Facilitating Discussions

    Powerful class discussions may seem natural, even spontaneous, but they are typically the result of careful planning, clear intentions, and concrete strategies. From the physical layout of a classroom to the skillful wording of that genuinely provocative question, pedagogic considerations abound. Although facilitators’ styles can range from subtle to direct, effective instructors tend to strike a balance between organic...

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    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...

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    Framing the Discussion

    To an observer, effective discussions can look seamless. A question or two seems gets the conversation started, and students take it from there, sharing insightful perspectives, building on each other’s ideas, succinctly articulating the instructor’s key takeaways, all in perfect time. But the “behind-the-scenes” work to frame a discussion -- creating a space where daring, student-centered conversations can flourish; being clear about discussion objectives; asking the right, generative questions -- requires significant up-front planning.

    What steps can we...

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    Scaffolding New Material

    Every instructor who intends for his/her students to achieve ambitious learning objectives by the end of a semester must first answer the question: “How do I get them there?” Just as physical scaffolding enables a work crew to reach new heights at a construction site, instructional scaffolding supports students as they begin to grapple with progressively more challenging skills. Through the use of strategies such as modeling a professor’s own thinking, co-constructing common knowledge as a class, and building off of student contributions, instructors provide the initial support...

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    Responding to Students

    Class discussions often mirror the form of a tennis match between professor and students: Professor serves question to student, student sends answer back to professor, professor moves onto next student, and so on. Sometimes, however, it makes sense to volley continuously with one student so they might explain and expand their thinking further. Other discussions might better function as volleyball matches, where ideas are passed among students before the professor is brought back into the action. Whatever the situation calls for, one thing is clear -- how...

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    Deepening Understanding

    The challenge of narrowing a vast body of research and knowledge into a semester’s worth of material can be daunting, no matter the field of study. On top of that challenge, the effective instructor endeavors to awaken in students the same type of engagement that enlivens scholars in the field. Application and extension exercises help instructors to go beyond mere transmission of knowledge by adding the depth and inspiration necessary to transform students into scholars. Such exercises additionally equip students with the tools and...

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    Privacy Policy

    This Privacy Policy discloses the privacy practices for, the Instructional Moves website. Please note that Harvard Schools, Centers, and other Harvard units and affiliates have separate privacy policies. By using this website, you are consenting to our collection and use of information in accordance with this Privacy Policy.

    What information do we gather about you?

    We and our third-party vendors collect certain information regarding your use of, such as your IP address and browser type. Your...

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    Engaging Students

    Oftentimes before students can engage deeply with complex ideas, they must be engaged by their instructor. This becomes challenging considering the mismatch between the length of a typical lecture period (one to three hours) and the average student attention span in a traditional lecture class (about 15 minutes). As a result, instructors must be creative in getting and keeping student engagement. While some instructors design lectures that resemble choreographed performances to capture students’ attention, this is certainly not the only way to engage an academic audience....

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    Lecturing Interactively

    Although lectures may remain a cornerstone of higher education, oration alone can seldom sustain students’ engagement, provide them necessary learning supports, and authentically deepen their understanding of material. In fact, even the most compelling lecturers often employ a range of strategies to cultivate active and supportive learning spaces.

    Lecturing Interactively videos are organized into three submodules: Engaging Students, Scaffolding New Material, and Deepening Understanding. Supplemented by classroom footage and student testimonials, featured faculty share a wealth...

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    Case Teaching

    The professional real world is complex and filled with uncertainty. Rather than avoiding this complexity, case-based instruction centers around cases that tell the stories of real-life protagonists facing difficult decisions. Cases often end with a straightforward question: Which path should the protagonist take? To answer this question, students carefully read the case and its documents before class. They then spend class time discussing the context, analyzing the data, and debating potential courses of action the protagonist could take. As a facilitator of the conversation,...

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    Case-Based Collaborative Learning

    Learning conceptual material in the abstract works for some students. For others, traditional lectures and textbook learning can be alienating. By contrast, Case-Based Collaborative Learning (CBCL) provides a structured, student-centered approach to learning challenging material within realistic scenarios from the field. In the CBCL classroom, students identify and wrestle with concepts as they appear in reality. In the true-to-life, well-crafted case, these concepts may be buried amid relevant and/or irrelevant details. In the field, concepts rarely surface in “textbook” form, and...

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    Building Community

    For students to feel empowered to share ideas freely, instructors must work to foster a classroom culture that is both caring and challenging, safe and supportive. Such a culture seldom materializes by happenstance, and building it must be a sustained effort throughout the semester. With community in mind, effective instructors consider how to set up the physical environment, how to encourage intellectual risk-taking, and how to model appropriate discussion behaviors, such as active listening and responding to one another respectfully.

    How might we get to know our students...

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    Our Story


    When she first joined the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Meira Levinson identified as “an 8th grade classroom teacher who happened to find herself in a university.” Straddling these two contexts, eager to bridge academic rigor with the reflective practices she knew from K-12 classrooms, Levinson became interested in the idea of an online platform where Harvard instructors might share and gather purposeful, research-based teaching practices. Around this time, the...

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    Contact Us

    If you have questions about Instructional Moves or are affiliated with one of Harvard's schools and would like assistance in developing and leading PD that employs IM resources, please contact Josh Bookin, Associate Director of Instructional Support and Development at HGSE’s Teaching and Learning Lab.

    Teaching Through Problems

    Lecturing interactively and facilitating discussions may be the primary modalities for instruction, but they are certainly not the only ones. Teaching through problems is increasingly practiced on college campuses and in secondary classrooms. These classrooms engage students in relevant, discipline-specific puzzles, frequently shifting instructors to the periphery as students collaborate to realistically apply textbook concepts and reach new understandings.

    Teaching through problems videos are organized into five submodules according to the specific learning exercise...

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    Where cases present students with relevant situations from the field to apply their learning, simulations take this application a step further. Simulations are active learning exercises that thrust students directly into the action they will likely encounter in the professional world. Interactive, immersive, and intense, simulations present students with realistic situations that push them to enact their learning in context, then manage the consequences of their individual and collective decision-making. And what happens before and after simulations is just as important as what...

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