• May 28, 2016
May 28, 2016, 9:57:49 pm *
Welcome, Guest. Please Log In to participate in forums.
News: Talk about how to cope with chronic illness, disability, and other health issues in the academic workplace.
 
Pages: [1] 2
  Print  
Author Topic: Tips for leading discussions?  (Read 4348 times)
liquidambar
Senior member
****
Posts: 417


« on: June 18, 2010, 12:36:00 am »

Can anyone recommend some resources for how to lead discussions more effectively?  These would mostly be upper level discussions in the sciences (e.g., journal club with other faculty or research group meetings with my grad students).  The topic would generally be a scientific paper.  However, tips for leading lower level scientific discussions in the classroom (say, junior and senior science majors) could also be useful.  I don't know that I'm doing it badly, since nobody has complained, but it's not something I feel comfortable doing.
Logged

It’s not enough to bash in heads;
You’ve got to bash in minds!
(from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog)
enfanterrible
Junior member
**
Posts: 52


« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2010, 1:54:39 am »

Leading discussion is hard. I can't speak for the sciences, since I am in the social sciences / humanities (interdisciplinary field), but here are some things that have worked for me:

- schedule student-led discussions at the beginning of the semester. For this, you need to give some very clear guidelines, possibly examples, of things that Ss can do to lead discussions, and ask explicitly that they don't just copy what the first and second student(s) did. If they are undergrad or MA students it will work best if you put them in pairs or groups of 3.

- ask Ss to prepare discussion questions on the readings ahead of time. Give them a dealine by which they have to email you the Qs, select the best ones and compile a handout or PP slide with the Qs. That will force them to a) read, and b) think more critically (not just skim). In class, ask Ss who have written those questions to read it and lead on that Q.

As you can see, both these things basically turn the responsibility to students (student-centered learning). Usually they like it because they engage more w/ the material and feel empowered.
Logged
astrofraa
Junior member
**
Posts: 84


« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2010, 1:32:13 pm »

The Great Books foundation has a lot of resources for learning their "shared inquiry" approach to leading discussions.  I've used it in both science and literature courses.  Works great.

http://www.greatbooks.org/index.php?id=30
Logged
missemily
Senior member
****
Posts: 851


« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2010, 2:26:25 pm »

I am not in the sciences, either, but I do frequently lead student discussions of assigned readings, so maybe some of these ideas can be adapted for your students.

In advance, make note of which portions of the paper you consider most important and/or potentially most difficult for students. Begin the discussion by asking, "What was it in this paper that interested you the most?" If you are met with silence, be willing to wait it out. After too long a wait, you can laugh and say, "I can't believe that in this whole 27 pages (or whatever) nothing interested you!" Again, be willing to wait it out if necessary. You may need to call on someone. When someone answers, prod a bit: "Can you tell us why you found that interesting?" After you get an answer, call on someone else: "Do you agree? Did you find that interesting, too? Why/Why not?" Solicit information from other students as well, if they do not speak up on their own. Be willing to call on a student who appears to be thinking about what the others say but doesn't speak up. At some point, move on to a different "interesting" topic from the paper and solicit discussion on it. If appropriate, solicit students' opinions on how that issue connects to other issues that have been brought up.

Usually students will bring up on their own the very points that you have previously identified as important. If not, during a lull (or when they almost touch on it themselves), you can ask, "What about this statement on page 34? What did you think of that?"

Welcome dissenting views as long as they are explained. In fact, you should always be ready to encourage a student to explain. You don't want to nail the student to the wall, but you should encourage the student to think and explain. Occasionally you can say, "Think about that some more while we hear from some others. Maybe the explanation will come to you, or maybe someone else can help you out. I'll bet you're not alone in that viewpoint."

When a concrete answer is called for, or requested by students, instead of providing the answer yourself, throw the question out to the group. Instead of saying "that's right" or "that's wrong," ask the group, "What do you think? Is that the answer?" Then lead them into figuring out the right answer (assuming there is one, and there probably is, since you're in a science and not literature).

Logged
infopri
I guess I'm now a VERY
Distinguished Senior Member
*****
Posts: 23,760

When all else fails, let us agree to disagree.


« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2010, 4:56:50 pm »

I agree completely with everything missemily says.  I incorporate a great deal of class discussion in my courses, using the same techniques missemily describes, and I've been very satisfied with the results, even when I start with a desultory, non-talkative group.  You have to learn to draw them out, and missemily has provided you with a number of good ways of doing so.  I couldn't have articulated them better myself.

