Facilitating Student Discussions (9/12/2017)


– [Stephanie] I wanted to
spend just a few minutes here at the beginning just talking
about our motivation for putting together our
webinar series for the year. We will be offering two of
these in the fall semester and then two again in the spring semester. Some of you may be familiar
with communication across the curriculum, but just in
case you are not or this is the first time you’ve
participated in one of our faculty development events, let me
just give you a little bit of context So as an institution, UNC
Charlotte has committed to the idea that students in
all disciplines across campus will have the opportunity to
develop their communication skills as they matriculate
through their college career. And this means both written
and oral competencies and they’ll have the opportunity
to develop across time while they’re here. And there are important
reasons why the institution has committed to this. First of all, we know from
learning research that developing communication
competencies is a process. Students need the opportunity
to practice it across time. It’s not just a matter of
taking one course and learning to write a paper or one
public speaking course and learning everything you
need to know about how to interact and communicate verbally. So they need time to practice,
develop, and apply these skills and they need
exposure to those throughout their college career. Secondly, research shows
that using communication, both written and oral
participation in the classroom, supports teaching and it
helps foster deep learning and engagement with the
content and it’s positively correlated with greater
student learning outcomes and student motivation. So we know that this is
a good teaching practice and there are different
ways that we can get at that in the classroom. And then, lastly, we also
know that communication competency is featured
prominently in terms of what employers are looking for. They prioritize communication
skills and this hold across sectors and we want
our students to be well equipped for success when they leave here and to be able to communicate
effectively in terms of their expectations of their
discipline and their field as well as more generally. So what CXC does, in a
nutshell, is we are an on campus support for the integration
of communication across the curriculum. So we serve all academic
departments and we do this at different levels. We do this at the level of
course design and individual instructional practices,
such as what we’re gonna talk about today. And we also do this at the
program level in supporting curricular conversations about
how do we integrate those communication student
learning outcomes across our curriculum and not just
concentrate them in one class or a couple of classes? So that’s what we do, that
kind of gives you some context for why we put on this
webinar series for campus. Today we’re gonna be talking
about one very specific instructional strategy,
classroom discussion. And that’s one way, of many,
to integrate communication in the classroom. And I just want to highlight
that our focus today is on face-to-face classroom discussions. However, a lot of the
principles that we’re gonna be talking about you would find
hold in online classrooms, however you would want more
detailed information on facilitating online discussions. Today our focus is
face-to-face, there are a lot of resources, including the CTL
provides excellent resources on facilitating online
discussion that can supplement what we’re talking about here today. So, our goal today is for
you to come away from this webinar ready. We want you to be able to
walk into the classroom and hopefully apply some effective
facilitation strategies and involve your students
in that facilitation. So we are gonna talk about
the three main areas, we’re gonna talk about how
to structure a productive conversation, or I’m sorry
classroom discussion. We’re going to talk about
practicing effective facilitation as a teacher, and then we’re
also going to talk about developing students as
facilitators and ideas for how you might do that. So let’s first turn to structuring
a productive discussion. So what do I mean by discussion? All of us, certainly, have
used classroom discussion, we participated in classroom discussion, and we have probably a bit
broad idea of what this is. And essentially discussion
is, it’s a range of techniques that we can use in the
classroom that emphasize participate, emphasize
dialogue, and they emphasize two-way communication and
interaction among students. The important thing to note
about discussion is that it includes both course content
as well as opportunities for students to develop
their communication skills by sharing their opinions,
ideas, and getting feedback in real time from their peers. So why do we use discussion? Why do we uphold this as
a really good thing to do in the classroom? Again, research consistently
points towards some positive academic outcomes
with using discussion in the classroom, such as
a positive correlation with increased student motivation,
greater student learning, enhanced critical thinking
and problem solving skills, and improved communication skills. So there’s a good basis
