Use Study Groups to Support Learning

Supporting learning is necessary feature of any agile transition. I always advocate the creation of one or more study groups.

When my kids were in middle school they learned a technique for reading and discussing a book called a Literature Circle. They taught me the technique and I’ve used it to create a study group work agreement that I’d like to share. This particular work agreement was for a study group that was reading Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael Feathers. Feel free to adapt it for your own study group.

Study Group Work Agreement

All meetings will be scheduled for Tuesdays from 12:30 to 2:00. During the first 30 minutes we will eat lunch together. All members of the Study Group are expected to be present by 1:00. If we all arrive earlier we may choose to start the formal part of the meeting prior to 1:00.

To amplify our effectiveness we have chosen to assign the following roles: Discussion Director, Code Connector, Key Concept Illustrator, and Technical Vocabulary Enricher. Roles will be rotated each meeting and may be assigned to more than one participant. We won’t be assigning the typical meeting roles of Facilitator, Timekeeper, and Scribe—it is everyone’s responsibility to discuss the material in a respectful and timely manner.

As Discussion Director your responsibility is to develop a list of questions that your group might want to discuss about the material. Don’t worry about the small details: your task is to help the group talk over the big ideas in the material and share their thoughts. You are expected to post your questions to the study group wiki.

As Code Connector your responsibility is to choose one or more examples of code from your respective project that relates to the material. The Code Connector is also responsible for making positive changes to their project code base using techniques from the material just covered and to present their results at the next meeting.

As Key Concept Illustrator your responsibility is to choose a few special sections of the material to talk over. The idea is to help members of the group remember one or more the important concepts from the material. Once you have made your choices decide how to share the material. You might draw a UML diagram on a white board or tell a relevant story from your own work experience.

As Technical Vocabulary Enricher your responsibility is to be on the lookout for especially important technical words that your group needs to understand such as the Expose Static Method dependency breaking technique. Other examples from Working Effectively with Legacy Code are Sprout Method and Effect Sketches.

In addition to these roles you may also want to assign the role of Snack Supplier. As Snack Supplier your responsibility is to provide your study group members with a small inexpensive snack. For example, during the study group pilot the members of the study group were treated to Maple Syrup Pie and Lindt chocolates.

Further Reading

Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising
Pools of Insight: A Pattern Language for Study Groups by Joshua Kerievsky


MaxJuly 13th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Hey Alistair, it would be helpful if you could break down the overview of the meeting when it gets started. What would a typical meeting agenda look like?

AlistairJuly 13th, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Great idea Max. I will do so. Tomorrow is the kickoff meeting for a study group at PointClickCare that is going to be reading Working Effectively with Legacy Code. I’ll be sure to post an agenda from one or more of our study group sessions.

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