that may affect students' participation in discussions is also important, especially if participation is graded. When students do not spontaneously engage in a discussion, they may be unprepared or they may be reluctant to speak or to be assertive. Some may be more comfortable making comparisons than absolute statements, and others may be more comfortable with narrative descriptions than with quantitative analysis. You might try various strategies to engage your students in meaningful discussion by posing questions that measure different levels of understanding (knowledge, application, analysis, and comprehension; see Chapter 6).

Planning and Guiding Discussions

Probably the best overall advice is to be bold but flexible and willing to adjust your strategies to fit the character of your class. If you want to experiment with using discussions in your class, here are some things to consider:

  • Decide on the goals of your class discussion. What is it that you want the students to get from each class session? Concepts? Problem solving skills? Decision-making skills? The ability to make connections to other disciplines or to technology? Broader perspective? Keep in mind that the goals may change as you progress through the material during the quarter or semester.

  • Explain to the students how discussions will be structured. Will the discussion involve the whole class or will students work in smaller groups? Make clear what you expect them to do before coming to each class session: read the chapter, think about the questions at the end of the chapter, seriously try to do the first five problems, etc. Let students see you take attendance. Students who do not come to class may not be studying.

  • If you want students to discuss questions and concepts in small groups, explain to students how the groups will form.

  • Do not allow a few students to dominate the discussion. Some students will naturally respond more quickly, but they must be encouraged to let others have a chance. Be sure that all students participate at an acceptable level. In extreme cases you may have to speak outside of class to an aggressive or an excessively reticent student.

  • Look for opportunities for you or your students to bring to class mini-demonstrations illustrating important points of the day's topic. This is a very effective way to stimulate discussion.

  • Be willing to adjust to the needs of your students and to take advantage of your own strengths as a teacher. Watch for signs that the students need more or less guidance. Are the main points coming out and getting resolved? Do you need to do more summarizing or moderating?


Collaborative learning "is an umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together" (Goodsell et al., 1992). Cooperative learning, a form of collaborative learning, is an instructional technique in which students work in groups to achieve a common goal, to which they each contribute in

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