In addition to her suggestions, I'll add the following:

- When possible, avoid telling a student outright that a response is wrong (even if it is).  Use the wrong answer as a way to get at the right answer.  If the student says, "The First Amendment gives me the right to say whatever I want, whenever I want" (a common student mistake), you might reply, "Well, the First Amendment does provide a right to free speech, yes--but is that right really absolute?"  Use your judgment to direct the follow-up question to the same student or another.  (If it's the same student, I might add, "Think about it for a minute.")  It's important to remain cheerful, not critical or sarcastic.

- When a student is struggling, and you can see that s/he really isn't able to answer, take him or her off the hook:  "That's okay, John, we'll come back to you later.  Jane, can you help John out?  [Restate the question.]"  Don't forget to come back to John later with the same question (if appropriate) or with another question, perhaps an easier one (this time).  Or, of course, you can come back to him in the next class period (but then it doesn't need to be an easier question).

- Take note of which students never raise their hands and be sure to call on them--by name.  (If you have 50 or fewer students in your class, you should know all of their names after two or maybe three weeks.)  Start with an easy question for them, to give them some confidence at answering questions in front of their peers.  But by the second or third question (not all necessarily on the same day), start asking them the same (more difficult) kinds of questions that you ask the more forthcoming students.

- Play devil's advocate, especially when the class is achieving consensus too easily.  (This may not be appropriate in your class, but it is in mine, where we analyze complex, controversial topics.)  Sometimes, for example, my students decide that public policy should be X, without seeing how X would cause serious problems--so that's what I jump to in presenting the devil's-advocate position:  "But what about...[state problem caused by X, and who would be disadvantaged  by that result]?"

- It's important, when leading class discussions, to really listen to what the students have to say, and not simply determine whether they gave you the answer you were looking for.  I've found that students, by coming to the material with fresh, uninformed eyes, sometimes see things from a different angle and come up with some pretty amazing insights--even if they get the "answer" wrong.  The best discussions happen when you can improvise somewhat, working with whatever the students say--no matter what they come up with--to help them learn the material you need to cover (rather than forcing them to follow some kind of preconceived Q&A "script").

I hope this, along with missemily's post, helps!

Logged

People who do not understand numbers should not be allowed to use them for anything. - DvF

MYOB.  Y enseñen bien a sus hijos.
mountainguy
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.
Distinguished Senior Member
*****
Posts: 17,999


« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2010, 10:52:07 pm »

This is a great thread topic, and I'm enjoying the ideas suggested so far. Astrofraa, thanks for the link!

A few of my own suggestions:

-This is (hopefully) not an issue with grad students, but I find that I must give my undergrads some kind of prep assignment to prepare adequately for the discussion. Otherwise, they'll spout uninformed opinions that really don't engage the readings.

-Resist the urge to start lecturing if there's silence or a pause in the discussion. Some silence is okay. If it goes on for an extended period of time, try to get the discussion back on track by raising a new issue. ("Let's look at the passage on page 31, where the author states . . . ").

-Consider opening with a round-robin exercise of some sort that requires all students to make a contribution. (e.g., "The idea in this article that most struck me is _____" or "One question I have for the author is ______."). 
Logged
infopri
I guess I'm now a VERY
Distinguished Senior Member
*****
Posts: 23,760

When all else fails, let us agree to disagree.


« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2010, 12:07:24 pm »

I agree completely with everything missemily says.  I incorporate a great deal of class discussion in my courses, using the same techniques missemily describes, and I've been very satisfied with the results, even when I start with a desultory, non-talkative group.  You have to learn to draw them out, and missemily has provided you with a number of good ways of doing so.  I couldn't have articulated them better myself. [spam link removed]

That's plagiarism, spammer!  Go away.
Logged

People who do not understand numbers should not be allowed to use them for anything. - DvF

MYOB.  Y enseñen bien a sus hijos.
enfanterrible
Junior member
**
Posts: 52


« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2010, 9:00:19 pm »

I am surprised to read that some posters recommend calling directly on quiet students by name, since that's the exact opposite I have read and been told in any teacher training workshop or course I have taken.

One thing I don't think has been mentioned here is group work. Often, before starting class discussions I will have some group activity, to get students to "warm up" and get ready for the large class discussion. Depending on my goals the group activity may be more or less structured. For example, I may tell the Ss explicitly that they need to have someone who will take notes of the main points, one or two speakers, etc. I may tell them that they should reach consensus on one or two points, etc. I may tell them that roles should change from roles they used in a previous class, so that everyone gets to speak at some point.

