Dynamic Discussion Recap

On February 22, 2012, in Being a GA/TA, Teaching Tips, UWindsor, Workshops/Courses, by GATA Network

Today’s guest post comes from Emily D’Alimonte and Christine Rossi who recently facilitated a workshop on facilitating effective class discussions for the GATA Network at the University of Windsor. Emily is a full-time Social Work and Women’s Studies major and Christine is majoring in Women’s Studies. Both have facilitated both online and face-to-face discussions in their roles as teaching assistants.

For information about upcoming GATA Network workshops, please visit the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s registration page.

We would first like to start off by saying thank you to everyone who attended our Dynamics Discussion workshop on February 7, 2012!  We had such a wonderful time sharing our morning with you. And although we are not experts in the field of facilitation, we are always excited to share the knowledge and resources that we have acquired as Teaching Assistants.

Christine Rossi and Emily Dalimonte sitting at the table where they just held a workshop on facilitating discussions

Christine Rossi (left) and Emily D'Alimonte (right) with leftover workshop candy.

Here are a few highlights so that you can continue creating a good atmosphere in your discussion classes.

  1. Introduce yourself and your learning environment.  Explain the framework through which you may be administering the discussion (such as a particular reading, theme etc), and inform students what you hope to get out of this type of activity.
  2. Speak so that students understand.  This is especially true for English as Additional Language (EAL) students.  You need to be aware that your gestures and body language are useful in helping them supplement words.  Avoid idiomatic expressions, and don’t be afraid to repeat questions in a different way to make sure that they understand.
  3. Break the ice.  If you plan to use discussion frequently, you should begin the first class with a discussion to familiarize students to the format of the class and one another.  This is easily accomplished by providing the students with an outline (so that they know what to expect), and by creating an icebreaker that will put the students at ease so that they are more willing to participate.  An icebreaker is also useful for you as an instructor because once you understand who your students are, you will know how to custom the discussion to their interests and/or needs.
  4. Blend in.  Understand that your role as an instructor is to facilitate NOT control the discussion.  This should be communicated to your class through your limited involvement in the conversation and by your position in the classroom (in other words, sit amongst them and jump in as they do when it is appropriate to do so).
  5. Read body language.  Be aware of body language as this may help you to determine how you can involve each student in the conversation.
  6. Have students sit face-to-face.  Rearrange the students in such a way that the discussion is accessible to all students. For example, you may decide to place the desks in a circle. In so doing, the students will feel as though they are engaged in a conversation with one another, thus ensuring that discussion will progress more fluidly.  However, be prepared for fixed seating discussion rooms which can make creating the ideal space/atmosphere challenging – but provide the opportunity for team building in the “making the best of it” tradition, we’re all in this together.
  7. Use multiple display models.  Make sure questions appear in oral and written format (your job as a facilitator may be to record these on the board or on a handout). This multiple display will aid second-language students who may not be able to respond to an oral question as quickly as native-English speaking students.
  8. Conduct a pre-discussion exercise.  Depending on the subject matter for each of your classes, you might assign questions in advance to ensure that everyone will arrive with ideas to discuss – CLEW is a great resource for this purpose as well as providing two way interaction between instructor and student.  Second-language learners or students who may feel uneasy speaking in front of the group may feel less intimidated when provided with questions ahead of discussion class, to which they can prepare answers for sharing in the classroom.
  9. Model positive feedback.  Treat good and bad responses in the same way.   Find something positive to reinforce the student’s sense of self, and then highlight any type of inconsistency.
  10. Practice good listening.   Always model genuine interest in the responses of others so that your students mirror your actions.

For further information regarding available workshops, check the GA/TA Network!

Handouts from the workshop were compiled, written, and edited by Carol Reader, Christine Rossi and Emily D’Alimonte.

Dynamic Discussions for GA/TA Instructors by Carol Reader, Christine Rossi and Emily D’Alimonte, University…


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