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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
While students certainly pay attention to their professor’s verbal communication, they also pick up on nonverbal cues. Sitting in a circle with your students instead of standing over them, or empowering them to participate without necessarily waiting to be called on can foster a democratic culture where all voices matter equally. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal explains how she purposefully arranges her classroom and uses physical cues to build a classroom community that “agentizes” her students.