Focus on Discussion

Posted by Susan Yammer on May 30, 2018
Topics: Classroom Techniques/Activities, Positive Classroom Culture

Discussion, one of the cornerstones of classroom interaction, is all too often used loosely to include almost all classroom interaction about course content. However, as James T. Dillon demonstrates in his book Using Discussion in Classrooms, moderating a classroom discussion is a unique and valuable form of interaction. It requires serious preparation before, as well as great finesse and attention during its implementation.

In Using Discussion in Classrooms, Professor Dillon presents guidelines for discussion leaders. Here are some highlighted excerpts:

Prepare your question(s) in advance.
A good question should be something that perplexes us, that we wonder about, that we are unsure of. People engaged in discussion form a community of inquiry. The discussion question expresses the group predicament and invites joint inquiry.

First address the question itself.
At the start of the interchange, the principal task of the teacher is to help the students to address the question. (Ex: What is this question asking? Why is it a question for us, now? How do you understand the question? What does this question mean to you?) If you do not first address the question, you will see a process that is bearing on solution rather than on problem, on my or his proposal rather than ours, and on advocacy rather than inquiry.

After the initial question, (the teacher should) try not to ask additional questions.
In general, once that initial question is in play, the teacher in a discussion does not ask questions. Instead, the teacher uses a range of non-question moves or alternatives to questions; various statements, signals, student questions, even silence.

Importance of facilitator restraint.
If the first contribution is a comment, the test for the leader is to avoid being the one who responds to the comment. The leader remains silent and looks invitingly about the group for some other member to volunteer another contribution.

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