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Write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision

Participants taking sides and refusing to compromise Apathetic participation If the discussion seems to be flagging, it can help to introduce a new question or alter the task so as to bring a fresh kind of thinking or a different group dynamic to bear. For example, you might switch from discussing an ethical issue in the abstract to a concrete case study, or shift from large-group discussion to small group or pair-work. Bring Closure It is important to leave time at the end of the discussion to synthesize the central issues covered, key questions raised, etc.

There are a number of ways to synthesize. Synthesizing the write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision is a critical step for linking the discussion to the original learning objectives and demonstrating progress towards meeting those objectives.

Social and Emotional Factors: Demonstrate Relevance While students generally enjoy discussions, they may have difficulty recognizing what they gain from participating in them — in contrast with lectures, in which students may take copious notes and have a sense of having covered clearly discernable ground. It is helpful to tell students up front how you think the skills they gain from participating in discussion will help them in academic and future pursuits.

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Discussions for this class will give you the opportunity to practice that skill. As we talk, think about a conversation with a colleague in medical school and imagine how you would articulate this argument and suggest a productive fusion of both approaches to medicine.

Below are some strategies that can help encourage meaningful student participation. Create a discussion climate early. Plan an icebreaker early in the semester that gets students talking and interacting, preferably while doing an activity that is integral to the content material for the course.

Also, create a climate in which students feel comfortable taking intellectual risks: Require students to prepare for discussion. Discussions tend to be most productive when students have already done some preparatory work for them. It can be helpful to give assignments to help students to prepare for discussion.

Get to know your students. Students are more likely to participate if they feel that they are recognized as individuals. Model exemplary discussion behavior. One way to encourage students to engage in the style of intellectual exchange you desire is to model good discussion techniques in your own behavior, using language that demonstrates, among other things: On its own, instructor modeling is not likely to affect student behavior, however.

It is also important to explicitly point out the kinds of discussion skills illustrated above and to distinguish high-quality contributions e. Explicit ground rules or guidelines can help to ensure a respectful environment for discussion.

The ground rules you use will depend on your class size and goals, but may include provisions such as these: Click on these links to see examples of ground rules and a template for creating student-generated ground rules. If a subset of students seems reluctant to speak up in class, you might consider ways for them to share their ideas and engage with the material in an alternative forum, such as via discussion board or e-mail.

Giving students time to write down their thoughts before opening the floor to discussion can also help quiet students get more involved. So too can the use of pair-work and small-group discussions. While some faculty are reluctant to call on quiet students for fear of embarrassing them, it should be pointed out that calling on students can also liberate them: Sometimes the problem is not shy students but overly domineering or aggressive students who monopolize discussion.

Sometimes a write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision approach to reining in these students can be effective for example: Handling strong emotions and disagreement that arise in a discussion can be a challenge for instructors. A certain amount of disagreement is desirable, yet if the conversation gets too heated or antagonistic, it can inhibit participation and squelch a productive exchange of ideas. When emotions are high, remind students to focus on ideas and refrain from personal comments this stipulation can be included in your ground rules as well.

Also, consider in advance how you will handle sensitive discussion topics. Discussions that do so may not be comfortable for some participants yet still have the desired effect. On the other hand, done poorly such discussions can stifle rather than stimulate write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision and learning.

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Also, think about whether the discussion environment in your classroom is sufficiently inclusive of all your students, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion, religion, etc. Assign pair and small-group work. As a prelude or addition to full-class discussion, write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision giving pairs or small groups of students the task of discussing a question or problem.

Group work tends to work best when the task is clearly defined and concrete. It can facilitate group work to assign roles within the group.

Assigning this last task to a quiet student can help to draw him or her out. Click on this link for more on group work. Make high-quality participation count While we all want students to participate in discussions for the sheer joy of intellectual exchange, not all students may be equally motivated to jump in — at least not initially.

Providing extrinsic motivations can be helpful to establish the behavioral write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision that lead, ultimately, to intrinsic motivations.

For this reason, many instructors include a participation grade as part of the reward structure of their courses. For this reason it can be helpful to define what you consider high-quality contributions to discussions and distinguish them from low-quality contributions by using a rubric for discussion that makes your expectations and grading criteria clear.

One instructor, for example, defines high-quality participation as: Evaluate the discussion How will you know if a discussion accomplished what you hoped it would?


How will you assess your own performance as a discussion leader? There are a number of ways to evaluate discussions. For example, immediately following the discussion, you might ask students to write briefly about what they learned, how their thinking changed, or how the discussion relates to other course materials.

An alternative is to ask students to reflect on the quality of the discussion, answering questions such as: What kinds of contributions were and were not helpful? Did everyone who wanted to get a chance to speak? If not, why not? Another possibility is to videotape the discussion and analyze it after the fact; this can be helpful because instructors facilitating a discussion are busy juggling many things at once time management, the flow of ideas, group dynamicsand often cannot assess the discussion as a whole.

Davis provides a useful inventory for analyzing the behavior of discussion participants in videotaped discussions 1993, p. Of course, discussions can be evaluated less formally, simply by asking yourself a set of questions after the fact, for example: What might explain the patterns of participation?

What questions proved most fruitful and why? How might the discussion be improved to promote deeper inquiry, more student-student interaction, etc.?

Physical Factors Try to arrange the physical set-up of your classroom so that it is conducive to discussion. Some instructors prefer that chairs be in a circle, others in a U-shape, while for small group discussions or debates chairs must be moved and assembled differently.

First, what are your objectives? Obviously, the traditional classroom arrangement, with the instructor positioned before rows of student chairs does not serve this objective.

On the other hand, if the style of discussion or quasi-discussion is Socratic, with the instructor asking questions and students answering, then a more traditional seating arrangement could be successful. In keeping with your objectives, you might also ask yourself what the arrangement of physical space communicates.

Do you want to set yourself apart from other discussion participants, or position yourself as one of them? Do you want to make it difficult for students to avoid participation or do you believe they have the right to opt out? Second, what discussion format s will you use? If you are engaging in a brainstorming session and plan to write on the board, you will need to have students sit where they write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision see the board.

If you want students to work in small groups, you might consider how chairs and tables can be positioned so that you can walk from group to group, or have students do so if the task demands it. If your discussion is part of a group project that involves hands-on construction write out the two most compelling arguments you heard that affected your decision manipulation perhaps of a flow-chart or designthe physical space must be organized accordingly.

As a general rule, it is a good idea to set up the classroom so that students can a see each other and b see progress e. Clearly, the configuration of the room itself can limit your options, as can class size. If you are teaching a class of 120 in an auditorium with bolted-down seats and poor acoustics, the traditional circular discussion arrangement is untenable.

However, you would be surprised how much discussion can be accomplished even in large classes link to lament and sub-optimal physical settings. Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms.