By Way of Discussion

ConversationAs part of my effort to make classroom discussion a more productive part of all my courses, but especially one that uses problem-based learning, I’ve been poking around for helpful advice. I found Discussion as a Way of Teaching, by Dr. Stephen Brookfield. It’s a concise document that makes a lot of great points about how to make discussion pedagogically effective, such as:

  • Students should establish ground rules for how discussions should operate.
  • Instructors can assign students specific conversational techniques and roles that enable them to strengthen connections with others and better exchange information.
  • Rotating students to different or progressively larger discussion groups can lead to a more thorough exploration of possible solutions to a problem.
  • Students can become aware of their own assumptions through a collaborative discussion with their peers, which is very different from having an authority figure (the instructor) telling them what they should know.

A method that I think could be particularly useful to my teaching is an exercise in which each student in a group chooses a conversational role that determines the form of their responses in a discussion. For example, the connector identifies “how participants’ contributions are connected to each other,” while the speculator introduces “new interpretations and possible lines of inquiry into the group.” I can see giving each student project group a list of roles, each member of the group selecting a different role, and students rotating to a different role each day.