ideas: Students broach ideas and questions that have never
occurred to you.
student engagement: Students very quickly perceive that
their questions matter, that they, in fact, define the direction
of much of the class period.
positive peer pressure: Students depend on each other for
interesting questions and for help with answers.
student preparation: Students are much more likely to have
read the text carefully and to have prepared thoughtful questions.
student confidence in ideas: Students have a chance to air
some ideas in small groups and are thus much more confident
about presenting them to the entire class. As a result, discussion
is more lively.
of community spirit: Because the students work in small
groups, because their questions direct the discussion, and because
the questions on the board are anonymous rather than attributed
to individuals, the class develops a certain esprit de corps.
in grading: Because so much of the discussion is student-initiated
and because students are more willing to speak, you have more
freedom to pay attention to the quality of students' comments
and thus have more confidence in your participation grades.
need to have mastered the material much better than if you control
must be able to give up some measure of control to gain energy,
ideas, and enthusiasm from the students.
will probably not manage to cover all the "key" discussion
points you had noted. As a trade-off, you receive increased
student thinking and involvement.
preparation for the discussion:
reading the assigned text, note what you think are the key discussion
points. Prioritize them, if necessary, knowing that you have only
so much time.
how much time you want to dedicate to this particular discussion
in order to determine how lengthy an assignment you will make and
how thoroughly students will work with their questions.
Assignment to the students:
with whatever else you want the students to do with a text, ask
them to write two or three questions to share with classmates. You
can accept any question or define the type of questions you would
like (e.g., questions of comprehension, analytical questions, questions
the asker cannot answer, opinion questions, etc.).
the students to work in cooperative groups of three or four (see
the info sheet on cooperative learning) to answer as many of each
other's questions as possible (5-10 minutes). The remaining questions
are now real questions that no one in their group can answer.
2) Have the students organize these questions in a logical way:
e.g., comprehension questions vs. analytical questions; fact questions
vs. opinion questions; questions that can be answered from the text
vs. questions that require additional information.
Write the categories on the board, or on a transparency.
a student from each group to write the most interesting questions
of each type on the board (or on a transparency). Decide how many
questions to take from each group depending on how much time you
have for this discussion.
Whole class work:
sure that the questions are accurately categorized on the board.
a minute or two to decide in what order to take the questions to
create a logical discussion. For example, you might decide to treat
the simpler or more concrete questions first, then the more analytical
or complex. (You will be surprised, perhaps, to find that by following
students' questions you can cover much of the material you found
to be essential when you prepared the class.)
through the questions with the class, asking students to clarify
questions when necessary and challenging the other students to answer
these questions remaining from group work.
task is to make sure that as many essential ideas as possible are
discussed and to weave the students' questions and comments into
VARIATIONS ON THE STRUCTURE:
groups can present the most interesting question and their answer
to the entire class.
can ask student groups to synthesize and prioritize their remaining
getting comfortable with this activity by working in small groups,
students may prefer to raise their questions before the entire class.
can invite individual students to write their most interesting question
on the board before class begins. Of course, with this system, the
students who arrive early are most likely to have a chance to ask
their questions; thus you might want to use it sparingly.
can send their questions to classmates (and you) over e-mail ahead
of the class meeting (see article by Jahan Ramazani). This method
is most suited to larger projects with a longer time frame, since
students need time to prepare their questions, reach a networked
computer and send them, read colleagues' questions. Because of these
multiple steps, fewer students may be prepared for class than with
the simpler method.