Skill to identify and support an individual’s specific way of learningUnderstanding and facilitating group dynamics in a way that is conductive to different ways of learningUnderstanding and facilitating individual and group learning processUses tools and methods to identify and support an individual’s learning style

Theme Centred Interaction (TZI)

Theme-centred interaction is a live-learning method based on an axiom that every person is independent (autonomous) and, at the same time, inter-dependent on the world surrounding him/her.

The objective of non-formal education is to enable an individual to be conscious, independent and aware of the interdependencies. The more one person is aware of interactions, conditions and regularities, the easier it is to make decisions and become free.

Why did I choose this tool?

For me this is a very practical tool, which helps me to reflect on what is happening with every single individual participating in the group process, exploring certain topics in a certain context. This model will explain how those elements are interlinked and why it is important to pay attention to all of them.

How does this apply to being a trainer?

While building an consistent educational process it’s very important to see the “whole picture” as much as possible.

If you are using a certain method – the questions are: why and how does it correlate with:

  • the situation in the group?
  • individual learners’ readiness to take part in it and learn from it?
  • the topic of your training course?
  • the context you are holding your Training Course in?
  • the context the participants are coming from?

In addition this article will present some postulates, which are very practical and useful in training setting. All you need, is to experiment by implementing them during your training activity.

Main content:

‘I’ ‘I’ refers to each group member, his/her expectations and wishes as well as thoughts, feelings and experience with regard to the chosen topic (‘It’), other group members (‘We’) and from the point of view of his/her life-story or situation (‘I’).

‘We’ refers to the group, its members being together and interacting, the atmosphere inside the group and its norms as well as the division of the roles and influences, etc.

‘Globe’ refers to external conditions required for working with a group, e.g. place and rooms, expectations of the organizations, institutions, financial partners, neighbors, parents and educators, material supplies and others, as well as participants’ real-life, daily-life and their sense of existence in the world.

The TZI model combines work on a specific theme (angle ‘It’), work in a group (angle ‘We’) and personal improvement (angle ‘I’) into a dynamic group-work model. According to this model, the topic (‘It’) is supposed to be the focus. Work on a specific topic is based on personal (‘I’) motivation and one’s personal relation to the topic and the rest of the group (‘We’). Following the TZI model, a person working with the group should be constantly focused on keeping balance among the elements ‘Theme’ – ‘I’ – ‘We’, depending on the influential conditions (‘World’).

During the learning process, problems often arise because of the lack of balance among the four elements. To illustrate, if one of the members is not fully involved into group-activities and does not show interest in the topic, this will gradually come out through dissatisfaction, tension and conflicts inside the group. A simple way to deal with it would be devoting some time and space for group-building before starting to work on a specific topic or getting everyone involved into common activities.

A ‘balance’ for a person working with youth means taking account of: 1) the individual; 2) the need to deal with what the group is experiencing right here and right now and 3) the learning process, understanding that not everything has to and can be taken into account at the very moment. Instead, it is possible to consciously devote more attention to an angle of the triangle that needs it most.

With reference to this model, R. Cohn presents postulations and auxiliary rules for improving the interplay of the group, though these are aimed at the young person’s responsibility for his/her own work (learning) on a specific topic, the interaction inside the group and his/her input.

Postulation 1: Be your own chairperson

Take all the responsibility for yourself and your actions inside the group. Consider your own expectations and what you can offer in return. Clarify your motivations and don’t expect that others will do it for you. Be aware of your own feelings, thoughts and actions. Trust yourself, represent yourself and what you really want, do not only react to what the others expect from you.

For reflection: How can I reach this level of responsibility and awareness in the group? What methodological interventions are required to reach the desired level?

Postulation 2: Disturbances first

Stop the group if you feel you can no longer participate in it. Stop it if you are busy doing something else, if you can no longer focus and if there is something that interests you more. Stop if you are tired or not accepted, if the atmosphere is bad for you, if you feel nervous, if there is something you do not understand or if you feel misunderstood.

There is danger, though, that other group members or youth workers may not state their opinion due to some cultural or personal reasons in order to maintain harmony and ‘peace in the world’.

For reflection: How do you create an environment where people can feel free to talk about the things that bother them inside the group?

Auxiliary postulate rules:

  1. Speak for yourself. Talk about ‘I’ and avoid being impersonal or using the form ‘We’. Transmit more ‘I’ – information and not ‘You’ – information.
  2. When asking a question, explain why you are asking it.
  3. Give preference to other conversations. They are disturbing, but also important – otherwise, there would not be any.
  4. Try to have one person speaking at a time.
  5. While communicating, be sincere and selective. Be sure of what you think and feel, and decide what you are going to say and to do.
  6. Talk about your feelings or reactions and be careful with interpretations.
  7. Pay attention to your body signals and to others’.

The TZI model teaches us how to pay sufficient attention to each individual in the group, then how to focus on the interaction of the participants and how to constantly follow what is important for the group at a specific point of time. How do the group members feel? What are the interactions within the group? How is a specific topic related to the participants’ thoughts and needs? R. Cohn’s postulations can be a powerful tool for making group members more aware of their own involvement and to help them take responsibility for themselves, the others and the processes taking place.

Reflection questions

What can you do to make group members feel secure and safe to follow these rules?

Author of the article: Donatas Petkauskas

is professional supervisor, coach and experiential learning trainer, having more than 15 years of experience in consulting various organizations and individuals, creating and conducting training course on national and international levels. Donatas has extensive experience in non-formal education, training of youth workers and trainers. He is working in the field of non-formal education since 2003, since 2004 he is a member of trainers pool of Lithuanian National Agency (currently an alumni).

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HANDBOOK FOR PEOPLE WORKING WITH YOUTH GROUPS: Non-formal education practice in Lithuania Ž.Gailius, A. Malinauskas, D. Petkauskas, L. Ragauskas, 2014Further on referred to as TZI (from German Themenzentrierte Interaktion) as suggested by Ruth Cohn, 1981.Featured image: Photo by Margarida CSilva on Unsplash

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