there of research that says, yes, using discussion well can
help us get at these things. These are improved outcomes
that enhance our teaching and learning in the classroom. However, although we may
acknowledge that discussion is a good idea and the value
of it as an instructional strategy, few of us have a
more in depth understanding of what exactly teachers
need to do as facilitators to get to those positive
learning outcomes. So today we’re focused
not on discussion for discussion’s sake, because
just saying that it’s a good thing you ought to do. But rather we’re gonna talk
more specifically about strategies that lead to
greater student learning. Okay so I want you to, just for a moment, think about and envision a
productive classroom discussion. So take a moment, get
a visual in your head, have a productive classroom discussion, what that looks like. Hopefully everyone’s
getting some ideas there of what this looks like. I know my vision of an ideal, productive, classroom discussion is that
students are participating, they’re bouncing ideas off of each other, they’re asking questions,
building on each other’s ideas. There’s a lot of enthusiasm
and participation across the board, right? Now, that’s the ideal
that I have in my head. Yours may be similar, you
may have other things that you would add to that. I now want you to think
about the constraints that you see to achieving this ideal. Perhaps you’ve tried discussion,
perhaps you’ve thought about it but are worried
about certain constraints. So think about what keeps
you from achieving that ideal or why hasn’t it worked
or why do you not think you can get to that? So, some of the things you
may be thinking about could be very real physical constraints, such as the size and
type of the classroom. It could be participation
issues, such as well if students haven’t read then how are
they gonna come and discuss? Or it could be that you
tried certain things and they haven’t worked in the past. There are always constraints,
there’s no one ideal with what we’re gonna talk
about today in terms of using discussion as a
specific teaching strategy. So keep that in mind. But what we’re gonna talk
about is a process for designing discussions
intentionally and it’s integrated with your course learning outcomes. And so the process looks like this. You first want to determine
the purpose of the discussion, then you want to think
about what communication behaviors you need to put
into practice in order to practice competent facilitation. And then you want to choose
specific facilitation strategies that align with
both the purpose and your communication behaviors. So let’s go back up to
purpose for a moment. Excuse me. The very first step for
structuring a productive and effective classroom
discussion is to determine the purpose, okay? And the way that you do this
is you you take a look at what are you trying to achieve? What are the learning
outcomes that this discussion is helping you work towards? So you may have course
level learning outcomes that are perhaps broken down
into a module or a unit and then for a specific day. You may be looking only at
the course level learning outcomes and not so concerned
here with what level you’ve broken these into. Just that you are aligning
the purpose of that discussion with a specific learning
outcome or perhaps multiple outcomes. When you get to the level
of planning for the day, for example, let me give
you an example from one of the courses that I teach. I teach on a concept
called strategic ambiguity. And this concept basically
says that in organizations sometimes people use
ambiguity on purpose, right? They strategically use ambiguous messages. And my learning outcome
for that day when we talk about teaching ambiguity
is that I want students to be able to identify that
when it happens and ask questions that lead them to
understanding why managers, supervisors, others in
organizations might intentionally be ambiguous when
communicating organizational messages. So I then use discussion
as a teaching strategy to help us work towards
that learning outcome that they can identify strategic
ambiguity and that they can articulate why it’s being used. So then I build my discussion
very specifically and focus, excuse me, around
that learning outcome. And then that leads you to
the second part of this, what questions do you want to ask and why? So this is the foundation
of building a structure discussion is make sure
that your purpose for that discussion is clear. And discussion may be
only one way that you’re getting at that learning outcome. It may support other teaching
strategies that you’re using to get at that learning
outcome, and that’s okay. But what are you trying to
do with the discussion and where is it helping you move
students forward on their learning journey? Alright I want to talk about
communication behaviors and facilitation strategies
and we’re gonna break these up. So I’m gonna move forward
here and talk about teacher facilitation and
communication behaviors. So oftentimes when we talk
about, when we think about classroom discussion we kind
of jump right to thinking about cool techniques and
strategies and we’re gonna get to those in a moment,
those are really important, but my point that I can’t
