Discussion moves

2 September 2017

The LTC was buzzing with activity this past week. On Monday morning, the LTC and WAC teamed up to host a conversation among A&I instructors. In the afternoon, academic technology offered a mini-workshop on electronic portfolios and how they might be relevant for A&I instructors. On Tuesday, new faculty were invited to a conversation about course design for the Carleton context. Thursday and Friday were new faculty orientation. In all of these activities, class discussion was a topic of, well, discussion. Facilitating classroom discussion is a challenge. In particular, some students equate discussion with an opportunity to show what they know, rather than as a collaborative effort to build or deepen understanding and connect ideas. The “teaching toolbox” lunch last spring focused on opening moves for discussion. One suggestion that garnered a lot of interest at that lunch was the “Assigned Conversation Moves” activity from Stephen Brookfield’s workshop packet Discussion as a Way of Teaching.

Here is the how the activity works:

Paste the conversational moves listed below on 3×5 cards and randomly distribute them among participants before a pre-arranged discussion session. Ask participants to practice their move during the discussion that follows.

Specific moves:

  • Ask a question or make a comment that shows you are interested in what another person says
  • Ask a question or make a comment that encourages another person to elaborate on something they have already said
  • Make a comment that underscores the link between two people’s contributions
  • Make a specific comment indicating how you found another person’s ideas interesting/useful
  • Contribute something that builds on, or springs from, what someone else has said. Be explicit about the way you are building on the other person’s thoughts
  • Make a comment that partly paraphrases a point someone has already made
  • Make an summary observation that takes into account several people’s contributions & that touches on a recurring theme in the discussion
  • When you think it’s appropriate, ask the group for a moment’s silence to slow the pace of conversation and give you, and others, time to think
  • Find a way to express appreciation for what you have gained from the discussion. Be specific about what it was that helped you understand something better
  • Disagree with someone in a respectful and constructive way
  • Create space for someone who has not yet spoken to contribute to the conversation

Even if you don’t want to go so far as handing out notecards with specific roles, explicitly discussing the various moves that participants in a discussion can make, helps students better understand the nature of discussion and how they might choose to participate.

What are some of your other favorite ways to encourage productive class discussions?