You are invited to join a number of contributors who will be responding to Professor Jeffrey Stout, and one another, on this blog. We're hoping to develop a lively. You can easily reply to any discussion. However, the reply option may vary Reply to a Comment in a Focused Discussion. You can reply to a comment already. Canvas provides an integrated system for class discussions, allowing both people; users can participate in a conversation with an entire class or group. Use a Focused Discussion for single posts and related comments.
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Your answers to these questions will depend on your goals. For example, correcting factual inaccuracies might be critical in some circumstances, less so in others. Digressions may be productive if your primary purpose is to explore connections, and undesirable if the goal of your discussion is more focused.
One of the most important things to consider when formulating a strategy is how to get the discussion jump-started. Davis and Frederick provide a number of excellent suggestions. Good questions are the key to a productive discussion.
These include not only the questions you use to jump-start discussion but also the questions you use to probe for deeper analysis, ask for clarification or examples, explore implications, etc.
It is helpful to think about the various kinds of questions you might ask and the cognitive skills they require to answer. Davis lists a range of question types, including:. While you might frame the entire discussion in terms of a Big Question to grapple with, it is a good general strategy to move from relatively simple, convergent questions i. Starting with convergent questions helps discussion participants to establish a base of shared knowledge and builds student confidence; it also gives you, the instructor, the opportunity to correct factual inaccuracies or misconceptions before the discussion moves into greater complexity and abstraction.
Asking a variety of types of questions can also help to model for students the ways that experts use questions to refine their analyses. For example, an instructor might move an abstract discussion to a concrete level by asking for examples or illustrations, or move a concrete discussion to a broader level by asking students to generate a generalization or implication.
When instructors are nervous that a discussion might flag, they tend to fall prey to some common questioning errors. Asking too many questions at once: Instructors often make the mistake of asking a string of questions together, e. Do you agree with him? Is his evidence convincing? Did you like this article? Asking a question and answering it yourself: We have all had the experience of asking a question only to encounter blank stares and silence.
The temptation under these circumstances is to jump in and answer your own question, if only to relieve the uncomfortable silence.
Be careful not to preempt this process by jumping in too early. Failing to probe or explore the implications of answers: One mistake instructors can make in leading a discussion is not to follow up sufficiently on student contributions.
It is important not only to get students talking, but to probe them about their reasoning, ask for evidence, explore the implications of what they say, etc.
Follow-up questions push students to think more deeply, to substantiate their claims, and consider the practical impact of particular perspectives. In the best discussions, there is a logical progression from question to question so that, ultimately, the discussion tells or reveals a story. When you are planning your discussion questions, think about how they fit together. Ignoring or failing to build on answers: If students do not feel like their voices have weight in discussion, their motivation to participate drops.
What would be some possible consequences if this plan of action were followed? Discussions tend to be most productive when they have a clear focus. It may be helpful to write out a few questions that the discussion will address, and return to those questions periodically.
While some lulls in discussion are to be expected while participants are thinking, for example the instructor must be alert to signs such as these that a discussion is breaking down Davis, If the discussion seems to be flagging, it can help to introduce a new question or alter the task so as to bring a fresh kind of thinking or a different group dynamic to bear.
For example, you might switch from discussing an ethical issue in the abstract to a concrete case study, or shift from large-group discussion to small group or pair-work. It is important to leave time at the end of the discussion to synthesize the central issues covered, key questions raised, etc. There are a number of ways to synthesize.
Synthesizing the discussion is a critical step for linking the discussion to the original learning objectives and demonstrating progress towards meeting those objectives. While students generally enjoy discussions, they may have difficulty recognizing what they gain from participating in them — in contrast with lectures, in which students may take copious notes and have a sense of having covered clearly discernable ground.
It is helpful to tell students up front how you think the skills they gain from participating in discussion will help them in academic and future pursuits. Discussions for this class will give you the opportunity to practice that skill. As we talk, think about a conversation with a colleague in medical school and imagine how you would articulate this argument and suggest a productive fusion of both approaches to medicine. Below are some strategies that can help encourage meaningful student participation.
Plan an icebreaker early in the semester that gets students talking and interacting, preferably while doing an activity that is integral to the content material for the course.
Also, create a climate in which students feel comfortable taking intellectual risks: Discussions tend to be most productive when students have already done some preparatory work for them. It can be helpful to give assignments to help students to prepare for discussion. Preparatory assignments help students focus their reading and their thinking, thus facilitating a higher-quality discussion. Students are more likely to participate if they feel that they are recognized as individuals.
Often, students must learn how to enter meaningfully into a discussion. One way to encourage students to engage in the style of intellectual exchange you desire is to model good discussion techniques in your own behavior, using language that demonstrates, among other things:. In the interests of modeling a particular style of intellectual exchange, some instructors invite a colleague to their class and engage in a scholarly discussion or debate for the benefit of their students.
On its own, instructor modeling is not likely to affect student behavior, however. It is also important to explicitly point out the kinds of discussion skills illustrated above and to distinguish high-quality contributions e.
Explicit ground rules or guidelines can help to ensure a respectful environment for discussion. The ground rules you use will depend on your class size and goals, but may include provisions such as these:.
You can set these ground rules yourself and specify them in your syllabus, or have students help create them. Click on these links to see examples of ground rules and a template for creating student-generated ground rules. If a subset of students seems reluctant to speak up in class, you might consider ways for them to share their ideas and engage with the material in an alternative forum, such as via discussion board or e-mail.
Giving students time to write down their thoughts before opening the floor to discussion can also help quiet students get more involved.
So too can the use of pair-work and small-group discussions. While some faculty are reluctant to call on quiet students for fear of embarrassing them, it should be pointed out that calling on students can also liberate them: Sometimes the problem is not shy students but overly domineering or aggressive students who monopolize discussion.
Sometimes a subtle approach to reining in these students can be effective for example: Handling strong emotions and disagreement that arise in a discussion can be a challenge for instructors. A certain amount of disagreement is desirable, yet if the conversation gets too heated or antagonistic, it can inhibit participation and squelch a productive exchange of ideas. When emotions are high, remind students to focus on ideas and refrain from personal comments this stipulation can be included in your ground rules as well.
Also, consider in advance how you will handle sensitive discussion topics. Discussions that do so may not be comfortable for some participants yet still have the desired effect. On the other hand, done poorly such discussions can stifle rather than stimulate engagement and learning. Also, think about whether the discussion environment in your classroom is sufficiently inclusive of all your students, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion, religion, etc.
As a prelude or addition to full-class discussion, consider giving pairs or small groups of students the task of discussing a question or problem.
Group work tends to work best when the task is clearly defined and concrete. It can facilitate group work to assign roles within the group. Assigning this last task to a quiet student can help to draw him or her out.
Click on this link for more on group work. While we all want students to participate in discussions for the sheer joy of intellectual exchange, not all students may be equally motivated to jump in — at least not initially.
Providing extrinsic motivations can be helpful to establish the behavioral patterns that lead, ultimately, to intrinsic motivations. For this reason, many instructors include a participation grade as part of the reward structure of their courses.
For this reason it can be helpful to define what you consider high-quality contributions to discussions and distinguish them from low-quality contributions by using a rubric for discussion that makes your expectations and grading criteria clear.