Depending on the type of issue we are covering (not all topics are suited for this), I also use debates. I divide the class in two groups, and tell them they have to argue for a certain side, and think of all the issues that support that side. The group activity with assigned roles that I have described above could be embedded in the debate activity as well.

I have been teaching mostly graduate courses, but I think these approaches would work well with undergrads as well.
Logged
infopri
I guess I'm now a VERY
Distinguished Senior Member
*****
Posts: 23,760

When all else fails, let us agree to disagree.


« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2010, 1:53:47 am »

I am surprised to read that some posters recommend calling directly on quiet students by name, since that's the exact opposite I have read and been told in any teacher training workshop or course I have taken.

Why would you be advised not to call on such students?  I find that, generally, they thrive with just a little bit of prodding.  You do have to treat them gently at the beginning (which is why I suggested starting with easy questions), but if you don't call on them by name, they won't participate at all--which is not acceptable in the courses I teach.  The trick is to instill enough confidence in them so that they get over their shyness or cultural inhibitions or whatever it is that's keeping them quiet.  Some of these students, once they get past that hurdle, turn out to be the best students in the discussion.

Depending on the type of issue we are covering (not all topics are suited for this), I also use debates. I divide the class in two groups, and tell them they have to argue for a certain side, and think of all the issues that support that side. The group activity with assigned roles that I have described above could be embedded in the debate activity as well.

I have been teaching mostly graduate courses, but I think these approaches would work well with undergrads as well.

I've done something like this, too, including in undergraduate classes.  The primary difference between your description and what I've done is that I've had more than two sides (reflecting the complexity of the issues we study).  I've also done it with individual students (rather than groups) representing each side.  Both techniques have worked very well.  In fact, these role-playing activities are extremely effective in the courses I teach.
Logged

People who do not understand numbers should not be allowed to use them for anything. - DvF

MYOB.  Y enseñen bien a sus hijos.
missemily
Senior member
****
Posts: 851


« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2010, 12:03:43 pm »

I agree completely with everything missemily says.  I incorporate a great deal of class discussion in my courses, using the same techniques missemily describes, and I've been very satisfied with the results, even when I start with a desultory, non-talkative group.  You have to learn to draw them out, and missemily has provided you with a number of good ways of doing so.  I couldn't have articulated them better myself. [spam link removed]

That's plagiarism, spammer!  Go away.

Oh carp, a spammer! And here I was basking in the praise.
Logged
missemily
Senior member
****
Posts: 851


« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2010, 12:12:20 pm »

I am surprised to read that some posters recommend calling directly on quiet students by name, since that's the exact opposite I have read and been told in any teacher training workshop or course I have taken.

Why would you be advised not to call on such students?  I find that, generally, they thrive with just a little bit of prodding.  You do have to treat them gently at the beginning (which is why I suggested starting with easy questions), but if you don't call on them by name, they won't participate at all--which is not acceptable in the courses I teach.  The trick is to instill enough confidence in them so that they get over their shyness or cultural inhibitions or whatever it is that's keeping them quiet.  Some of these students, once they get past that hurdle, turn out to be the best students in the discussion.

I agree with infopri that you must be gentle, especially at the beginning. If I see that a student feels uncomfortable being called on, I say something like, "I hope you realize what a wonderful public service you're performing right now. All of your classmates are so relieved that you were called on instead of them! And now while you're in the spotlight and sweating for the answer, all of them have had time to think. In fact, I think I'll call on one of them!" If this kind of behavior suits your personality, it's a good way to loosen up a class.  And, again as infopri says, you want to look for opportunities to build the confidence of those quiet students so they will feel comfortable participating.
Logged
mountainguy
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.
Distinguished Senior Member
*****
Posts: 17,999


« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2010, 12:29:27 pm »

I agree with Missemily. I think we have a responsibility to encourage participation by all students. By tolerating non-participation, we unwittingly convey the message that discussions are optional. Most students will have to participate in discussions or meetings when they enter the workforce, so they might as well start practicing now.
That having been said, I would never want to embarrass or publicly shame a student who is nervous about speaking in front of classmates, which is why I agree that small group activities can be helpful.
Logged
infopri
I guess I'm now a VERY
Distinguished Senior Member
*****
Posts: 23,760

When all else fails, let us agree to disagree.


