Friday, July 28, 2006


One thing I know I need to improve as a teacher is my ability to lead discussions. This has always been a problem for me-- I will always remember teaching my first class as a graduate student and being stunned when the class ended after 40 minutes (instead of 75) because no one had anything to say. Prior to that I had thought discussions just happened. Fifteen years later I know that collaborative learning asks students to listen and learn from each other, but someone has to start the conversation and keep it moving-- and that would be me.

I recently read a chapter from Brookfield and Preskill's book, Discussion as a Way of Teaching, which was posted on Rick Reis's listserv for educators, Tomorrow's Professor (subscribe at It lists several kinds of questions that can keep class discussions moving forward:

*Evidence questions (How do you know that?)
*Clarification questions (What do you mean? What's a good example of that?)
*Open-ended questions
*Linking or extension questions (How does your comment fit with what X said? Does your idea challenge or support what Y wrote?)
*Hypothetical questions (What if...?)
*Cause-and-effect questions
*Summary and synthesis questions (What are the 2 most important ideas? What ideas are still unresolved?)

The problem I will have is remembering these ideas once we're in the middle of a discussion--it's hard to pay attention to what the students are saying while at the same time thinking about where the conversation could or might go from here. Next time I'm planning a lecture-discussion, I'm going to try making a list of 2-3 of each of these kinds of questions so I can pull from it if the conversation slows.

What are your favorite questions? (Don't worry, that one was rhetorical!)

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"More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given" --Bertrand Russell

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