Strategies for Encouraging Effective Student Discussions

If you’re not already following Jennifer Gonzalez’ site, Cult of Pegadogy, I strongly recommend that you start doing so. Gonzalez regularly publishes useful posts that provide specific advice for the classroom, from K-16 and beyond.

A recent post that caught my eye — “5 Ways College Teachers Can Improve Their Instruction” — was no exception, featuring an interview with author and teacher Norman Eng. One of the recommendations is especially interesting to me: “Implement ‘Cold Calling’ and ‘No Opt Out’” for class discussions.

  • Cold calling is probably an idea already familiar to most of us: to carry class discussions, don’t rely on the same students who always raise their hands. Instead, call on students at random. However, there are two important elements to the way Eng recommends this practice: don’t use it to embarrass students you think aren’t paying attention, and use it in every class meeting.

  • No Opt Out describes the practice by which a student who answers “I don’t know” to a question or prompt is not excused from participation. Instead, the instructor then asks a second student for their response, and then returns to the first student and asks them to rephrase what the second student said, which keeps the first student engaged in what’s being discussed.

I like both of these suggestions, and I plan to work on incorporating them into my own teaching.

For more ProfHacker posts about class discussions, check out these posts:

What are your go-to strategies for encouraging effective student discussions in clas? Please share in the comments!

[The Modern College Classroom flickr photo by tvanhoosear shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license]

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