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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

How Good Are Your Discussion Facilitation Skills? | Teaching Professor Blog

Photo: Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D.
"Successfully leading and guiding student discussions requires a range of fairly sophisticated communication skills. At the same time teachers are monitoring what’s being said about the content, they must keep track of the discussion itself" reports .
Photo: The Teaching Professor Blog

Is it on topic? How many students want to speak? Who’s already spoken and wants to speak again? How many aren’t listening? Is it time to move to a different topic? What’s the thinking behind that student question? How might the discussion be wrapped up?

The Teaching Professor Blog

Most of us are not trained discussion facilitators. We employ strategies discovered largely through trial and error—things that seem to keep discussions on track, moving forward, and engaging students. Unfortunately, many class discussions don’t stimulate thinking or push students to a deeper understanding. Sometimes that’s because students aren’t prepared, aren’t interested in the topic, are reluctant to participate, or think listening to their peers is a waste of time. But sometimes the discussion falls short because it wasn’t facilitated well.

How effective are your discussion facilitation skills? Do you have any evidence or are you relying on your impressions? Would some feedback be useful? If so, you’ll find in the table below and in a downloadable Word doc an empirically developed instrument that can be used to more clearly identify the various skills involved in effective discussion facilitation and to gather student feedback that can help you assess yours.

If you’re interested in how the instrument was developed and validated, here’s the reference: Finn, A. N. and Schrodt, P., (2016). Teacher discussion facilitation: A new measure and its associations with students’ perceived understanding, interest and engagement. Communication Education, 65 (4), 445-462. To request information to use the instrument for research purposes, please contact Amber Finn at

An article highlighting the research appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Teaching Professor newsletter (reprint available here). As discussed in more detail in the newsletter and fully in Finn and Schrodt’s journal article, survey responses were used to identify five factors involved in effective discussion facilitation. They are listed on the instrument below. [We removed the factors and statistical data from the version in Word so as not to influence student responses]. The two factors that accounted for most of the variance were affirming students’ discussion and organizing the discussion.

Source: The Teaching Professor Blog