Having Trouble Generating Good Discussions?

Students Do not Keep Up with the Reading?

If you can not get the kind of discussion you would like, here are some factors you might consider.

If students are coming to class unprepared, consider the following.

What are you asking students to read?

Do students know how to read this type of material?

Have you given students any directions on how you want them to read the material?

Do you want them to identify the central argument?

Do you want them to take the argument apart and identify its pieces? (Premises, Types of Evidence, Conclusion)

Have you helped students see the significance of the questions you are asking?

Do you raise the question in your language or theirs?

Questions that interest you are usually important because of some previous inquiry, which, in turn, was significant to you because of some earlier question, which derived its own significance from some still earlier investigation, and so forth. You may be focusing on questions that lie several layers beneath the surface of matters that first intrigued you while your students are still standing on the surface wondering why anyone would be engaged in such a subterranean mining expeditions.

Help students understand the connection between current topics and some larger and more fundamental inquiry. Find common ground with the students in those "big questions" that first motivated your own efforts to learn and master your areas of specialty.

Do You Talk Too Much?

When you ask a question, do you wait at least ten seconds before saying anything more?

Do you talk more than 5-8 minutes in a 50 minute class?

Do you let students start the discussion?

Is the room arranged for good discussion?

Are the students facing each other?
Rearrange the room if necessary to put students in a circle.

Have you considered using the Double Circle?

Have you considered moving your class if you are in a room with (oh, no!)chairs nailed to the floor?

Do you call on students?

How do you call on them?

The way you would call them out to a duel?

The way you would invite them into a conversation at your dinner table?

What did you do the first day of class to raise fundamental questions and invite students into the conversation? Have you given students control over their own education?

On the first day of class, some people give students a list of the major questions (the "big questions") that the discussion will consider. They ask students to look them over and even to rate their interest in each question. Then they ask students to report on their interests and get students with high interest in a particular question to explain their interest to students with a low interest in that same question. Finally, they ask students to decide if they want to consider those questions (to decide if they want to take this course, or take this course from this professor, or pursue this degree). They give students control over their own education.

What does your body language say to students?

Does it say that you want to hear what they say? That you want them to talk to each other?

Or that you want them to listen to you?

What do you do the first time a student comes to class without reading the assignment?

Embarrass the student?

Go on to the next student?

Ask the student to leave the discussion?

Shape your response to the student, the class, and the situation?

Have no idea what you would do?

Have you asked students to write before they talk?

Have you asked them to talk in pairs before they talk to the larger group?

Developed by Ken Bain

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