reiterate enough is that you have to have that solid foundation. Purpose of your discussion,
how it aligns with your course learning outcomes. So let’s talk, now, before
we get into strategies that you may use, or techniques
that you might use in actually conducting the facilitation, let’s talk about what it
means to be a competent facilitators. Facilitation, you have to excuse me, I am gonna take a drink of water. Excuse me for that. You have to keep in mind that
facilitation is different that presentation. So when we are in our instructor role, we’re in the classroom and we’re thinking, or we’re using different
teaching strategies, different instructional
strategies throughout our class period we may lecture,
we may have many lectures, many presentations. We may have discussion
facilitation, we may have other techniques that we use and
I want you to keep in mind that the role of the facilitator
is different than the role of the presenter, right? Same audience in our class,
but different purposes and different preparation for that role. So (mumbles) intro researchers
and communication education recently did a study in
2016 where they identified what are the competent
facilitation behaviors that teacher enact that correlate
positively with these better student learning outcomes,
or greater student learning that we’ve been talking about? And they came up with five. The first is to affirm, right, students. And this has to do with
creating a supportive environment, affirming
student’s contributions, and using constructive feedback. Second is organizing,
guiding, and directing the conversations. This has to do with having
a facilitation plan and the ability in real time to
connect ideas and provide clear transitions. So it’s not a free-for-all,
you want students to discuss, but you also have a guiding
plan that structures that conversation. The ability to provoke, this
is to provoke deep thinking, perhaps even debate, but
getting them to think about multiple perspectives on
an issue is an important facilitation competency. And then your questions, right? Using effective questions and prompts. And I’m sure that you’ve
heard this before, but when you enter into a
discussion situation you definitely want to focus
on open-ended questions and you want to use questions
that are singular in focus. So not double barreled,
not five questions at once, not overwhelming. You want to think about
your entry points with your questions and have them
be really clear and focused. And then, finally, the ability to correct. And this has to do with course correction. So classroom discussion
is not a free-for-all, it’s not that students just
get to discuss and whatever comes up comes up. There are times, as a
facilitator, that you need to course correct to either
bring them back onto topic or point out in a constructive
way, an affirming way when information, perhaps,
is just not correct or it’s not in line with what you’ve read. And there are thinking
about how you might do that in an affirming and
constructive way helps you get at these effective
facilitation techniques. And then, lastly, what I
want to talk about with practicing effective
facilitation as a teacher is teacher immediacy. Again, you’ve probably
heard of teacher immediacy. If you haven’t heard that
term, certainly you’re practicing it. Teacher immediacy has
to do with reducing the distance between student and teacher, instructor and teacher. We think about this in terms
of verbal immediacy and non-verbal immediacy. And why we talk about this in
relation to facilitation is, again, facilitation is a
different role than presenting, has a different purpose and
immediacy can help increase an enhance those effective
teacher facilitation behaviors that we just talked about. So when we think about verbal
immediacy we’re thinking about things like using students names, encouraging student input in discussion. When we think about non-verbal
immediacy we’re thinking about how you use the room and the space. We’re thinking about eye contact, gesturing and smiling. And a lot of these behaviors
tie into active listening, which is something that
you want to practice as a facilitator. So when you are in the facilitation role, you are in the role of
keeping the process, right? You’re keeping the process
of the conversation and you’re monitoring the quality of that conversation as a whole. So you’re managing the time and space, you’re practicing active listening, and you’re helping
transition and guide the conversation, but you are
not presenting, right? And you’re not telling
students how they should answer or taking over the conversation. So let’s talk about some
of the nuts and bolts of facilitation strategies. Let’s talk about, first
of all, what doesn’t work. And I have tried some
of these myself and so I can verify that they
almost always fall flat as far as getting that
collective participation that we’re aiming for
in classroom discussion. Things like cold questioning. This is walking in and without
any warm up just asking questions either of
individual students or of the class as a whole. You kind of get that Buller
effect where perhaps you’re gonna get the one person
who raises their hand and participates, but it’s
not gonna facilitate that deep student interaction
that we’re looking for. Questions that are posed
