Considering other perspectives through role plays

    Todd Rakoff points out that having students take a position they don’t necessarily agree with can make discussions less personal and invite broader participation. Additionally, employing small group discussions can be a powerful tool for amplifying diverse viewpoints. In this video, when Rakoff sends students on their way to talk through court cases, the room transforms into a flurry of energy and lively deliberation. Rakoff uses informal and formal role plays, questioning strategies, and an even-handed tone to solicit and affirm alternative perspectives in discussion.

    Modifying plans to excite deeper learning

    What sparks deeper learning is not always neatly predictable. Sometimes instructors must move “off-script” to harness serendipitous moments of discovery. This requires flexibility, quick decision-making, and deft plan-tweaking. In this video, Dan Levy uncovers his thought process in one such classroom moment and explains his decision to withhold a correct answer from his students. The cliffhanger serves to kindle curiosity among students, many of whom conclude the week energized and eager to deepen their understanding.

    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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    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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    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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    Asking questions that push students to discover information for themselves

    Some instructors design lectures that simply telegraph answers to students. While there are certainly cases where it makes sense to deliver answers this way, a wholesale dependence on this approach will likely mute students’ drive to discover answers for themselves, resulting in a class of students who depend on you rather than on themselves to solve problems. Infusing lectures with questions that spark students toward self-discovery, however, can help to foster more productive, interactive learning spaces. Paola Arlotta uses leading and “prodding” questions to help students...

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