Balancing and Pacing

A truly balanced discussion promotes equity by amplifying the voices of all students rather than just the outspoken few. This seldom occurs by chance. Rather, it is the result of careful planning and intentional strategies. We would additionally be hard-pressed to find an instructor who has not struggled with pacing class discussions. In addition to keeping an eye on the clock, this demands quick thinking and real-time adjustments, nimble reframing of questions and nonstop judgment calls. Without attention to pacing, lesson objectives might not be met. Meanwhile, without some healthy flexibility, those spontaneous moments of collective discovery characteristic of productive class discussions may be abruptly halted.   

Which students in our classrooms tend to dominate the conversation? What strategies might help us get more voices into the mix?  When should we chime in?  How do we pivot the dialogue when necessary? In these videos, featured professors share strategies for facilitating more equitable and well-paced discussions in their classrooms.

What does the research say?

  • One study demonstrates that providing opportunities for regular collaboration and interaction during class can help address performance gender gaps in the physics classroom while improving student understanding in general (Lorenzo, 2006)
  • Building on sociological research, one study finds that comfort in public speaking is highly gendered, with female students demonstrating markedly higher levels of anxiety than their male counterparts, underscoring the imperative for developing more secure, empathetic learning spaces (Moffett et al., 2014)
  • One study demonstrates that flipped classrooms which require pre-work and use that pre-work to shape instruction saw improved scores on both summative assessments and student GPAs (DeRuisseau, 2016)

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield and Preskill discuss how to balance student voices (p. 168-191) and instructor voices (p. 193-214)

Christensen, C. R. (1991). Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

In chapter 9, Christensen explores questioning, listening, and response (p. 153-172).  All three components are critical for the execution of a successful discussion course.   

McKeachie, W., & Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie's teaching tips. United Kingdom: Cengage Learning.

Instructors can get an overview on how to pace discussions in McKeachie’s “Moving things along” section (p. 45).