Balance in discussion

Moving on from theory, this week we will be reading some works that I think should generate a good discussion. Format wise, we'll go around the class and each of you can share your thoughts from the reading, so bring your response if that will help.

I also wanted to share some reflections on class discussions from my days as a student that may be of help to you. In any group there will be those who speak more and those who speak less. This might involve issues of personality, gender, language (i.e. non-native English speakers), social culture, group culture, etc. To the extent that we can -- some variation is natural -- it's worthwhile to try to achieve balance. Unfortunately, I think I tend toward the extremes -- speaking a lot or hardly at all! But I discovered two strategies that help me.

In classes in which the reading was difficult or unmotivating, I figure that at least if I can come up with one decent comment or, even better, one good question that would be unique to me, I could still make a contribution to class. As a minimum, I've found this to be achievable.

In classes where I'm keen on the topic and have lots to say I try to be conscientious of the time I take. During the final presentations in a class I really enjoyed and talked a lot in, one student who had been silent throughout gave an extraordinary talk! I thought what a pity that he didn't say more. Clearly, he had a lot to contribute and didn't for whatever reason. One of my theories is perhaps he was slow to chime in. Literature on teaching recommends that if one asks a question of students, don't immediately answer it for fear of silence: take a couple of breaths, or even say "take two minutes to think about this." So my practice has been to pace myself, limit myself to three really good responses in class, and then make sure others have had plenty of time before jumping in -- if at all -- to contribute.

OK. That's the missive for this week. I'm looking forward to our next discussion!