Explore Strategies - Enhancing Education - Carnegie Mellon University

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

My students don’t participate in discussion.

The intellectual environment is not conducive to participation.

In order for students to talk in front of peers and the professor, they need to believe that their contributions will be valued and respected (even if in opposition to others’ perspectives). Both you and the students are responsible for creating a civil environment that encourages the free flow of thoughts and ideas.

Strategies:

Tactfully correct inaccurate information.

Validate meaningful contributions.

Invite contradictory views.

Reward student participation.

Use students’ names.

Articulate ground rules.

Tactfully correct inaccurate information.

Diplomatically address incorrect information provided by students so that no one is embarrassed or uncomfortable. By doing this, you indicate to students that it is safe to venture a guess or take an intellectual risk. For example, you might say something like, “You have just identified a common misperception, and I appreciate the opportunity to address the issue.”

Validate meaningful contributions.

Publicly acknowledge the merit of students’ comments and/or participation so they feel valued and heard. For example, a quick “brilliant” or “right on target” takes very little time and has a large payoff.

Invite contradictory views.

Explicitly encourage students to voice alternative perspectives and respectfully explore conflicting views. Model this behavior by inviting and validating points of view that differ from your own. By doing this, students will feel “safe” discussing unpopular views or disagreeing with you and /or the rest of the class. This enables student to think more deeply about the topic, particularly if it is complex or controversial.

Reward student participation.

Use a tone of voice and non-verbal cues that reward student participation, e.g., nod, establish eye contact, smile, walk toward the speaker. Recognize the inherent ambiguity of certain facial expressions; for example, a furrowed brow can be misinterpreted as disappointment rather than concentration.

Use students’ names.

Call students by name and encourage them to address their peers by name during discussions. If you have a difficult time learning students’ names, refer to these suggestions. Some faculty use name tents or name tags the first few weeks of class to help students learn each others’ names. These strategies help to create a sense of community within the class, cultivate respect and civility, and foster a comfort level among the group that allows students to take intellectual risks, think out loud and participate more freely.

Articulate ground rules.

Lay ground rules for participation (pdf)  that clearly define 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.

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learning principles

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  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>