An inclusive discussion is one in which all students can contribute their knowledge, ideas, and questions. Differences in backgrounds can enrich discussions when they are intentionally included in the discussion structure.
Unfortunately, students do not always participate equally. Studies show that unequal participation rates can be the result of student traits (such as confidence, comprehension, interest, preparation, or motivation) and classroom factors (size, climate, interaction norms).
Educators can adjust the classroom environment to help increase student confidence and mitigate uneven student preparation. For example, students may perform poorly because they fear being negatively stereotyped. Negative stereotypes exist relative to academic performance among women in STEM, African Americans, and non-English speakers. Promoting a welcoming climate, creating opportunities for interaction, and considering your content can begin to address these concerns.
Consider using these strategies to help engage all students in discussions:
- Slowly increase question complexity. Help build student confidence by starting with questions that beg factual responses and slowly move toward questions that require comparisons, interpretation, analysis, and judgement.
- Wait a few seconds for more hands to raise after asking questions, rather than calling on the first person with their hand up. Some students need more time to gather their thoughts or to translate ideas from one language to another.
- Use structured discussions as a means of encouraging more students to participate and limiting students who monopolize conversations. One idea is to give each student three opportunities in the form of three poker chips (or cards, envelopes, etc.) and require them to use them during a discussion. Have students engage in a think-pair-share activity, in which they can think of their answers, discuss them with one person, and (in pairs) share their joint responses with the whole class.
- Directly address monopolizing students. If the same students respond to your questions, say, “Let’s hear from someone else.” If a student speaks for an inordinate amount of class time, take that person aside and ask them to step back to allow other students to contribute their thoughts.
- Write discussion questions before class and expect students to come to class prepared to read their responses.
- Ask quiet students follow up questions on their contributions. If a student makes a short contribution, ask them to expand on it in some way.
- Treat students as individuals; do not expect them to respond as representatives for any social group. It is unreasonable to expect any student to represent an entire population.
- Enhance student confidence and model positive discussion behavior by referring to valuable ideas and comments they make.
- Model and teach students how to have productive discussions with each other. In addition to demonstrating how to build on someone's comment, show how to refute an idea. Teach students to listen to one other and to avoid restating a contribution made previously.
- Call students by name.
- As you develop questions and examples to use in a discussion, use examples from various racial, ethnic, and gender experiences whenever possible so that students can find commonalities with groups they may have previously considered different from themselves. Find examples that illustrate similarities and divergence of problems, issues, and solutions.
- Aitken and Neer (1993)