Explore Strategies - Enhancing Education - Carnegie Mellon University

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

My students don’t participate in discussion.

Students’ cultural values and norms may inhibit their participation.

Cultural values or norms (based on nationality, gender, region of the country, etc.) may dictate the level and style of participation. For example, students may feel uncomfortable disagreeing with other students or challenging the professor, be concerned about “showing off” what they know, be intimidated by peers who define discussion as confrontation, etc.

Strategies:

Define your expectations.

Articulate ground rules.

Model appropriate behavior.

Diplomatically deal with violators.

Confront repeated violators.

Seek advice.

Define your expectations.

Clearly specify your expectations regarding what constitutes meaningful participation. For example, tell students that asking thoughtful questions, making connections to theory, building on previous comments, and identifying real world examples or applications make valuable contributions toward collective learning. The reason this is beneficial is because it allows student to engage in learning behaviors that align with the goals of the course and to monitor their progress toward those goals.

Articulate ground rules.

Lay ground rules for participation (pdf) that clearly defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior (e.g., turn-taking, language). For example, it is not acceptable to use pejoratives, labels, or sarcasm; it is inappropriate to verbally attack a person rather than their idea; it is important to allow others to speak rather than interrupt or usurp the floor. The need for ground rules is even more important if you are dealing with a controversial issue where students in the minority perspective could potentially feel inhibited to participate. You may even involve students in this process to insure greater student buy-in.

Model appropriate behavior.

As you participate and lead the discussion, demonstrate for students meaningful interaction. For example, show students how to respectfully disagree with an idea or perspective rather than attack a peer.

Diplomatically deal with violators.

Tactfully indicate to students who violate ground rules that their behavior is detrimental to the discussion. This can include the use of humor (e.g., “Folks, this isn’t the British parliament or a rugby game”) or depersonalization (e.g., “Without realizing it, some of you use a tone that can be perceived as confrontational”).

Confront repeated violators.

If your tactful in-class response to the violator has not been successful, you need to approach the student outside of class and explicitly describe the impact of his/her behavior on others during the discussion.

Seek advice.

If you are concerned about international students’ lack of participation, you may want to contact the Intercultural Communications Center for advice.

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learning principles

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. MORE>
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. MORE>
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn. MORE>
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. MORE>
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning. MORE>
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning. MORE>
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning. MORE>