Office of the Faculty Teaching Fellow

Pre-discussion Warm Ups

In recent e-mail from a listserv came  these practical suggestions from Michael Klugman, a K-12 curriculum supervisor in New York State, offering four ways to warm a group up to participate:

1. Low-risk involvement.   Ask group survey questions where all have to answer (put up 1 finger if you think the answer is yes, and 2 if it's no) The impact on students is that they feel like they are involved while remaining safe and they'll continue to 'venture out' into participating freely.

2. Pre-talk in small groups.   Put out a prompt and have students talk in small groups (suggested by some and certainly a convention that can be used in any sized lecture setting).  Preset groups to pick a spokesperson to share group-think (note choice of words) and to share group dissonance (this latter strategy will be tremendously revealing and perhaps much more valuable than getting the honors level answer).

3. Pre-write.   Have students write (independently with no collaboration) answers first (they have to engage and commit to answering and it's "permanent" in their minds, meaning if they write the wrong answer they can't later convince themselves that they were engaged, or that their understanding is really 'okay') and then share.

I am never surprised by how many will be willing to answer after this tactic and this should challenge one's belief that students' lack of participation is really about a fear of speaking out in class - my experience through >1,000 observations tells me it's more about their being only passively engaged / passively thinking and / or relying upon those who are "smarter" to get the answer right (which is much more subtly passive and that has ominous future implications for metacognition)

4. Wrong Answers.   Ask students for most common wrong answers - this not only flips the traditional paradigm of Q & A but it also provides you with an assessment of whether students really get it.  Mastery learning is also about common misconceptions - if you aren't aware of them you are bound to be subject to them once removed from the learning environment and the "Private Universe" Harvard project demonstrates that misconceptions will come back if they aren't made clear AND defeate