Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for University Teachers

Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for University Teachers

Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for University Teachers

Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for University Teachers


This book is written for all university and college teachers interested in experimenting with discussion methods in their classrooms.

Discussion as a Way of Teaching is a book full of ideas, techniques, and usable suggestions on:

• How to prepare students and teachers to participate in discussion
• How to get discussions started
• How to keep discussions going
• How to ensure that teachers' and students' voices are kept in some sort of balance

It considers the influence of factors of race, class and gender on discussion groups and argues that teachers need to intervene to prevent patterns of inequity present in the wider society automatically reproducing themselves inside the discussion-based classroom. It also grounds the evaluation of discussions in the multiple subjectivities of students' perceptions. An invaluable and helpful resource for university and college teachers who use, or are thinking of using, discussion approaches.


This book is born of friendship, curiosity, anxiety, and service.

The two of us became friends while we were both faculty members at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Our friendship was fostered by a common passion for many things – the films of Woody Allen figured prominently in our early conversations – but what we kept returning to as we talked was the joyful yet contradictory experience of teaching through discussion. In coffee shops, at home, in university corridors, and on the street, we spent hours celebrating the glorious unpredictability of discussion and exploring its purpose and value. Usually our conversations ended with us giving each other advice on the problems we faced as we used the method in our own practice.

During these conversations we often remarked how we’d love to have a book available to us that laid out a rationale for using discussion, guided us through its different configurations, and suggested various resolutions to the problems that arose in its use. What would the authors say about guided discussion (a topic about which we talked heatedly and repeatedly)? How would they conceive of the teacher’s role in discussion? What would be their thoughts on using discussion in groups characterized by racial, class, and gender diversity? How would they deal with students who dominated conversation or those who never spoke? As we considered these and other questions, we would often say, ‘You know, we ought to write a book about this.’ An idea that was first mentioned lightly and jokingly became a serious possibility when Steve Preskill accepted a position at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. We realized that distance threatened our friendship but it stood a better chance of remaining strong if we worked on a common project. The project we chose is the book you now hold in your hands.

What kept us going as we coauthored this book was curiosity about what would end up on its pages. We asked ourselves a series of questions that essentially became the book’s chapters. We wanted to know how we would justify the use of discussion to colleagues who saw no connections between . . .

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