deadlines are; then what they are doing about it. [Implicit agenda: simply by reminding, get them in the habit of reviewing this regularly, and so take step one towards better time management planning.] (If they don't know what their deadlines are, don't tell them: get them to ask each other and check in the course handbook.)

    Perhaps, if you like the idea or clients ask for it, could at some point do a longer session on this: on planning for an essay or lab report. I gather from learning advisors, that the key point to get across (probably not by lecturing but somehow by getting them to discuss) is the very simple one that such activities are not one indivisible lump, but have subparts; and each part can and should be done at a different time, may well be of different difficulty (for instance I have to be at my best for creating an essay plan; but I can do reading when less than best, and can do fixing typos when really pretty tired).

  2. Then ask them what their last (psych) lecture was about. Possibly smile and bet them they can't remember. [Implicit agenda: get them into the habit of doing brief overviews/reviews of lectures, preferably every day there is a lecture. An aspect of this, is to run self-checks on whether they are understanding and keeping up as they go along.] Step 2 would be co-construct a few major headings; and step 3 to store that as a plan to use later in revision and/or readings.

    Perhaps, if you like the idea or clients ask for it, could at some point do a longer session on this. The longer version would be to co-construct a detailed outline of the lecture's ideas. And beyond that, to discuss quite deeply what the ideas are and further implications and examples.

Generic Agenda 1

Here's a list of generic items, perhaps particularly relevant to a dropin session where the topics are decided by the clients on the spot, rather than in advance.
  1. [integration]: nameplates and re-introductions. (Remember, this can be MORE important in groups with many regular attenders: if you don't do introductions for newcomers, they feel they don't belong.)

  2. [Agenda] Agreeing the rest of the agenda with the group. ("Has anyone brought any issues or items they particularly want the group to help with this time?") In particular, adding items, re-ordering them. Agreeing whether (a) to cover all items or (b) just to see how far the group gets down the list. Having the agenda on a flipchart where all can see it throughout the meeting can be handy.

  3. ["Contract"] It may sometimes be helpful to explicitly discuss and agree a "contract": what the rules are for this group. E.g. no calling me stupid, do/don't stick to academic topics, not talking about individuals outside the group, ...

  4. [PAL] Any course admin. items anyone wants to ask the group (e.g. times, dates, ....)

  5. [PAL] Any basic course content items. Possible prompt (if you want to spend time on this, but the clients don't volunteer any): "Summarise in a sentence the most important overall point of the last lecture".

  6. [deep learning] Introduce one of the current week's "deep learning" questions. Or improvise: "What is, what defines, psychology?" "Is it worth studying, and if so why?" "How is it different from what you expected? from what you wish you were learning about?" "What is the most interesting issue touched on in the last week? (and why do you think it is interesting)"

  7. [mentoring] Anything about being a student on this course you want to ask me about? What is your experience of it like so far? Unsolicited advice from the facilitator e.g. don't leave the essay until the last week ...
    Also: issues about being a student in general, ....

  8. [reflection, study skills] How well do you understand the material so far? How do you know this? What did you do to check you understood it? Set a quiz item for the rest of the group...

  9. [Auto-PAL] Do you discuss course issues with other students apart from in this group? Do you think organising a private study group would be useful? ...

  10. [feedback] At the end, if you can bear to, spend 2 minutes asking for feedback on the session.

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