I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I decided to try something new with the class discussion in my class last night. Normally, I would stand in front of the class or gather them in a circle and try to pull (sometimes, it seemed, with brute force) conversation out of them. However, I decided that I didn’t want to do that last night. Instead, I decided to write each of the discussion questions that I typically bring to a class discussion on the whiteboard. Then, I announced to the class that they would be responsible for the class discussion for the evening.
My only role was to be an observer and, if need be, moderator (keeping an eye on that student who chimes in too often). I also told them that each of them should contribute to the conversation at least twice over the course of the next hour and that I would track those contributions for class participation.I wasn’t sure exactly how well this would work, but I’m always willing to give something a shot. So, I did. What I found was very encouraging. My students (this particular class happens to be infamous for its lack of engagement and effort) rose to the occasion, and for the most part, dug in deep. My goal was to get them to engage in critical thinking and critical discussion rather than passively taking information from me–something I had noticed they attempt too often.
I did notice that they still looked to me for comformation that they were on the right track, and they seldom looked around at their peers. I’d appreciate any feedback on how I might help my students build on one another’s commentary more deeply. It often felt that the commentary that came from one student was not built upon the previous student’s opinion. Instead, it seems like my students were mostly focused on planning their ideas rather than listening to the points of others. Of course, this is a problem with conversationalists in general, not something unique to my students.
As a result of this, I noticed that it was often hard for me to just let them go; I often saw occasions where we could take particular point that one of my students made and dig in deeper with it, but I had to force myself to bite my tongue and not take control back.
Overall, I feel like this activity was a great step towards building great conversations amongst critical thinkers rather than passive observers, which is a major goal for me, as a teacher. I’d like to work on this approach more, I think I will try it again with my Monday night class–a group that is far more talkative, but who tend to struggle with moving beyond surface level observations.