So many class discussions could become an improved learning experience for students with a little more guidance from the instructor.
That assessment is based on observing classes as a member of the University of Florida Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee.
I’ve been listening to class discussions in a wide range of disciplines – psychology, educational technology, acting, kinesiology, history and microbiology to name just some.
Some instructors have led probing insightful discussions, but many discussions remained at a superficial level.
The instructor posed a good opening question that often results with a student providing a very concise “correct answer.” The instructor validates the student’s response but often moves on rather than digging deeper into that correct answer.
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a good reference for designing questions to guide small-group or full-class discussions. The taxonomy originally was published in 1956 by a team of University of Chicago cognitive psychologists and named after Benjamin Bloom who was the committee’s chair.
Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a framework for moving students from the basic levels of learning to higher levels:
Remember – Recall facts and basic concepts
Understand – Explain ideas or concepts
Apply – Use information in new situations
Analyze – Draw connections among ideas
Evaluate – Justify a stand or decision
Create – Produce new or original work
Many classroom discussions are more of a Q&A session that remains at the Remember and Understand levels.
Using the verbs associated with each level (see the chart) can enable instructors to develop questions to guide students to a more in-depth discussion.
For instructors, this change in the kind of questions posed may require developing questions prior to class rather than just going with the flow of the discussion.
Another challenge for instructors with promoting in-depth discussion is that guiding students through those probing questions takes more time. So instructors need to plan for that.
A strategy for the instructor can be to share questions with the students to consider prior to class. That way students have time to think through more probing questions.
The results of these more profound discussions will be worth the extra effort for the students and the instructor.