as you want your students to be mind readers, you
want them to guess what you’re thinking. That’s not the point of a
well structured classroom discussion nor is forced agreement. So posing questions such as,
“Shouldn’t we all agree that,” such and such. That’s restricting and that
kind of goes along with students are very in tune
with what does the professor want me to say? What view point are they
trying to get me to adopt? And that should not be
the goal of your classroom discussion for learning purposes. Really broad questions such
as “What do you think about “the reading” are pretty
much guaranteed to fall flat. This is because this is very broad, it’s very open-ended. Think about discussion as a
way, certainly, to cultivate deeper thinking about reading,
but to not just as the open ended questions, but
to get some specific deeper dive into the reading. So you want to structure
those questions carefully and not leave them that open ended. Questions that foreclose, such
as “Since I have explained “this, it should already be clear, “do you have any questions?” You’re probably not get any
questions and rhetorical questions don’t really
promote effective discussion. We could probably add a few more here. These are kind of a top list
of ones that pretty much fall flat if you’re looking
at intentional discussion to get at those student learning outcomes. So let’s talk about some
strategies that do work. Again, I want to acknowledge
that there are a lot of strategies out there. Certainly, you probably have
some that aren’t on this list that you may have tried and used. The thing that I want you
to take away from this is that you do have a menu of
strategies to choose from, but first you want to start
with what’s the purpose, then you want to think about
yourself as a facilitator and what communication
that you need to adopt to be an effective facilitator,
and then you’re thinking about what strategies would make sense? Don’t just jump to, “I
want to do a gallery walk, “but then let me figure out
why? Why would I do that?” You want to start with the
why and then you get down to this level of thinking about, “Okay now I know why I’m
doing this, I have a purpose, “I understand what I need
to do, what strategies would “make sense?” So strategies for actually
getting students to discuss can range from high prep in
terms of what you need to do as the teacher to
lower prep strategies. That doesn’t make them better
or worse, they just serve different purposes. So things on the high prep
list include what I talked about a gallery walk. Which this is where you
would have prompts posted around the room, perhaps
with flip chart paper or a white board and students walk around, they answer those prompts,
they process that in small groups and large groups,
it gets them moving. But there’s some thought and setup that goes into that. As with debate. Debate and in particular
talking about difficult or controversial issues is
something that you want to put a lot of thought and
intention into how you want to structure that. And there are excellent resources on that, I’m happy to provide you
with more if that’s something that you’re interested in. Fish bowl strategies have
to do with having a small group of students, perhaps
even two, participate in a discussion while the
rest of the class watches and then they switch out those roles. Having students generate
discussion questions, that requires some
forethought ahead of time. It also requires you to model
and explain the criteria for what those discussion
questions need to look like. Having them engage in role
play, having them engage in interviewing one another,
there’s all kinds of cool things you can do to get them
discussing that require a little more thought and preparation. There are also lower prep
strategies that still require thought and
preparation, but just not quite as much planning. This one is tried and true;
think, write, pair, share. This is the opposite of
what I talked about in the previous slide of cold questioning. So this is where you give
students a chance to warm up to enter into the topic
individually by writing a short reflection. You give them the prompt or
the discussion questions, they pair with a partner in small groups, they talk about it, and
then you process and have them report out as a collective. And you can figure out
different strategies for how to do that. That’s a much better way to
warm the class up and get them talking. It also invites a range
of participation styles ’cause not all of our
students are comfortable with and a lot of them actually
have apprehension with raising their hand and
being the first one to speak out and so this
warms that up for them. Concept mapping can also be,
it can be both a low prep and a high prep strategy, but
if you have a particularly difficult concept or perhaps
a chronological period that you’ve been talking
about or a body of theories that you’ve been talking
about and you want students to visually map out what that
looks like and relationships among those concepts. And you can use white boards,
flip charts to do that and get them discussing and
have them present on that to the class. And then small group
discussions are also a good way to facilitate classroom
