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BMC Med Educ. 2013 Sep 27;13:132. doi: 10.1186/1472-6920-13-132.

Remediation of at-risk medical students: theory in action.

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  • 1Study Skills Centre, Room 202, Main Arts Library, College Road, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DF, UK.



Previous work has shown that a programme that draws on a blend of theories makes a positive difference to outcomes for students who fail and repeat their first semester at medical school. Exploration of student and teacher perspectives revealed that remediation of struggling medical students can be achieved through a cognitive apprenticeship within a small community of inquiry. This community needs expert teachers capable of performing a unique combination of roles (facilitator, nurturing mentor, disciplinarian, diagnostician and role model), with high levels of teaching presence and practical wisdom. Yet, despite participants' convergent opinions on the elements of effective remediation, significant differences were found between outcomes of students working with experienced and inexperienced teachers. The current study explores the actual practice of teachers on this remediation course, aiming to exemplify elements of our theory of remediation and explore differences between teachers.


Since it is in the classroom context that the interactions that constitute the complex process of remediation emerge, this practice-based research has focused on direct observation of classroom teaching. Nineteen hours of small group sessions were recorded and transcribed. Drawing on ethnography and sociocultural discourse analysis, selected samples of talk-in-context demonstrate how the various elements of remediation play out in practice, highlighting aspects that are most effective, and identifying differences between experienced and novice teachers.


Long-term student outcomes are strongly correlated to teacher experience (r, 0.81). Compared to inexperienced teachers, experienced teachers provide more challenging, disruptive facilitation, and take a dialogic stance that encourages more collaborative group dynamics. They are more expert at diagnosing cognitive errors, provide frequent metacognitive time-outs and make explicit links across the curriculum.


Remediation is effective in small groups where dialogue is used for collaborative knowledge construction and social regulation. This requires facilitation by experienced teachers who attend to details of both content and process, and use timely interventions to foster curiosity and the will to learn. These teachers should actively challenge students' language use, logical inconsistencies and uncertainties, problematize their assumptions, and provide a metacognitive regulatory voice that can generate attitudinal shifts and nurture the development of independent critical thinkers.

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