Posts Tagged ‘class discussion’

Why Won’t They Talk in Class?

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Ashley Marshall in her piece entitled, Talk to Me (Chronicle Review, June 25, 2012), noted how frustrating it is for professors when excellent students do not speak up in class.  Marshall admits she was one of those students.  She points out that there are many reasons why students won’t speak up:  under-prepared, frightened, uninterested, hoping to coast through the semester with a C.  When Marshall encountered a student like she was in her course, she offered help to her.  Marshall wrote that she “e-mailed her a few questions before the next class discussion and told her to try out an answer on me before the class met.  She duly, if tentatively, offered her electronic answer, and I responded with (justified) reassurance.”  The help worked.  Of course, professors may not encounter the same situation, the same type of student.  But, Marshall advises that “if the object is to get the most you can from all your students, then you need to offer help and encouragement wherever possible.”  Most of us would agree with Marshall as to our charge.  Perhaps the trick for us is to search for the reasons for students not speaking up in class.  Once you have the reason, an appropriate solution can be tried.

Making Meaning of Assigned Reading Reviews

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Do your reviews of assigned reading merely determine whether or not students have done the reading?  Would you like to make those reviews more meaningful for you and for your students?  Below is a Faculty Focus ( article which was reprinted from “Making the Review of Assigned Reading Meaningful.” The Teaching Professor, 24.9 (2010): 2-3.

The typical college student dreads hearing, “Let’s review the chapters you read for homework.” What generally ensues is a question and answer drill in which students are peppered with questions designed to make clear who has and hasn’t done the reading. In reality, these exchanges do little to encourage deep thought or understanding of the assigned reading. They produce awkward silences during which students squirm in their seats, hoping to become invisible. Other times students decline to answer for fear of giving the wrong answer. Almost all the time a negative tone permeates the classroom during this review. I decided to restructure the way that I approached reviews of reading assignments, and found that by doing things differently, I could change both the tone and outcomes of the review activity. I’d like to share some of the ideas and techniques that I have found useful:

The Top Ten - Ask students to create their own “Top Ten List” of important concepts presented in the chapter(s). I encourage student collaboration in the creation of these lists. The activity provides a nice review of the material, and you’ll be amazed at what students consider to be most important. I use these lists as a starting point for discussions. They also let me know what areas of content need further explanation. For students who didn’t do the reading, the lists expose them to ideas in the text and that prepares them at least a bit for the subject of the day.

Secondary Sources - Gone are the days when the textbook is the only source of information available to students. With blogs, research articles, journals, informational pages, and news websites at the touch of a fingertip, students can easily learn more about the subject. After they’ve done the assigned readings, have students locate another viewpoint on the subject and bring it to class. In class, set a time limit (say 15 minutes) and have partners/groups discuss the reading material and their secondary sources. As you circulate around the room, you may hear some good examples that you can use later in the period. Interestingly, students often (without being asked) continue to bring in outside resources on the topics we study, which makes for rich and healthy discussions.

Journaling - For the ideas presented in the readings to become relevant, students need to articulate thoughts about what they are reading and they need to hear how others responded as well. I encourage my students to write journal notes, which I describe as what the brain is thinking while reading. Example: “Wow! I never considered how George Washington must have felt during this turbulent time in the nation’s history. I always thought of him as liking his role as president.” Students can share their journaling with a partner or small group. This exercise helps students get past initial impressions, and it connects what they already know to the new information.

Divide and Conquer - Divide up the next reading chapter among small groups of students. Student A reads the first section in the chapter, Student B reads the next section, and so forth. The next day, students meet in small groups and report on the section they read. Or you can have groups of students that read the same section meet with students who read different sections. Students become dependent on one another to create the full picture of what was in the reading material. My students seem to enjoy these group discussions, which are a way to become familiar with the material before being graded on it.

Using these and other strategies has really made a difference in my classes. More students are engaged in and contributing to class discussions, and they are moving beyond a simple repetition of facts and details. Students are digging deeper and connecting their world with other viewpoints, and that gives them a richer understanding of the content.

These new approaches are having an effect on me, too. I am more calm and confident in my role as a teacher and a learner. I find it easier to be more patient and thoughtful with my students. Most important, I have noticed that the classroom feels like a safe and positive place. Students show greater respect for one another and more appreciation of the material. In my opinion, all these responses make these changes worthwhile!

Dr. Sarah K. Clark is an assistant professor of elementary education at Utah State University.

CITL Answers – December 2009

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Question: How can I quickly find information about teaching?  I want to know more about active learning and get some advice on how to facilitate a class discussion.  I’ve tried searching, but there is so much out there to sift through.  Can you help?

CITL’s Answer:  Try Eastern Kentucky University’s Teaching Tips Webpage.  It is a compilation of nearly 50 topics related to teaching in higher education.  Scroll through the topics.  When you find one that is close to what you are looking for, you will then be able to access numerous short and to-the-point online resources.  You can also e-mail or call Karen St. Clair, Director of the CITL.  She can quickly sift through the literature and find what you are looking for at: x8246.