Facilitating Productive, Inclusive Discussions


A common request that I receive is on the topic of class discussions. So, this week I would like to share research on Facilitating Productive, Inclusive Discussions from two sources. The first is a recent article from the Chronicle entitled "How to Hold a Better Class Discussion" by Howard (2019). In this, the author provides several ideas to consider categorized as:

  • Why Discussion Matters

  • Strategies to Change Class Discussion Norms

  • How to Keep Discussions on Track

  • Participation Grades, Bad Answers & Divisive Topics

In each category, Howard shares several ideas to keep a discussion on track:

  • Encourage students of varied backgrounds

  • Slow down dominant talkers

  • Control the rhythm

  • Offer frequent Formative Assessments

  • Make relevant to students’ lives

  • Shine light on the Muddiest points

The second source is from the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning & Teaching on "The Research Basis for Inclusive Teaching." Some of the strategies include:

  • Choose readings that deliberately reflect diversity of contributors; emphasize range of identities & backgrounds.

  • Avoid unfamiliar references based on backgrounds.

  • Analyze content of your examples, analogies and humor.

  • Choose materials with range of student physical abilities and financial resources.

  • Teach conflicts of the field to incorporate diverse perspectives.

  • Help students connect prior knowledge to discussions.

  • Use variety of methods (verbal/written; small/large; seat/board).

  • Provide verbal and written instructions, which helps processing disabilities and non-native English speakers.

  • Ask for concrete observations before moving to analytical questions.

  • Emphasize larger purpose of material and make connections.

  • Carefully frame outcomes when raising sensitive topics.

  • Learn and use students’ preferred names as well as how to pronounce them.

  • Communicate high expectations; belief that ALL students can succeed.

  • Allow for productive risk and failed events. Make known that struggle is important and not a sign of deficiency.

  • Avoid making generalizations about student experiences.

  • Refrain from asking students to speak for social identity group.

Howard, J. (2015). Discussion In the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating. Wiley.

U-M Center for Research on Learning & Teaching (CRLT) (2015). Adapted from Linse & Weinstein, Shreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Penn State. http://crlt.umich.edu/node/90467.

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