March 13, 2018 Newsletter

Book Review: The Discussion Book

The subtitle says it all: “50 Great Ways to Get People Talking.” After a brief introduction, Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill present 50 techniques one after the other, in no particular order. The order is supplied by a “User Guide” that lists the “top ten techniques” for various purposes. To get discussion going with new groups, for example, try “Participation Rubric” or “The Three-Person Rule.” To foster good listening, implement “Circular Response” or “Understanding Check.” These particular techniques will get students paraphrasing what someone else has said, responding to others’ contributions, and waiting until three others have spoken before jumping in again.

Alternatively, you could try the techniques with the most alluring names. Maybe you’d like to experiment with a little “Snowballing.” If so, start the class with silent reflection on a question. Then have them share their thoughts with pairs. Then combine the pairs and begin the search for differing perspectives and emerging issues. Continue to process the issue by pairing groups until the entire class is discussing the question together. Would you prefer a “Cocktail Party”? If so, get your students to mingle around the classroom as you serve them hors d’oeuvres and beverages (sorry, no alcohol) along with relevant conversation prompts. Every five minutes, re-mingle the students into different conversation circles.

The techniques are designed to promote full participation, to energize and engage, to keep groups on topic, and to foster creativity and collaboration. I wonder whether I’m brave enough to try some of them. But I don’t have a choice, because of a deal I made with a graduate school colleague. We agreed that, whenever the opportunity presented itself, we would do crazy things — that is, things that pull us out of our comfort zones. So, watch out, students! “Quick Writes,” coming your way!

Jocelyn McWhirter
Director, Newell Center for Teaching and Learning


Resources for Class Discussion

“Keeping Discussion Going through Questioning.” More from Brookfield and Preskill on the kinds of questions that will draw answers rather than blank stares. Posted by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning.

“Using Class Discussion to Meet Your Teaching Goals.” Want to help your students think like a specialist? Develop critical thinking skills? Develop problem-solving skills? Here are some strategies from Kelly McGonigal (Stanford University). Courtesy of the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning.

“Rethinking Whole Class Discussion.” Todd Finley (East Carolina University) offers lots of ideas for facilitating discussions with large groups. From

“The Dreaded Discussion: Ten Ways to Start.” Peter Frederick (Wabash College) suggests some simple exercises.


“Responses from a Consortial Colloquy Dialogue: Making a Difference.” Sarah Bunnell (Ohio Wesleyan), Adriel Trott (Wabash College), and Jocelyn McWhirter (um, Albion College) answer these questions: What difference does the GLCA/GLAA CTL want to make on our campuses, in our communities, and in our nation? What difference can we make? (At least some of us thought we were answering these questions!)

“The PoWEr (Polonium, Tungsten, Erbium) of Learning in Community.” Joanne Stewart (Hope College) tells the story of a community of practice whose members teach at various colleges and universities. Driven by their passion for their subject (inorganic chemistry and cheesy Periodic Table acronyms) and their emphasis on community, they meet in person and online. Sounds like a good model for the GLCA/GLAA CTL!


News from The Newell CTL

Stockwell 305. The walls are painted, the carpet is laid, and the furniture is arranged. Still needed: books, pictures on the wall, and YOU! Stop by, try your ID card in the door, and take a peek at our new CTL space!

Spring Coteries. We’re reading our books and starting our meetings. Each of the next three CTL newsletters will begin with a review and additional resources related to one of the books.

Talking about Teaching. You can always talk about teaching. Find a partner, trade classroom observations, and talk about teaching while having a Baldwin Cafe lunch on The Newell CTL! To register, just reply to this newsletter.


Upcoming Conferences

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning with an Equity Mindset National Institute. August 6-10, 2018 at Rainbow Lodge in North Bend, Washington. “The aim is to develop our capacity to understand and improve student learning opportunities within all teaching contexts by using critically conscious, self-aware, and collaborative practices of inquiry, challenging inequities while recognizing the community cultural wealth of all students, and engaging in systematic scholarly investigation and analysis learning, Sponsored by The Washington Center at The Evergreen State College.

About Jocelyn McWhirter

Jocelyn McWhirter is the Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
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