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Discussion Analysis

Discussion is central to fostering student thinking, voice and participation, tied to course content and relevance and open and hidden forms of discipline and "hidden curriculum."

This assignment is for you to observe and analyze a discussion of thirty minutes in length. Ideally, you can videotape or digitally record yourself and analyze the recording. (If your only option is to observe a professor or teacher other than yourself (of course) you need to explain to the person you are observing what you are doing and obtain permission to do so in advance. In your write up please don't mention the teacher's or professor's name.)

In thinking about which discussion to observe the goal is for you to do the maximum amount of learning -- not to prove to the professor that you are a good discussion leader. If you are currently teaching I suggest focusing on the class where you have the most difficulty with discussion. You might want to focus on a low or average level class rather than an advanced or AP class, though the choice of class is up to you. You will be evaluated not on how well the discussion went, but how well you analyze it and identify strategies for improvement.

Be sure you are really observing a large group discussion, not a lecture, small group, read around, or some other activity. (Of course, some discussions may have lecture involved, but what you are looking for is a discussion where you -- the teacher -- wants to have student involvement.)

As you observe and write up your observations, transcribe as best you can exactly what the teacher says and carefully attend to what individual students are doing. Be precise and specific. You are looking for data that is as objective as possible. Directly and precisely quote teacher statements.

Do not be sloppy or biased with your observations and do not jump to conclusions. Don't talk about "most students" but instead, for example, "14 of 22 students." Don't say, "the teacher talked for a long time" but instead "the teacher talked for 8 mins, 30 seconds." Don't say "wait time was average" but "wait time was 10 seconds, 8 seconds, or 2 seconds." Don't say "the students were disengaged" but describe specific observable activities by specific numbers of students that give you the impression that those particular students were disengaged. And so on.

Collecting objective data from the discussion is the vital first part of the assignment. It will allow you to make a careful and thoughtful analysis, and for your reader to evaluate your analysis. In addition to the narrative of your analysis, include at least two pages of specific data you have collected. (Use at least two instruments from Good and Brophy or of your own creation )

The write up should include lots of specific data followed by analysis of that data. What does the data you gather about students and the teacher seem to indicate about the instruction that is happening in the classroom? What specific things could the teacher do to address the data you collect and issues you observe?

One the most important considerations is how many and what percent of the students participated, distinguishing volunteers (called on by the teacher), non-volunteers (invited participants), call outs (students who participate but are not called on). Examining these statistics, including participation by gender or race involves some arithmetic; you don't just need total numbers but ratios and percentages in order to make meaningful comparisons. You will want to write down exactly what the teacher is doing to effect the level of participation and analyze how the teacher could change his or her instruction to increase participation.

Your comments on this data will be important, but also write about the whole discussion, painting a full picture of the discussion and giving specific comments about how the teacher or professor could improve their discussion leading. Give some consideration issues related to training, discipline, power, class, race, gender and so on.

Closely examine the suggested data collection methods on the discussion analysis web page. On this page there are twelve general areas for analyzing discussion; a good way to organize your analysis is to write something about each of those general headings. (Of course you are not expected to gather data about all of the areas.)

Your analysis should be at least five pages in length (in addition to the data collected) and draw on what we have studied about leading discussion.

To give some understanding of how to do this assignment I offer two samples from undergraduate discussion analysis, by Karen Brady (Spring 2008 -- this electronic version of Karen's paper does not have an attached data sheet, but it does include specific data and analysis) and Adam Limban (Fall 2008). These are good papers, though they are not the kind of self-analysis nor do they address some of the social issues we have focused on in our class.

Created by: allen.webb@wmich.edu
Revised Date: 4/11