« Reply #12 on: June 21, 2010, 12:31:11 pm »

I agree completely with everything missemily says.  I incorporate a great deal of class discussion in my courses, using the same techniques missemily describes, and I've been very satisfied with the results, even when I start with a desultory, non-talkative group.  You have to learn to draw them out, and missemily has provided you with a number of good ways of doing so.  I couldn't have articulated them better myself. [spam link removed]

That's plagiarism, spammer!  Go away.

Oh carp, a spammer! And here I was basking in the praise.

Bask away, missemily.  The reason I yelled at the spammer was that s/he had stolen my own post, verbatim.  (Look for my first post on this thread.)  Unlike the spammer, I was sincere in my praise.
Logged

People who do not understand numbers should not be allowed to use them for anything. - DvF

MYOB.  Y enseñen bien a sus hijos.
missemily
Senior member
****
Posts: 851


« Reply #13 on: June 21, 2010, 1:02:45 pm »

I agree completely with everything missemily says.  I incorporate a great deal of class discussion in my courses, using the same techniques missemily describes, and I've been very satisfied with the results, even when I start with a desultory, non-talkative group.  You have to learn to draw them out, and missemily has provided you with a number of good ways of doing so.  I couldn't have articulated them better myself. [spam link removed]

That's plagiarism, spammer!  Go away.

Oh carp, a spammer! And here I was basking in the praise.

Bask away, missemily.  The reason I yelled at the spammer was that s/he had stolen my own post, verbatim.  (Look for my first post on this thread.)  Unlike the spammer, I was sincere in my praise.

I am basking, and I thank you. I was so caught up in the spammer issue I forgot to thank you earlier.
Logged
enfanterrible
Junior member
**
Posts: 52


« Reply #14 on: June 21, 2010, 9:19:05 pm »

I am surprised to read that some posters recommend calling directly on quiet students by name, since that's the exact opposite I have read and been told in any teacher training workshop or course I have taken.

Why would you be advised not to call on such students?  I find that, generally, they thrive with just a little bit of prodding.  You do have to treat them gently at the beginning (which is why I suggested starting with easy questions), but if you don't call on them by name, they won't participate at all--which is not acceptable in the courses I teach.  The trick is to instill enough confidence in them so that they get over their shyness or cultural inhibitions or whatever it is that's keeping them quiet.  Some of these students, once they get past that hurdle, turn out to be the best students in the discussion.

Depending on the type of issue we are covering (not all topics are suited for this), I also use debates. I divide the class in two groups, and tell them they have to argue for a certain side, and think of all the issues that support that side. The group activity with assigned roles that I have described above could be embedded in the debate activity as well.

I have been teaching mostly graduate courses, but I think these approaches would work well with undergrads as well.

I've done something like this, too, including in undergraduate classes.  The primary difference between your description and what I've done is that I've had more than two sides (reflecting the complexity of the issues we study).  I've also done it with individual students (rather than groups) representing each side.  Both techniques have worked very well.  In fact, these role-playing activities are extremely effective in the courses I teach.

I think the rationale behind this bit of received wisdom in current pedagogy is that calling on students puts them on the spot and can have the reverse effect. I have always heard this, in all kinds of teacher training courses and workshops I have taken. My own field is applied, and teacher training is a sub-field (though not my specialty) so I get exposed to that too, and I have done a number of observations as part of my own professional development.

Also, as most teachers, my teaching reflects my models (my own teachers) and since I came to the US for my graduate work, I don't think I remember any of my teachers doing that, so I also perceive it as not desirable perhaps because of that.

Not calling on students does not imply accepting that non-participation is acceptable (I disagree with mountainguy here); it just means finding other, more indirect ways, to engage those quiet students.

One must also be aware of cultural differences. I get to teach a lot of Asian students, and they tend to be quiet because participation is not an expectation in their own culture and educational system. Calling on them directly does not work.

Another way of getting students to participate (in addition to group work and other structured ways, such as scheduled student discussion leading, already mentioned) include calling on the first student, announcing the class that he shall nominate the next student (S2), then S2 shall nominate the next (S3), etc. That removes the responsibility from the teacher.

Another way is to do some writing activity first as warm up, such as: "react to this: blah blah blah". This can be combined with other things, such as group work, students nominating next speaker (see above), etc.
Logged
Pages: [1] 2
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.9 | SMF © 2006-2008, Simple Machines LLC Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!
  • 1255 Twenty-Third St., N.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20037
subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.