In the beginning of my teaching here, my classes tended to be very convivial, energetic, and productive--very exciting to teach. I had to learn how to be patient with relatively quiet classes. I belatedly realized that a quiet class is not necessarily an unprepared one. When students don't speak up, rather than asking pointless and potentially insulting questions ("Why are you so quiet? Haven't you done the reading?" and others I am too embarrassed to mention), simply go around the room calling on people. Don't merely call on the habitually quiet; call on anyone and everyone.

I have found that students are not usually capable of leading effective discussions, and having them do ten-minute class presentations seems too static to be helpful in generating discussion. It might help to play off students against each other in a non-confrontational way; too often even students in small classes habitually look to you as the sole respondent to your question. Ask another student to respond. It's more gratifying for students and instructor alike the more they participate in keeping a discussion going; this lesson is something I learn all over again with every class I teach. 1992


USING GROUPS, by Jennifer Low

If discussion moves slowly even when students have prepared answers to some discussion questions beforehand, plan out a discussion worksheet for class. Divide the class into groups and explain that you want to hear a coherent argument/explanation about certain issues from each group after twenty minutes. Designate a spokesperson for each group (a quiet person, preferably). Stress that each member of the group should feel responsible for contributing something to the group presentation, even if s/he is not the spokesperson. Then leave for twenty minutes. When you return, hear what they've got to say. Save five minutes at the end to ask how the discussion went.

Alternate plan: choose a debatable issue. Divide the class into two groups, and give each a written explanation of its discussion assignment. One group should present arguments for one side of the question; the other group arguments for the other. Not until you return, twenty minutes later, should you explain that they have been preparing opposing points of view. Ask one group to begin, but encourage the other group to interpose their own arguments as Group One goes along. 1992