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Leading Effective Discussions: Dealing with Roadblocks. Valerie Jones Stanford Psychology TA Workshop Fall 2008. Leading Effective Discussions: Dealing with Roadblocks.

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Leading Effective Discussions: Dealing with Roadblocks

Valerie Jones

Stanford Psychology TA Workshop

Fall 2008


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Leading Effective Discussions:Dealing with Roadblocks

“…we want to avoid class "discussions" that amount to nothing more than a perversion of the Socratic method, that amount to nothing more than a series of closed, two-person exchanges in which the teacher asks a question and an individual student answers the teacher, exchanges which lock the other students into the role of passive observers. We want as many students as possible to be as attentive and involved and engaged as possible; we want them to be agents in their own educations.”

- Jennifer Barton, Paul Heilker, and David Rutkowski (Virginia Tech, English Department)


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Leading Effective Discussions:Dealing with Roadblocks

  • Basic Rules for Leading Discussions

  • Roadblock 1: Silence

  • Roadblock 2: Student Confusion

  • Roadblock 3: Inappropriate Questions

  • Roadblock 4: Controversial Topics

  • Roadblock 5: Distracting Behaviors

  • Roadblock 6: The “Know-It-All”

  • Roadblock 7: Ending the Discussion


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Basic Rules for Leading Discussions

  • Be excited

  • Be prepared

  • Set clear expectations

  • Learn names

    • Icebreakers & Warm-ups

    • Informally chat before/after lectures & discussion sections

  • Share your agenda (briefly) at the start of each class

  • Review course topics for the week

  • Encourage participation…?


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Roadblock 1: Silence

  • Establish ground rule that everyone should participate

    • It’s important to hear everyone’s ideas and opinions

  • Review week’s topics

  • Require reaction papers

  • Have students email questions or things of interest before class

  • Assign discussion leaders for each class beforehand

“The Pre-emptive Strike”


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Roadblock 1: Silence

  • Is it an issue of clarity?

    • Mini review of the week’s topics

    • Ask an easier question first; rephrase question

    • Provide clear examples (prepared beforehand if possible)

  • Call on individual students

  • Use strategic eye contact to encourage participation

  • Break students into discussion groups (2-3 people)

“Fixin’ What’s Broken”


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Roadblock 1: Silence

“Fixin’ What’s Broken”

  • Shy students

    • Pose non-threatening questions that don’t require great detail or a correct response

    • Engage students outside of class

  • Wait…is it you?

    • Are you talking to much?

    • Are you answering your own questions?

    • Are you being too opinionated and not allowing space for students to speak freely?

    • Do you wait long enough to allow students to think, then speak? (3 - 5 sec)


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Roadblock 2: Student Confusion

  • Confusion from the TA

    • Review and prepare before section

    • Watch for rambling

    • Watch for inaccessible language

    • Rephrase (see “Inappropriate Questions”)

    • Use concrete examples & metaphors to explain a phenomenon

  • Course content confusion

    • Ask students for any questions concerning the lecture(s) at the beginning of each discussion section

    • Ask professor to review unclear topics at the start of next class

    • Strongly encourage professors to outline the grading system and course assignments for the entire quarter


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Roadblock 3: Inappropriate Questions

  • Guess what I’m Thinking…

    • “What should researchers do to explore this question further?”

    • “What could researchers do to explore this question further?”

  • Yes/No questions

    • “Do you think that this method effectively addresses the problem?

    • “Why do you think the researchers employed this method to investigate the problem?


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Roadblock 3: Inappropriate Questions

  • Rhetorical questions

    • “In research, don’t we have a responsibility to take into account the cultural differences that participants bring into the lab?”

    • “What arguments, pros & cons, can we generate to account for cultural differences in our research design?”

  • Informational-retrieval questions

    • “What was the method?”

    • “How does the method used in this study compare to previous studies on this topics?”


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Roadblock 4: Controversial Topics

  • Set ground rules

    • The value or respectful tones

    • The value of other’s opinion (regardless of your own)

    • The value in healthy disagreements

  • Modeling respectful listening & responding

    • Give people time to make their point; do not interrupt

    • Do not ridicule other people's opinions, or put them down

    • Consider the effect what you are saying may have on others

    • Listen to and consider other people's opinions

    • Be aware that body language, as well as what you say, can affect others


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Roadblock 4: Controversial Topics

  • Maintain a neutral role

  • Handling arguments or clashes

    • Restate the essence of each person’s viewpoint

    • If appropriate, state that the difference can’t be resolved here and that you need to move on with the agenda

    • Tense atmosphere – call for a short break


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Roadblock 5: Distracting Behaviors

  • Rambling discussions

    • Politely ask student(s) how comment relates to current discussion

    • Politely return to discussion topics

    • Ask class for cooperation in staying on topic

  • Off the point comments or discussions; raising topics that will be discussed later

    • Affirm student(s), but move on quickly

  • Side conversations

    • Pause without looking directly at those talking

    • If conversation continues, ask students if they have a question or issue to raise to the entire class

    • Continued conversation throughout class: talk to student(s) after class or send a polite email addressing the issue


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Roadblock 6: The “Know-It All”

  • Eye-contact strategy

    • Breaking eye contact with a speaker and scanning the room can distribute the speakers communication through the class

    • Works well to stop long-winded students from continued talking

  • Acknowledge, encourage, then discuss the issue of “air-time” with problem student(s)

  • Assign talkative student(s) a specific role

  • Implement time limits for comments


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Roadblock 7: Ending the Discussion

  • Ending the discussion

    • Take notes – jot down notes from the discussion and use to summarize the session

    • Ask for any final comments or questions

    • When possible, attribute comments to students who originally made them

  • Summarize with 2-3 points (only) – broad themes

    • Remark on how the discussion progressed, the issues discussed, and other issues to be addressed later

    • Ask for questions of clarification from professor

  • Set up class for the following week

    • What questions or issues should they keep in mind?


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Leading Effective Discussions:Dealing with Roadblocks

Conclusions

  • Be prepared

  • Don’t expect problems, but be pro-active in addressing any potential issues that arise

  • A word about your own nervousness and/or shyness

    • You are the expert (assert your authority)

    • CTL courses of interest:

      • CTL 215: Voice Workshop

      • CTL 217: The Art of Effective Speaking


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