[Note after writing this: I see that I was asking this question a number of months ago in my blog…guess it’s an unresolved issue and has been for awhile…]
Seminar discussions in my Arts One class this past year were not as lively as they have been in past years. This class meets in a group of about 20 twice a week for 75 minutes, after a 2 hour weekly lecture. This is quite a bit of time for first year students to be responsible for discussion each week. My strategies in the past have been to spend part of the time outlining main points in the readings, then pose some questions that should generate discussion; start with some writing assignment that will generate thought and discussion; ask for student questions for discussion; start with student presentations where they prepare questions before the class. These have all worked okay except “ask for student questions for discussion.”
Usually when I ask for these at the beginning of class I get next to nothing. Probably that’s b/c I don’t strongly encourage them to have anything prepared. Sometimes I ask them to do short responses to questions outside of class and bring them to class, and we can start with those. That works fine when they do them, but they often forget to do them, b/c they are not assigned every time. The other strategies work fine most of the time, but notice that these are all, except for the student presentations prepared before hand, based on MY questions. And if I’m not asking things they’re particularly interested in, then they discussion peters out.
Must find ways to encourage them to come up with their own discussion questions besides the presentations (which work quite well–see separate entry on this). Potential problem with such strategies: I may not have anything to say to the questions they raise, b/c I didn’t prepare for these questions! If so, well, maybe they can just discuss it themselves and I can add some ideas the next meeting if I want. That’s probably why I’ve focused so much on questions that I myself generate–that way I am prepared to say something (I find) interesting. Thinking about this makes me realize that the best is to combine some time each class on their questions and some on my own questions posed to them, so I can use the latter to make some sort of point in the seminar meeting.
Some preliminary ideas:
(1) Start class with pairs or small groups where they have to come up with something they’d like to discuss from the reading or lecture. No talking about it yet–that comes later. Just writing down what they’d like to discuss and why. Then talk about these things together.
(2) Start class by asking for a list of key ideas in the texts and why these ideas are important to the overall argument of the text, some theme in the text, or the theme of the course. That will likely generate some questions/things to talk about.
(3) Quescussion: Start with some particular argument or claim or theme from the text or lecture, and then ask for questions through the quescussion method (see above link). Then pick a couple of these questions to discuss.
(4) Use the short writing assignment at the beginning of class to have them come up with questions they have about the readings or lecture, rather than only using it to respond to my questions.
(5) Spend some time reading a particularly difficult or rich passage of the text together, and ask for clarification on what they think is going on in that passage, and why it might be a particularly important one; see what topics/questions come up.