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


In practice our method has brought the best and most enjoyable discussions we have ever held in any of our courses. In what ways do we and our students find this approach gratifying, and what accounts for the gratification?

  1. As FACULTY, we recognize the importance, as well as the pleasure, of becoming co-learners with our students.
    1. We become co-learners by giving up the role of authority figures who reign over our students.
    2. We become co-learners because we willingly go to class to learn, with issues unresolved in our own minds so that there is a real opportunity for students to see us learn and help us learn.
    3. We become co-learners because we can never be sure in what direction the discussion will go and thus surprises are more likely: issues we have not already thought through are more likely to arise and lead us or free us to think freshly about a text or subject we think we have thoroughly explored and tracked.
    4. We become co-learners because students feel more free to share their thoughts and ideas with us in an environment where students are respected as thinkers and learners.

  2. STUDENTS become empowered as learners.
    1. Students are empowered because they sense the respect we have for them as they accept the responsibilities we offer to them.
    2. Students are empowered because they discover that they can indeed, on their own, analyze difficult texts, explore issues, and articulate ideas -- activities traditionally reserved for the authority of the lecture or the faculty-structured discussion.
    3. Students are empowered because they experience the gratification of being cited or quoted as part of a serious intellectual inquiry.
    4. Students are empowered because they experience the excitement and gratification of freely discussing and debating ideas on nearly level ground with persons traditionally thought to speak only from a position of power.
    5. Students are empowered by the simple act of learning to be prepared for every class. Probably the most important foundation for good discussion is a means of assuring that all participants read a specific assignment and think at length about the concepts and issued raised therein. The possibility of being chosen to lead discussion provides the impetus for such preparation.


We do not claim that this method of teaching is easy or that it is free of frustrations and disappointments. It requires extensive preparation, patience, tact, agility of thought, and a willingness to yield the privilege of always having the final word. Discussions will sometimes be marked by stammering, confusion, and error. We are convinced, however, that to stammer, to be confused, and to err are familiar and invaluable to all who learn to think critically and construct meaning for themselves. Furthermore, experience has taught us that much more often than not, students are very capable indeed of doing work we formerly thought impossible without our shepherding interference.

Considering it the primary function of the university to preserve "the connection between knowledge and the zest of life (p.93)," Alfred North Whitehead (1929) wrote, "For successful education there must always be a certain freshness in the knowledge dealt with. Knowledge does not keep any better than fish. It must come to students, as it were, just drawn out of the sea and with the freshness of its immediate importance." We agree, and suggest that when students themselves do the fishing, drawing knowledge out of the sea of their own careful reading and lively deliberations, such knowledge is fresher and tastier than any caught, scaled, prepared, and then served up by the teacher. And if, as Bruce Wilshire (1990) asserts, "Education involves . . . making sense of things together" (p.24), then a format that stresses talking among students and faculty, as opposed to talking at students by faculty, is surely the very essence of what education should and can be."


Boyer, E. (1987). College: The Undergraduate Experience in America. New York: Harper and Row.

Whitehead, A. (1929). The Aim of Education and Other Essays. New York: Macmillan.

Wilshire, B. (1990) The Moral Collapse of the University: Professionalism, Purity, and Alienation. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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

Last update: Dec 1999- Claude Aflalo
You are visitor No. to this page.
Suggestions are welcome...