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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nine Ways to Improve Class Discussions by Maryellen Weimer, PhD

Photo: Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D.
Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks writes, I once heard class discussions described as “transient instructional events.” They pass through the class, the course, and the educational experiences of students with few lingering effects."
Photo: The Teaching Professor Blog

Ideas are batted around, often with forced participation; students don’t take notes; and then the discussion ends—it runs out of steam or the class runs out of time. If asked a few days later about the exchange, most students would be hard-pressed to remember anything beyond what they themselves might have said, if that. So this post offers some simple suggestions for increasing the impact of the discussions that occur in our courses.

The Teaching Professor Blog

1. Be more focused and for less time – It’s easy to forget that students are newcomers to academic discourse. Academics can go on about a topic of interest for days; hours, if it’s a department meeting. Students aren’t used to exchanges that include points, counterpoints, and connections to previous points with references to research, related resources, and previous experience. Early on, students do better with short discussions—focused and specific. Think 10 minutes, maybe 15.
2. Use better hooks to launch the discussion – Usually discussion starts with a question. That works if it’s a powerful question—one immediately recognized as a “good question.” Prompts of that caliber require thoughtful preparation; they don’t usually pop into our minds the moment we need them. But questions aren’t the only option. A pithy quotation, a short scenario that requires content application, a hypothetical case or situation, a synopsis of a relevant current event—all of these can jump-start a discussion.
3. Pause – Stop the discussion and ask students to think about what’s been said so far, or ask them to write down what struck them as a key idea, a new insight, a question still unanswered, or maybe where they think the discussion should go next. Think short pauses, 30 seconds, maybe a minute. 

Source: Faculty Focus