Ways We Turn Classroom Discussion into True Student Engagement

Why are some students not engaging in classroom discussions? As faculty, we allow these students to remain silent and are not holding them accountable. In high school,
teachers would call upon us to read aloud or answer questions, especially if they felt we were not paying attention. As college professors, we are less inclined to call on students who are not actively engaging in classroom discussions because college students are adults and we desire to treat them as such.

Paying civil attention, creating the illusion of paying attention, has become a norm within the college arena. Some students pretend well by writing in their note pads, gesturing their heads, and making brief eye contact (prolonged eye contact welcomes interaction). While students may not focus, they give the impression of doing so.

Research shows that classroom talks are the most utilized, effective, and appealing strategy to students. When students are actively engaged in the classroom they take in
more material. Directly questioning students stimulates discussion. Discussions are a great strategy to move students past civil attention into real classroom engagement. While discussions are a fundamental approach for helping students learn, the think-pairshare classroom assessment technique is another way. Have students take one to two minutes and write a response to a question. Then ask students to share their points of view with a classmate. Finally, have pairs of students share their partner’s point of view with the entire class.

Another method employs giving discussion questions along with reading assignments that can be used for class discussions. This will help students identify important information, key points and significant issues. Also, students will have the opportunity to organize their thoughts before coming to class.

In these ways, faculty helps create new classroom standards and expectations. These strategies will improve the probability that students will retain more and faculty won’t experience that cumbersome “hush” when starting a discussion. More students will come to class prepared and ready to participate in classroom discussions.

*Adapted from “Class Discussion: From Blank Stares to True Engagement” By Jay
Howard, PhD

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