Formative assessment, summative assessment

Fostering Class Discussion

Class discussion is a tried and true way of helping students process and evaluate information at their own pace.

It also accommodates multiple learning styles and encourages qualities like interpersonal relations and public speaking. For more complex subjects in particular, class discussions are another way to involve students who may otherwise tune out of long lectures or sit at the back of the room. Read on for a few simple ways to foster intelligent discussions in your STEM classroom.

Start with a question.

Begin class discussions with questions or a problem in need of solving, instead of leading with statements of fact. Take a look at the material with an eye for whether it includes any observations that are or were once controversial. Ask students to consider where that controversy springs from and how it might be resolved. Good communication requires an understanding of context. How do other factors, such as current events, historical precedent, or personal experience play a role in the way we react to a topic?

On the other hand, questions that are too open-ended can inhibit conversation if students can’t find an easy starting point. Try to keep the conversation from becoming too broad. Class discussion benefits from a degree of focus.

Make real-life connections.

Ask students to share a relevant personal experience as a way of connecting the material to their lives outside of the classroom. Mathematical or scientific concepts may seem abstract until they have a tangible link to everyday life. STEM discussions don’t always have to be directly about the subjects of math, science, engineering and technology themselves. They can also be about fostering the kind of analytical thinking that helps students to flourish in those fields.

Encourage conversational diversity.

Try to engage all students equally in the discussion. If only a few individuals seem to be contributing, jump in and ask the opinion of other participants. Quality class discussion thrives on a multitude of perspectives; it’s one of the main benefits of allowing students time to consult with their peers instead of just absorbing information from the text or instructor. Differing opinions are inevitable and can aid in constructive conversation and learning, but only if it remains constructive and doesn’t devolve into an argument. Encourage students to use specific facts and examples to illustrate their points in order to avoid this.

Class Discussion

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Build a comfortable environment.

Cultivate an atmosphere where students feel comfortable having a lively class discussion. If discussion isn’t a regular occurrence, students may feel like they don’t know their peers well enough to have a productive conversation. Allow a decent amount of time for discussion to build; it may not happen instantaneously. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for students to think a topic over individually before they’re ready to share an idea out loud.

The flipped classroom model is a technique that involves a lot of discussion among students. Read on to find out more about how a flipped classroom works.

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