Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE)

Norm-Setting at the Beginning of the Semester

It is easy to have a “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to establishing class norms. In this video, Gretchen Brion-Meisels discusses an alternative approach, where class norms are framed as aspirations and goals that need to be affirmed and reaffirmed as the course unfolds. She begins by introducing a key quote that establishes her philosophy on learning, then reminds students about this way of thinking as the semester proceeds. As she explains, she does this because her aim is not to construct norms that “make people happy” but rather to create a classroom culture where...

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Prioritizing unheard voices and perspectives

Classes can easily fall into a routine where the same students talk again and again, yielding an unequal distribution of airtime. Part of this is out of the instructor’s control: some students, whether because of their interests or backgrounds, feel much more comfortable and motivated to openly share their opinions than others. In this video, Gretchen Brion-Meisels reflects on the need to balance these louder voices with voices and perspectives that might otherwise go unheard. This includes giving more space and time for students who rarely volunteer to speak; students who offer...

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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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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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Fostering an environment where everyone is a teacher and learner

In this video, Gretchen Brion-Meisels reflects on the various roles that she plays while checking in with students in small group discussions. Depending on what she hears from students, she either digs in as an active participant or listens in and prompts students with an additional question before moving on. Regardless of what she does to keep students’ discussions generative, Brion-Meisels is committed to demonstrating humility in her approach to teaching. She actively acknowledges and models uncertainty in her own scholarship and practice which in turn encourages students to...

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Mixing students up in small discussion groups

It is easy for students to get into a routine of where they sit and who they talk to. While this might build a sense of familiarity among some students, it naturally limits the sharing of perspectives and building of community among all. To ensure that all students have opportunities to hear and learn from each other, Gretchen Brion-Meisels intentionally mixes up students within classes, using a range of grouping prompts across the semester. In this video, Brion-Meisels and her students talk about the value and efficiency of using fun prompts to quickly create diverse groupings.

Using Research to Set Discussion Norms

While many classrooms set norms and expectations at the start of the semester, grounding this exercise in relevant research can foster more intentional learning communities while building connections between course content and classroom culture. Norm-setting with your students can also be a great opportunity to work collaboratively with them make decisions about your class structures and your teaching. In this video, Tina Grotzer explains her practice of setting discussion norms by using research in the first days of class.

Connecting forward: Applying concepts beyond the classroom

By asking students to apply or search out examples of course concepts beyond the classroom, you can help them see how class content tangibly impacts the world around them. In this video, Tina Grotzer demonstrates how and why she asks students to take their learning beyond their weekly lecture.  

Shaking up the classroom arrangement

Where students sit in your classroom can have a big impact on their interactions with each other, and by extension, their learning. Moreover, seating patterns among students can solidify very quickly, making dialogic possiblities all the more difficult. In this video, Tina Grotzer explains why she has students change where they sit at key points in the semester and how these changes affect classroom climate.

Activating Prior Knowledge: Connecting students' experiences to class concepts

Prompting students to reflect on how the course material relates to their own lives can help them develop a deeper understanding of your subject. Particularly when students are reading large amounts of theoretical material or research findings, it can be difficult to pause and connect that work to past experiences or future plans. In this video, Tina Grotzer models how she builds in moments for her students to relate the course to their life experiences in order to deepen their understanding. 

Providing multiple ways for students to engage in class discussion

Class discussions don’t only have to take place within the four walls of the classroom. Establishing resources and platforms to continue discussions outside of class can help students extend their learning and feel more engaged with your course. In this video, Tina Grotzer discusses how she uses online discussion boards and in-person meetings to make sure all of her students get the chance to have their questions answered and feel seen as members of the class community. 

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. 

Giving students enough space and time to reflect

Giving students substantial time during class to pause, reflect on, and verbally process their understanding can help them consolidate their learning and generate new ideas. These practices can also help teaching teams stay abreast of how students’ thinking is changing. In this video, Tina Grotzer explains how and why she gives students the space and time to reflect in class.  

Getting students mentally ready for class

Students who are mentally prepared for class and know what to expect from the day’s schedule are able to be more attentive and focused on course material. In this video, Tina Grotzer demonstrates different ways to help students feel present in the classroom and allocate their mental energy to the day’s learning.  

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