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    Using small groups to intensify focus and provide safer spaces

    To get students comfortable speaking in larger groups, discussion leaders might choose to start the conversation in smaller groups first to provide a safe environment for students to gain comfort and confidence while testing out ideas with their peers. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal discusses how she breaks her class into smaller groups when she wants to draw attention to certain material, or when discussion topics require vulnerability from students.

    Waiting for student responses

    Processing information requires time to think. Although several seconds of silent think-time can be uncomfortable for students and professors alike, extending the time between when you ask a question and receive an answer can increase the number of students who volunteer to participate and improve the quality of their responses. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal describes her thought process behind strategically using wait-time at different points in a discussion.

    Making thinking visible

    While we know that understanding is developed through deep and involved discussions of course content, many students benefit from additional written and visual scaffolding. In this video, Gretchen Brion-Meisels discusses how she uses graphic organizers, both for small-group discussions and in whole class share-outs. These organizers help students keep track of their learning and “hold onto” key ideas they generate in class. In small-groups, Brion-Meisels makes these graphic organizers optional, letting students decide how much they need to use them in order to have generative discussions...

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    Using discussion protocols

    Asking students to engage in small-group discussions can feel like a risky pedagogical choice. Are students talking about the content that is assigned? Are these student-led conversations helping students deepen their understanding of the course content? In this video, Gretchen Brion-Meisels explains a discussion protocol that she uses to ensure that students are having generative discussions aligned to the goals of the lesson. In this protocol, students are asked to provide initial reactions to course content before selecting a focal question. They then use a series of guided...

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    Nurturing voices that challenge the dominant narrative

    Students' racial and gender identities can influence the extent to which they participate in discussions. Having safe and open environments to wrestle aloud with difficult conversation topics can be both essential and empowering.  In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal and her students discuss the participation dynamics in a seminar which covers challenging conversation topics.  

    Adjusting lesson plans in real time

    Making quick mental calculations can at times be an awkward maneuver, but it’s far better to readjust in response to the natural pulse of a class than to forge ahead, blind to the individual needs in the room. Christina “V” Villarreal is carefully attuned to these immediate needs and exercises plasticity with her lesson plans to accommodate them. In this video, she uses the guiding questions outlined in her syllabus to prioritize class time and focus spontaneous discussion.

    Asserting political opinions in discussion

    An instructor’s personal or political opinions might be less relevant when it comes to some topics, but asserting your opinions on certain controversial issues may be crucial. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal and Tim McCarthy reflect on when and why they choose to assert certain political positions or strongly held beliefs in a discussion, particularly when “a line is crossed” or when “stakes are high.”

    Engaging with small groups to deepen discussions

    It can be tempting to sit back and relax as an instructor when students are engaged in small group discussions. Doing so, however, keeps you from learning how students are understanding and engaging with content. Small-group discussion is an opportune time for you and your teaching team to get to know, compliment, complicate, and challenge your students’ thinking. In this video, Tina Grotzer discusses what she thinks about as she circulates and listens in on her students’ small group discussions. 

    Using jigsaws to facilitate small-group discussions

    “Jigsaw” discussions are an efficient and student-centered way to get your class familiar with many different texts or materials. By dividing students into groups that each work with different content, then having individuals from each group teach that content to their peers, you can encourage students to build on each others’ ideas and find patterns throughout their course content. In this video, Tina Grotzer describes how she uses jigsaws to facilitate in-depth discussion in her classroom. 

    Being transparent about instructional moves

    Your instructional decision-making doesn’t need to be a secret. Sharing your reasons for making certain instructional moves with your students can enhance their classroom experiences by helping them become more metacognitive about their learning. In this video, Tina Grotzer models being transparent about instructional moves with her students, showing how this communication is a crucial component of her course. 

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