Fostering Class Discussion
Principles of good discussion, as specified by Brookfield and Presskill (2007), are to be used under the following appropriate conditions:
- When multiple perspectives on content are possible
- When applications of content to real life settings are being considered
- When students already have grasped the essentials or basics of what is being discussed, the ‘grammar’ of the activity
- When there is a genuine openness about where the discussion might lead.
Further, the chances for good discussion are raised when:
- The instructor works with the group to set ground rules for the discussion
- You distribute criteria and indicators for discussion participation that stress listening carefully to others’ comments, showing how others’ comments connect or differ, and asking questions of others
- You model the kinds of behaviors you’re looking for in discussion and let students know you’re doing this
- You provide some scaffolding for students’ participation by assigning roles or conversational moves and using specific techniques
- You hold discussion ONLY after students have read or thought about the topic, have written some reflections on it, and have brought multiple copies of these to class to share with peers. The discussion begins with students reading each others’ reflections on the topic
- You end each discussion NOT by giving a summary of conclusions but by listing new issues and unresolved questions the discussion has raised.
TIP: The Three-Person Rule (#30) (Brookfield & Presskill, 2007)
This simple rule is designed to ensure that no one person in a discussion can monopolize the conversation.
The rule: Once you have spoken you are not allowed to make another contribution to the discussion until at least three other group members have spoken. The only time this rule is not observed is if someone directly asks you to expand on a comment you’ve already made.
TIP: Discussion Audit (#29) (Brookfield & Presskill, 2007)
When moving from small to large class discussions one way to make the transition is to use a discussion inventory or audit. Here, each member of the small groups writes a brief response on a 3×5 card to one of the following questions:
What was the most important point made in the small group discussion you’ve just had?
What was the most confusing or puzzling point made in the small group discussion you’ve just had?
What new learning happened in the small group discussion you’ve just had?
Based on your small group discussion, what idea do you think it would be good to explore more deeply in the next part of the class?