A review of Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms by Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill
Discussion-based teaching can increase student learning in well-delineated ways. When it is successful, it can broaden and deepen understanding of the topic at hand by examining it, encourage discussants to articulate what may have only been a vague feeling about a subject (I don’t know what I think until I say/write it), enliven learning through engagement, develop proficiencies needed for democratic debate, and help students develop tolerance for and appreciation of diverse opinions and viewpoints. Ideally, that is.
Why, then, is discussion derided by some faculty who have concluded that it is “old hat,” outmoded, consuming time needed for content delivery, or inappropriate for their field?
And, why might it be rejected by some students who are unwilling or unprepared to participate, or shocked to find that there might be more than one appropriate answer to questions depending on the situation?
She has all these group discussions in class where I have to listen to the dumb opinions of other students. They don’t know any more about the subject than I do. She’s the professor, and she should be teaching me. I’m paying a lot of money to go here, and I’m not learning anything in that course!
Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill, co-authors of Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms , have answers to these questions and recommendations for setting the stage for successful discussions. Faculty members who prefer hard copy will find that book in the IDS mini-library. Even more accessible, Brookfield’s site at http://stephenbrookfield.com/pdf_files/Discussion_Materials.pdf provides online entrée to just about everything you might like to know about
- Understanding why discussions fail
- Employing a variety of grouping techniques
- Preparing for discussion
- Establishing ground rules
- Using case studies
- Balancing students’ voices with teachers’ voices.
- Checking the satisfaction and attitudes of a class engaging in discussion.
- Asking the right questions.
Effective discussions don’t just happen. Brookfield’s and Preskill’s invaluable ideas can provide you with the wherewithal to make them not only happen, but happen happily for both instructors and students.