In a previous post I said that I was going to start requiring each group of students, in its discussion of the day’s reading assignment, to write down two reasons or examples in support of the the argument each group would present to the rest of the class.
Comparing the arguments students presented in the second half of the semester with those from the first half, I can’t identify a definitive improvement, and even if there was one, I don’t know if the act of writing group members’ comments down caused the improvement.
What seemed to matter more (again, with no empirical data to support my observations) were two things. First, if a sufficient number of high-performing students completed the assignment on the day’s readings, then the discussion was more focused. Second, if the assignment’s question forced students to choose between two clearly delineated and simple options, discussion appeared to be more detailed and stimulating. While I can’t control the first phenomenon, I can work on the second, by creating questions that are easily understandable to students and that guide them toward constructing arguments that are supported with concrete, specific evidence.