SIP 1.8: Inclusive Class Discussions

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Exchanging information, ideas and opinions in open and provocative discussion lies at the heart of inclusive and collaborative learning. A good discussion can be an unmatched learning experience as students articulate their ideas and develop skills in evaluating the evidence of their own and others’ positions. Given such, it is not surprising that the use of discussion is the single most popular instructional method used in higher education (Barkley et al. 2014; U.S. Department of Education 2000).

Yet getting students to participate in a discussion can be difficult. Not only have many students become accustomed to being passive learners (Freire 1970/2000), there is also a risk in saying what one thinks to a room full of peers, classmates and the professor. Students’ fears of being “wrong” or “saying something stupid,” or who struggle with public speaking, are just a few of the barriers to facilitating an effective, inclusive class discussion.

4.1.1Take a SIP of this: Inclusive Class Discussions

The following general strategies and resources address barriers to inclusive class discussions:

  1. Allow students to clarify their thoughts and rehearse their comments before being required to speak to the whole class. This may be as simple as pausing before calling on students. Alternately you could ask students to write out and/or share their thoughts with a nearby classmate before addressing the entire class – the popular “think, pair, share” facilitation technique works well here.
  2. Consider providing students with discussion topics and question in advance of the discussion session and/or permitting students to contribute to the discussion before or after the in class session using an online forum such as the Blackboard “Discussions” tool.
  3. Provide students with an opportunity to identify other students who may agree or share an opinion before sharing with the entire class, especially if the discussion topic is controversial.
  4. Divide the class into pairs or small groups so that each student has the opportunity to participate in the discussion. If discussion will be a regular feature of your class, consider assigning students to heterogeneous groups (based on academic achievement, major, personality, worldview, age, gender, race/ethnicity, etc.) and asking them to remain in the same group for the duration of the semester. This will give students time to become comfortable with one another and facilitate “cross-class” and in-depth discussion themes.
  5. If working in small groups, establish a framework for discussion in which students perform specific meaningful roles, such as timer, note taker/recorder, reporter, etc. and in which every student is required to participate. Additionally, requiring students to submit a brief account of who performed what role and a summary of the discussion can incentivize students to adhere to the discussion framework and remain on task.
  6. At the conclusion of the discussion, ask students to summarize their learning and contributions to the discussion with a “one-minute essay” or similar formative assessment activity.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of Inclusive Class Discussions:

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