discussion that makes it more manageable than
facilitating among 30, 40 students, whatever the case might be. Alright so those are
just a few strategies. Again, you can search for
classroom discussion strategies and find many, many more. I’m happy to talk to you if
you have more ideas on this or want other ideas for how
to reach your discussion goals. But just remember that it
always go back to that. You start with the goals
before you get to your strategies. The other thing that I’ll
say on this is that it’s important to use variations. So some of these require
more class time, obviously. Some you can do 10 to 15 minutes; think, write, pair, share exercises. A gallery walk is gonna
require a lot more time so that’s maybe not something
you would use often. But you can vary, you
don’t have to stick to one strategy, depending on what
your goals for the day are. Alright so we’ve talked
about structuring an effective discussion and we talked about practicing competent
facilitation techniques. Let’s talk briefly about
developing students as facilitators. I believe that if you are
committed to incorporating classroom discussions
as a teaching strategy, there’s ample opportunity,
then, to also involve students in that facilitation
process and it makes sense to do so for a couple of reasons. One of the things that I
talk about in my classroom is that students entering
into organizational life, as they leave their college
career and they take a job or even if they’re
working in a volunteer position or whatever the case might
be, the ability to facilitate a group of people and
facilitate a conversation and keep it moving forward is one
that’s gonna make them shine. That’s one that I feel
strongly they should develop. And so you can take this
and you can situation that as specific to your
discipline as you want to be. So if you can think of
authentic situations that your students might be in
that would require them to use those competent facilitation skills, share that with them. Talk about why this is important. And so if you’re using
classroom discussion and competent facilitation
skills, you are teaching them those skills and you’re
providing examples. You need to point out that
that’s what you’re doing and you need to point out
that you’re modeling that effective facilitation for them. If you develop an assignment
for them to facilitate class period or portions
of class periods or small group discussions, give them
an opportunity to develop a facilitation plan and to
receive feedback on that. That does not have to come
from you, that can be in class, or peer-to-peer, let’s talk
about our facilitation plan. And give feedback on
that before we actually engage in the facilitation. Make sure that your expectations
and criteria are clear for what you want students
to learn by engaging in the facilitation and
what you want them to actually do. Do not just throw it out
there that they’re going to lead discussion one day
without any of those clear expectations. And hopefully after
having talked through this process of how you do it
yourself it becomes more clear of this is also the
information that students need to know is good
discussions don’t just happen. They’re structured, they’re intentional. And then, finally, allow
for self and peer assessment on the process. So allow them to reflect
upon what did they learn from engaging in facilitation. What areas do they want to grow? What did they learn from
the discussion itself? And also have their peers
participate in that process. So this can be a real learning
and growth opportunity for students. I’ve also found limited example here, but I have found in students
I worked with that they don’t always get these
opportunities to enact the facilitator role. They’ve probably had more
opportunities to be a presenter and engage in that type
of public speaking event, but not in the type of
public speaking event that requires facilitation skills. And so that’s something
to think about as you go forward with adopting
classroom discussions into your classroom practice. Okay so we are out of time,
these 30 minute webinars go rather quickly. I, once again, just want to
say thank you for participating today. I hope you feel like you
gained some insight into how to use discussion as
an intentional strategy in your classroom, both to
further student learning and that deeper engagement
with the content area, but also to help them
develop their communication competencies. So we talked about structuring discussion, we talked about facilitating
and then we talked about developing students as
facilitators and taking advantage of that opportunity. There are also many other
issues around classroom discussion that we could talk about. We’ve really just done
tip of the iceberg here. So I encourage you to reach out to CXC, either myself, my
colleague Heather Bastion, associate director of CXC,
would be more than happy to talk with you one-on-one
if you have any questions or if you want to share
thoughts and ideas, feedback with us, we would welcome that. We have another webinar
coming up in December that will be on incorporating
peer review and peer feedback into your classrooms. We hope you can join us for that. Thank you, have a great day.

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