In a previous article, we discussed the basics of using classroom discussion including the value of discussion, initiating discussion, and some problems associated with classroom discussion. This article will explore how to deal with non-participation, discussion monopolizers, and active listening.
Dealing with Non-Participation
The first step in dealing with students that don’t participate in classroom discussions is to determine why they aren’t participating. Some of those reasons can include lack of knowledge, lack of interest, personality, feeling of anonymity, and fear of embarrassment. Many times a student can feel many of these at the same time so it can be difficult to overcome each and every issue. A few tactics that can be employed to begin to overcome these issues on a whole class basis include arranging the seating in the room to facilitate discussion, having the students write down their idea for anonymous reading by the teacher, asking questions that have no wrong answers, and spending time getting to know others in the group. This last is especially helpful in a college classroom when students will possibly have never met each other before. One of the best ways to get discussion going is to use groups of students to form a consensus before presenting it to the class as a whole.
Dealing with Discussion Monopolizers
As with dealing with non-participation, a teacher must determine why students tend to monopolize a discussion session. Reasons for monopolization include an intense interest in the subject or topic, a particular type of personality, the feeling that they are more knowledgeable than others, or just being an attention hound. Setting limits on time of responses or even number of responses can be useful as well as asking other students to respond to ideas from the monopolizer, which can limit their ability to further discuss for at least a few minutes. Breaking the class into groups where only one person from the group gets to present the group’s ideas is another useful way to stymie the overbearing student(s).
Keys to Active Listening
A good teacher can lead a great classroom discussion on a regular basis by dealing with students from both ends of the spectrum as mentioned above. Another way to be a good facilitator of a discussion is to be an active listener. Keys to active listening include listening for accuracy, for involvement, for continuity, and for patterns. There is no better way to completely destroy the students’ desire to participate in classroom discussions than to stop being engaged in the conversation yourself. Although you will sometimes enter the discussion to help guide it, being an active listener is of utmost importance.