We have created a series of short videos about inclusive discussion techniques. This blog will explain why it is important to structure discussions for an inclusive classroom, how to determine what needs to be practiced, and gives an overview of the videos.
Why structure discussions?
Sathy and Hogan (2019) give an analogy for this—an inclusive classroom atmosphere is like planning a party for your single friends. Will there be icebreakers and party games (structures)? If so, more people will get to know one another. Without it (unstructured), only outgoing people will enjoy themselves. Through structured learning activities, a wider variety of students get a chance to practice difficult concepts.
Discussion is practice—for what?
Teachers who want to teach as though intelligence is malleable purposefully plan discussions, and don’t just tell students to turn to their neighbor. In planning a discussion, they are clear about the purpose. What do students need to practice? The purpose of the discussion is probably not to practice talking—most students can already do that! The critical reasoning we want students to practice is known as the mental moves (Middendorf & Shopkow, 2018). Mental moves cannot be learned all at once. They must:
- Broken into their component parts.
- Repeatedly practiced.
- Reassembled after mastery of components.
- Increasing in difficultly.
As part of planning a discussion, we decide what the mental move is that we want students to practice. In an example from creative writing, it doesn’t work to show students beautiful poem after beautiful poem and then say, “Now, you write a poem.” We start by noticing where students struggle in writing a poem. Which of the several mental moves in writing a poem do they need to practice? Is it…noticing special moments they want to capture for readers? Creating metaphors for bringing readers into that moment? Or finding the just-right evocative words rather than explaining like a journalist? These are component skills for writing poems that need practice.
Once we have decoded the mental moves—what we want students to practice/do—we choose discussion techniques to practice that kind of thinking. We might brainstorm the evocative moments that need a poem. Or play a game where we trade metaphors. Or peer review the wording of our draft poems for brevity and clarity. Some discussion techniques are better for certain mental moves. There are many, many discussion techniques. We’ve placed our favorites in a brief “Dictionary of Discussion Techniques.” To purposely plan discussions for our discipline, it’s helpful to become familiar with a handful of techniques.
Inclusive Discussion Techniques Videos
To demonstrate some of our favorite discussion techniques for the videos, we also needed to use some content, so we chose some important content for this era—inclusive teaching topics. While some students are struggling with the pandemic and the isolation, others struggle with blatant racism. Some students struggle with both as the dual crises intersect with the students’ specific identities—their race and ethnicity, their religious beliefs, their sexual identities, their gendered histories, and more. To learn more about bringing anti-racist practices into the classroom, read this blog.
Each of the videos below explains one discussion techniques, using inclusive teaching content.
- Video 1 (7 min 52 sec): Close reading (article “How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive,” Sathy & Hogan; 2019)
- Video 2 (6 min 21sec): Number line techniques (about identity issues in our class/field)
- Video 3 (9min 19 sec): Role plays (to address microaggressions)
The videos describe why one might use this technique, explain the techniques, give suggestions for implementation and provide faculty comments about the techniques. Discussions are debriefed to wraps things up, synthesizing all the ideas we want students to take away from the discussion—otherwise, they can all take away something different from intended. The debrief also provides a sense of closure, which is a strong teaching move.
Many students are in pain and will benefit when we care to structure participation in class. By providing practice of particular mental moves and choosing discussion techniques to foster this kind of thinking, we can support the success of more students in our classes.
Addressing Microaggressions (Kenny, 2018)
Dictionary of Discussion Techniques (Kearns, Metzler, Middendorf, 2009)
Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science advances, 5(2), eaau4734.
Middendorf, J., & Shopkow, L. (2018). Overcoming student learning bottlenecks: Decode the critical thinking of your discipline. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Sathy, V., & Hogan, K. A. (2019). How to make your teaching more inclusive. Chronicle of Higher Education, July, 22.
This blog post is a collaboration of Joan Middendorf and Madeleine Gonin of the CITL.