Highlights from the “Leading Discussion” DTAT workshop, 2/25/11Posted: February 26, 2011
We had a very productive DTAT workshop on leading discussion yesterday. CTE people on hand were Dave Mazella (facilitating), along with Aymara Boggiano, Tamara Fish, and Bruce Martin, assisting throughout.
To begin with, Anadeli Bencomo (Hispanic Studies), David Phillips (Philosophy), Peter Copeland (Geology), and Nathan Shepley (English) began with a roundtable where they outlined their own approaches to leading discussions in their respective disciplines. Each of them gave the assembled TAs a glimpse into how they conduct their classes. Here are some highlights:
- Bencomo talked about the necessity of telling stories in her Spanish literature classes, and leading students to imagine different kinds of readers and different forms of response to those stories.
- Phillips argued about the need for instructors to use silence strategically, to create the necessary spaces for students to enter into discussion, and how important the early weeks of the semester are to set the expectation for the conversations to follow.
- Copeland gave us a whiz-bang 5 minute lesson in geology, to show how he uses examples like sand poured into the middle of a room and the Grand Canyon to teach his freshmen the basic principles of geology; he stressed the need for instructors to question students to the point where students arrive at the desired formulation or answer, instead of just delivering the answering straight away.
- Shepley talked about the best ways to start a conversation, by beginning with the familiar and working out from there, and by dividing the class into groups with its own specific tasks to complete and share.
After some questioning from the floor, the class broke up into smaller groups to discuss and reflect upon the potential problems inherent in discussion (how, for example, does one maintain focus?) along with potential solutions (simplify one’s topic, and make clear one’s goals to the group, so that everyone knows where the discussion has to end up).
One interesting observation emerged about the varied uses of discussion for learning: in more skills-oriented contexts like language instruction or technology courses, discussion is intended to give students practice, and to help them master a particular skill or type of speech; in other contexts like literature courses, open discussion is what enables students and faculty to imagine and entertain alternative interpretations and explanations of the topic at hand.
The TAs sent a representative from each table to help summarize the best insights gathered from the session, and the group adjourned around 12:30.
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