A good college professor knows that students will learn as much, if not more, from each other as from the teacher. The purpose of classroom discussion is not only to get an idea of what the students know but also what the students do not know.
Value of Classroom Discussion
The value of classroom discussion starts with the fact that students are active rather than passive participants in their learning. They engage others which helps them learn. Another positive aspect of classroom discussion is using all of the resources within the class. Each class is going to be different and the diversity of backgrounds will always bring something new to the table, helping even the professor enjoy the course more. Finally, when students are engaged in discussion there can be immediate feedback for their thoughts, answers, and reasonings to solve a problem or state a philosophy.
Initiating Classroom Discussion
There are many ways of initiating discussion within your classroom. Some of those methods include brainstorming, controversy, and questioning. In brainstorming, all of the students think, and often write their thoughts, even if only some of the students speak. This is especially helpful at the beginning of the semester. The controversy method takes into account opinion instead of fact, instigating the students into speaking on the basis of defending their position. The final method, questioning, is useful for courses that require a depth of thought that needs more than one class period. Professors can require students to bring questions, can distribute questions before the class, and/or have the students bring a written answer to be discussed during a particular class session.
Problems with Classroom Discussion
Using discussion as a teaching method is wrought with problems, especially when the faculty member is uncomfortable with the method to begin with. Being aware of some of these problems can make for a prepared teacher, making the discussion go more smoothly. One of the problems is the idea of getting everyone to participate. Too many faculty feel the need to engage everyone in discussion at the same level. This is akin to expecting students to be able to perform one task the same way, when there are many ways of accomplishing the task. As long as you can tell the student is actively listening, your goal may have been met. Setting firm goals and making progress toward those goals within a given class session can be difficult as well as some students may wander or take the discussion in a direction that was not expected.
We will look further into methods of proper classroom discussion in the next article, including how to deal with non-participation and discussion monopolizers.