Augustana Center for Teaching and Learning
Teaching Narrative – Carrie Hough (Sociology, Anthropology & Social Welfare)
My first year at Augustana presented me with some pedagogical challenges that I have begun to address this year through the structure of my courses and the work my students do. Being fairly new to teaching and relatively fresh from participating in graduate seminars in which the instructor sat back and moderated a fairly lively exchange between students, perhaps it's not surprising that one of my challenges has been how to encourage more engaged discussion in the classroom.
At the 2006 faculty retreat, Ken Bain (esteemed author of What the Best College Teachers Do) discussed his own strategies for drawing students into conversation, one of which entailed sending discussion questions to students via e-mail which they would then address in class the following day. I adopted this idea for my courses, but instead of writing questions myself, I have a small group of students e-mail me three questions per reading along with a paragraph response the night before class. I organize the questions that have been submitted before each class period and work them into my notes for the day.
Not surprisingly, when students help set the agenda for a given class meeting, they are more invested in the dialogue or debate their questions generate. Often, students make interesting connections to what they are learning in other classes within their questions or they approach the readings from an interesting angle I would not have considered myself. When I pose these questions to the group, I give credit to their author and often ask if she/he would care to elaborate or address why they felt this was an important line of inquiry to pursue. The students who submit questions for a given week also become "point persons" for discussion. I know they have not only done the reading, but have also reflected upon it when composing their questions and responses. If there is a lull, I can call on them to contribute an idea or take the discussion in a different direction.
Further, because these questions also point out the material that students had difficulty with, they are useful for helping me identify concepts that need additional explanation. They often help me remember what it was like to grapple with new ideas as an undergraduate, and allow me to get a better sense of how well my students have understood what they have read.
Even though this approach has fostered more discussion in some of my classes, it is definitely a work in progress. If you have incorporated a similar discussion-generating strategy into any of your courses, I would love to hear how it's been working for you, or how you've tweaked this method over time, click here to e-mail me