The Mechanics of In-Class Discussion
Ian Wilkinson defines authentic follow-up as "questions that the teacher is genuinely interested in exploring and that evoke a variety of responses from students (in other words, the answer is not pre-specified)." Good follow-up questions expand the conversation and require students to:
- Clarify their answers: Tell me more about that.
- Support their answers: What about the reading made you think that ___?
- Argue: Convince us that __.
- Examine their responses more fully: In what other context does that idea play out?
- Consider different perspectives: What would you say to someone who thought ___?
- Predict: What do you think that we will discover in the next chapter?
- Hypothesize: How would handle a situation like ___?
- Decide: So, this leads to you to what conclusions?
- Compare: How is your answer different or the same from others?
- Generalize: What did you discover?
Avoid the Following
- Trick questions
- Inadequate wait time (less than 3-5 seconds)
- Lectures disguised as questions
- Questions with obvious answers
- Asking multiple questions before allowing response
- Rhetorical questions
- Yes or no questions
Many learners need to be taught how to engage in an academic dialogue -- particularly ELL/ESL students. Provide conversation stems on a poster board or notecards:
- "Could you tell me more about why ___?"
- "Let me explain why I see that differently."
- "Have you considered ___?"
- "What we both agree on is ___."
A Handy Playbook
Lastly, I've provided a general checklist of items to consider when planning a discussion:
- Room layout (ensure discussants can see each other)
- Clarify objectives, purpose, relevance and ground rules
- Front-load rehearsal activities:
- Engage students with the first question
- Vary the whole class format:
- Conduct formative assessment with these questions:
- What conclusions have we drawn so far?
- What part of our discussion is the most confusing?
- What questions should we focus on next?
- Plan for exigencies
- Plan how you will end the conversation
- Assess the conversation with these discussant rubrics: