Todd Sedano

Software Engineering, Improv, Craftsmanship

Increasing Discussion With a Quiet Group of Students

Every group of students is different and has it’s own “feel” — sometimes they are connected, energized, quiet, inquisitive. It may not be obvious what it is until the next group of students come and I realize that I like some aspects of the new group and miss some aspects of the older group(s).

I’ve been following a particular group of students through a curriculum and I know that they are “quieter” than previous groups. In the past, my attitude has been, “if they don’t want to discuss this, that’s ok, we’ll move on, or we’ll end early.” However, I’m challenging myself to try a different approach with the goal of raising my game and being a better teacher.

Main idea: prose a question to the group and have each person answer it on a sheet of paper. Put all the sheets into a hat. Select one member randomly (I like to use my fire dice) and have them draw the question from the hat. That person then leads a conversation around what was written on the paper. Note: you can have the students write questions on the paper, if this is the case, the person drawing the sheet out of the hat is not responsible for answering the question, they are responsible for getting the group to answer the question.

Possible Questions

Here’s my initial brainstorm list for possible questions for the group:

  • What are some fears you have about this class?
  • What is software craftsmanship?
  • Who is a software role model for you and why?
  • What are you strong in, how did this happen, and how can you continue to improve?
  • What is something that you want to work more on? How will you improve, how will you know if you are successful?
  • What is necessary to become an expert?

The technique in action

I choose this question for the students. “What are some of your concerns about this course?”

Here are their answers. * regain lost powers in terms of java programming (covered) * finding a good mentor (covered) * mentor does not agree to coach * I fear running out of ideas for learning areas I wish to improve * getting too caught up in the course * first time the course is offered, so it might not work out as planned * how much will it help me in the long run? * didn’t have any real fears up until you mentioned it! * one fear is not meeting my goals at the end of the semester. I allowed a student to lead a discussion about the selected slip of paper. The class and I had a great conversation about the student’s concern and what were some things to deal with it. I found this approach to be more engaging than going through a syllabus. After using this technique for a course, I noticed that most of my students didn’t meet my expectations for a facilitator. Some would jump into giving their own answer. Others would ask a very good opening question, but then not probe for great details. In these situations when the student stopped leading, I would ask more detailed questions and explore subtle nuances.

All in all, I really enjoyed using this technique.