Student discussion and input can greatly impact learning in a positive way. The issue is that there are always students who are more vocal and have higher status. A few student will throw their hand up every time a question is asked to the class. Meanwhile, there are students who are constantly concerned that their question or answer is wrong. A major question we have to answer is: How do we get all our students to provide their input?
The article I read, “Increasing Student Participation” from The Teaching Center, which is part of the University of Washington in St. Louis. The article gave several ideas, but the ones I found noteworthy, along with some of my own ideas, are the following:
- Set up ideal physical setup for discussion
- Set expectations
- Establish environment of caring and respect
- Have class schedule set up for time for discussion
- Respond positively to student ideas
Set Up Ideal Physical Set-Up
According to the article, there are many things that a teacher can do for the class to prepare them to participate in discussions. One thing is just the way the classroom is set up. The article suggests creating a U shape with the desks, which helps, since the students are facing each other and not just the teacher.
Also, set expectations for how much each student should participate. If the intent is to have every student contribute, let them know that every one of them has to contribute. One option is to have participation be part of the grade, but if we do our job as educators, getting students to contribute to a discussion should not have to be something that we have to force them to do, but eventually something that they will do on their own with our support.
Establish Environment of Caring and Respect
One idea that the article did not address but I’d like to is establishing an environment of respect and caring. If we as teachers make it clear that every student’s input is valued, no matter their status in the class, then students will respect what other students are saying and not degrade them for it. As a result, students will not be afraid to speak their minds as much as they would otherwise.
Have Class Schedule Set Up for Time for Discussion
One way to promote discussion in a classroom is by allowing plenty of time for it in the proper way. If a teacher only asks for questions and students’ thoughts at the end of a lecture, they may not remember what they thought throughout the lecture. On the other hand, if a teacher stops after every fifteen minutes of a lesson and asks a question to the students and asks for their questions and comments, the students may better remember what they just learned. Also, asking a question and taking responses immediately is not always the most effective way for students to formulate ideas and give a response. Giving students 10-15 seconds to think allows everyone to come up with an idea before anyone else responds. Mixing up discussion methods can make it so every student can give a response. Moving from partner groups to small groups to large groups to a whole class discussion can make it so every student feels comfortable sharing at some level.
Respond Positively to Student Ideas
For students that lack confidence, pointing out their good ideas is very important. Even if their answer is not totally correct, pointing out what is correct or paraphrasing so it is correct can give them a confidence boost and think of their response as valuable. As stated in the last section, having students submit responses online or in some other private way and responding positively to that will give them the confidence to participate more in partner groups, where positive feedback will give them the confidence to participate in small groups, and so on.
The article “Increasing Student Participation” gave some intriguing ideas for how to get more students involved in discussions. I think that this is a very important subject to bring up, because all through my education, there were always people who would contribute every day and people that wouldn’t contribute at all. Sharing ideas can be a great learning experience for everyone. Hopefully we can use these ideas to have all our students contribute in meaningful ways.