This page is originally authored by Gale Rhodes (© Jan 2000).
The page has been modified with permission by Claude Aflalo (© Jan 2000).

Student-Led Discussion - User's Manual

Student-Led Discussion - User's Manual - RULES - HOW TO - REWARDS



    1. Students
      1. Purchase all the books and materials for the course. The order of topics in the syllabus may change, so texts scheduled for use later in the semester may be assigned earlier.
      2. Read the syllabus and course guidelines carefully, listen to the faculty presentation on the first day of class, and ask questions to be sure you understand the course format.
      3. You are expected to participate at some meaningful level in class discussions. If you are uneasy about this requirement and tempted to drop, please stick around for two or three discussions. You will probably find them less frightening than you anticipate.

    2. Faculty
      1. Provide a syllabus that describes the course goals and format in detail.
      2. Provide instructions on how to lead discussions under this format. (See Section 2 of this manual.)
      3. At the first meeting, present an overview of the course and discuss the format. Try to allay the fears of students who might drop the course as soon as they understand that they must take such an active role in class.
      4. Follow these general logistics:
        1. Seat students in a circle.
        2. Make a seating chart and use it to learn student names.
        3. Copy the seating chart for students so that they learn each other's names.
        4. Provide a list of names and phone numbers of students and faculty to help students get assignments when they miss a class.


    1. Students
      1. Read and study the assignment made at the end of the previous class.
      2. Formulate and write down four or five discussion questions based upon the assigned reading.
      3. On the assumption that you will lead the day's discussion, write a brief (less than 5-minute) opening statement about the assignment. Your statement should set the stage for, and end by raising, one or more of your discussion questions.

    2. Faculty
      1. Read the assignment and study related supplementary sources.
      2. List concepts and issues likely to interest the students, as well as those the students are likely to find difficult.
      3. Collect materials and formulate examples and illustrations that may be useful in helping the students with the concepts and issues listed in 2), above.
      4. If team teaching, meet approximately one hour before class to discuss your expectations for the discussion, and to plan strategy for taking advantage of student interest in or difficulty with specific concepts. Warm up by discussing important topics.
      5. Be willing to go to class with some questions and issues only partially resolved and clarified in your own mind, so that you can be an authentic seeker of knowledge during at least some of the discussion.


    1. Students
      1. Listen to the introduction by the designated discussion leader and consider the discussion question(s) or issue(s) he or she raises.
      2. Discuss the issues raised, keeping to the subject of the readings, attempting -- preferably in this order -- to analyze, criticize, and connect:
        1. Analyze the readings to gain a deeper understanding of difficult concepts, examples, the author's position, and the author's arguments.
        2. Criticize the readings, articulating and defending personal opinions about the adequacy of the author's presentation and arguments.
        3. Connect the issues you have analyzed and criticized to material of previous assignments in order to discern broader themes, similar concepts, and comparable or contrasting opinions.
      3. As you participate, make good use of the text, at times calling attention to specific passages relevant to the issue at hand. When working with such a passage, allow time for others in the class to locate it and then read it aloud.
      4. Ignore faculty during their period of enforced silence. Direct your attention to other students and regard faculty as recording secretaries on hand to take down information for use later in discussion.
      5. Continue the student-led discussion with the same goals after faculty have joined in, using the faculty as needed to provide examples, explanations, and/or alternative positions.
      6. Take brief notes of points and examples that deepen your understanding; opinions that differ from your own; and arguments that you find helpful, convincing, or worth trying to refute. These notes may be useful when you want to contribute to discussion, when you formulate study questions for subsequent classes, or when you write papers. Do not, however, allow note-taking to cause you to lose the thread of the discussion.

    2. Faculty
      1. At the beginning of class, select, completely at random, a discussion leader and two back-ups or supporters for the leader from among the students present.
      2. For at least 40% of the period (20 minutes out of 50 or 30 minutes out of 75), maintain complete silence (except perhaps to ask for page references when students refer to specific passages in the readings).
      3. Provide no visual or audible responses to what you hear, and avoid making eye contact with students as they talk.
      4. Specifying speakers by name, take notes on important issues raised in discussion, with an eye toward using this information later in discussion:
        1. Note the level of mastery of the assigned material, and be willing to discard your often-errant assumptions of where the students' difficulties might lie and thus to become better prepared to meet them at their level.
        2. Note the issues that grip the students, for student interest can often make an issue more productive.
        3. Note issues that are discarded before students have examined them as thoroughly as the readings allow. You may want to resurrect these issues after you enter the discussion.
        4. Note whether later lecture or faculty-led discussion might efficiently resolve peripheral or conceptual problems and help students focus on central issues.
        5. Note whether examples might clarify difficult concepts. (Recall instruction II.B.3: you should be armed with passages from other readings and helpful illustrations that you can present if appropriate.)
      5. Near the end of the period of enforced silence, look for a way to enter discussion naturally and helpfully, without taking charge or altering the tenor of the discussion. Forcible entry of faculty into discussion erodes the students' confidence that they can make useful progress on their own. Therefore, as you approach your time, look for an interesting place to join in the moving stream of ideas. When that stream trickles out, look back to earlier issues that need more attention. Remember that, even after the period of enforced silence, the discussion ideally is still student-led. You can encourage students to continue speaking to each other by avoiding prolonged eye contact, even when a student is responding to your own question.
      6. Provide, as requested by the students or as you deem useful, examples or augmenting material, not so much to add material to the course, but instead to clarify or to suggest directions in which important issues might lead.
      7. Help the students to make connections and to find in the earlier discussion contrasting views that are fruitful to discuss further.
      8. Try to cite students by name when returning to ideas they brought up in the earlier discussion. When possible, quote them directly from your notes, asking them if you are reporting their comments accurately.


    1. Students (in groups of acquaintances, if possible)
      Spend a few minutes reflecting on the preceding discussion, perhaps jotting down notes (or amplifying notes made in class) of points that increased your understanding of the readings, and that may be useful in preparing for the next discussion or writing the next paper. Especially, take note of arguments that interested or surprised you.
    2. Faculty (together, if team teaching)
      1. Reflect upon the preceding discussion, noting issues that were deeply explored and open issues that might be carried further.
      2. Look ahead to future readings and consider whether to alter the order of assignments in order to pursue an open issue sooner than the current plan specifies, or in order to juxtapose future subjects fruitfully with open issues.
      3. Recall from the preceding discussion any students who may have participated for the first time and consider strategies to affirm their efforts and encourage further participation.

Student-Led Discussion - User's Manual - RULES - HOW TO - REWARDS

Last update: Dec 1999- Claude Aflalo
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