Our Wednesday blog posts are a smattering of ideas from a wider variety of sources than we cover on the other days of the week. One of the areas where I have found considerable success over the past 20 years or more of teaching has been engaging students in discussion. You really learn something as you practice discussing it meaningfully. Let’s see how Dr. Allitt works with the idea.
The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from a Master Educator. Performed by Patrick N. Allitt. U.S.A.: The Teaching Company, 2010. DVD. Lecture 11, “Engaging with Discussion, Part 1.”
Participation in discussion is a learned skill which makes a learner more active. It improves ability to speak accurately and persuasively. Seminar courses are an excellent opportunity to work on this in gatherings of 12-20 students, though it can be done in a larger setting also.
Allit observes that a difficult logical discussion helps students remember the challenges they have faced. Calling on students who do not volunteer is also helpful to the teacher in assessing understanding. Eventually, a stimulating discussion may well spread throughout the classroom, involving a large number of students.
Allitt helps teachers with ideas of discussion topics. For instance, asking students what an author’s main argument is opens many avenues of discussion. Defining terms may be helpful as well. What were the counter-arguments presented? What evidence was there? What was or was not persuasive in an author’s argument? All this is helpful in a discussion class.
Normally discussions which veer off topic can be brought back by the teacher walking through the main themes of a reading. Students who are lost in the discussion benefit from this teacher involvement as well. To bring themselves along they may benefit from prompting and repeated questioning. Though the teacher may not enjoy it, probing for information is important. However, eventually, if a student is not adequately prepared, it may be necessary to move to another student to get a positive answer to a line of inquiry. It is possible, as a teacher, to reject wrong answers. Accuracy is necessary, but does not need to be unkind. Pushing students to think and discuss well helps them as they learn to prepare well.
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