Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Encouraging Classroom Dialogue

Created by: Ryan Los, Graduate Teaching Associate at CTL & Skylar Tiahrt, TechFellow at CTL

An all too common situation that teachers find themselves in their classes, regardless of experience, is a lack of student dialogue. This shortage of student participation in class cannot be blamed on the students themselves – the instructor has significant control over a class and, through various teaching strategies, can effectively encourage classroom discussion (Wade, 1994). Fritschner (2000) notes that “on top of classroom logistics, student confidence, and student personality traits, there is still evidence that the instructor contributes to students’ levels of participation, and students believe that their professors influence their participation based on the ways in which the professors communicate with them”.

What are some of the causes/reasons for this?
  • Class size often affects the amount of student participation. It is noted that classes with over 35 students generally hinder student responses.
  • Instructors often overlook seating arrangements and their effect on participation. The further students sit away from the instructor, the less likely they are to speak. Asking students to sit closer to the instructor right away during the first class can assist/mitigate this issue.
  • Student awareness (wakefulness) leads to the effort they are able to express within a class. Both early morning and evening classes can affect student participation. 
Student Confidence – by raising students’ confidence, an instructor also increases their participation. Having students discuss/learn within small groups or homework, before calling on them to share with the class will allow students to answer confidently vs. being asked a question point-blank, which will increase anxiety and equate to less confidence in the students.

Participation grade – offering a participation grade increases student participation and dialogue. Allow for a participation grade, perhaps just 5-10% of the overall grade for the course. Make sure students know that participation is not simply attendance by adding a statement such as: “Your active participation will be consequently factored into your final grade for the course” (Croxall, 2010) to your syllabus.

Evaluation sheet – taking the last 2 points one step further, an instructor can utilize an evaluation sheet (provided in the syllabus) to emphasize the importance of classroom participation to the students.

Crowdsource – if the class is divided into small discussion groups, have students grade the participation of the members within their group at the end of the course (Croxall, 2010).

Active Facilitationstrategies such as challenging students to discuss class topics more in depth can be utilized to encourage class discussion, as well as overall learning. Assistance for this can be found through the supplemental material that textbook publishers offer for instructors, which can provide ideas and group activities to facilitate classroom dialogue. These resources are increasingly becoming part of the textbook publisher’s website (versus a paper book). However, an instructor login/password is required to access them, this can be obtained by contacting the publisher’s representative on campus.

Student participation can be a difficult struggle in the classroom. There are some factors that are hard to change (e.g. class size and student’s wakefulness), but there are many resources and strategies to increasing participation (e.g. participation grade, group discussion, and active facilitation.) Instructors have many tools to increase participation and can make a difference in their students’ interaction.
  1. Croxall, B. (2010). How to Grade Students’ Class Participation, Chronicle of Higher Education [Website]. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/how-to-grade-students-class-participation/23726
  2. Fritschner, L. M. (2000). Inside the undergraduate college classroom: Faculty and students differ on the meaning of student participation. The Journal of Higher Education, 71, 342-362.
  3. Lathrop, A. H. (2012). Teaching How to Question: Participation Rubrics. Faculty Focus: The Teaching Professors. Retrieved from http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file116040.pdf
  4. Rocca, K.A. (2010). Student Participation in the College Classroom: An Extended Multidisciplinary Literature Review. Communication Education, 59(2), 185-213. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/s/stonerm/Rocca-LitRevEngagingStudents.pdf
  5. Wade, R. (1994). Teacher education students’ views on class discussion: Implications for fostering critical reflection. Teaching and Teacher Education, 10, 231-243.

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