Participation is one of those workhorse instructional strategies—easy to use, straightforward, expected, and often quite successful at accomplishing a number of learning goals. It’s good to remind ourselves of its many different uses, especially on those days when getting students to participate feels like pulling hens’ teeth.
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Generating participation in a large class discussion is fraught with teaching land mines. We can call on people who raise their hands, but too often it is always the same people. We can ask to hear from someone else and risk offending those who have been volunteering, so that there are even fewer hands. We can call on people randomly and risk embarrassing those who aren’t prepared or don’t understand. Maybe that will motivate them to prepare, or it may just be reflected in our teaching evaluations. I’d like to share an exercise that broadens class participation and offers a way around these potential risks.
We are used to discussing topics with our colleagues. They know the material, have already thought a lot about it, and can answer questions quickly. We want conversations in class to clip along at a similar pace—there’s always lots of material the class needs to get through.
Sometimes it’s good to revisit an instructional standby. Discussion is a staple in most teachers’ repertoire of strategies, but it frequently disappoints. So few students are willing to participate and they tend to be the same ones. The students who do contribute often do so tentatively, blandly, and pretty much without anything that sounds like interest or conviction. On some days it’s just easier to present the material.
Most instructors attempt to encourage class participation by making it part of the overall grade. But evaluating individual contributions and promoting a substantive, intriguing discussion
To promote learning, we encourage our students to be actively involved in class discussions by asking and answering questions. Even if we do not include
As a history major I usually found most of my history courses pretty interesting. Certainly some were more interesting than others but I think a lot of that had more to do with the instructor than the content. Of course not every student who takes a history class course plans to major in it, which is why I love it when I hear about a history professor (or any educator for that matter) doing innovative things to engage students in one of those “core courses” many students often dread.
After years of stating my expectations for tutorial participation orally, I have developed a rubric that I think both improves my accountability as an assessor and provides my students with a clear sense of my expectations for class discussions. It also makes clear my focus in the small group setting: creating a “learners-centered,” as opposed to a “learner-centered,” environment.