Actively Engaging Students in Reading & Discussion: Article Review

Lovely books from Flickr user, slightly everythingby Michaella Thornton, Assistant Director for Instructional Design

Encouraging students to actively engage in (and complete) a course’s readings can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task, especially if class discussions are dependent on students’ comprehension and ability to analyze, critique, and synthesize the readings throughout the semester. So, how do we, as teachers and instructional designers, “encourage students to read carefully, interact with the readings, articulate their ideas, and make meaningful contributions to class discussions” (Connor-Greene, 2005, p. 173)?

Dr. Patricia A. Connor-Greene, professor emerita at Clemson University and editor of Teaching and Learning Creatively: Inspirations and Reflections (2006), offers a teaching strategy for helping students move from passive consumers of course readings to active discussion participants and co-constructors of knowledge through her “Question, Quotation, and Talking Points” (QQTP) framework for daily in-class response papers (or to adapt this strategy for online learners, using weekly response journals or blog entries connected to the readings).

In this short Faculty Forum article for the Teaching of Psychology — “Fostering Meaningful Classroom Discussions: Student-Generated Questions, Quotations, and Talking Points” — Connor-Greene asks students to go through the following process to participate fully with class readings and the ensuing discussions:

  1. QUESTION: Before the full class or small-group discussions in class, have students “create questions that have ‘one foot in the reading’ but cannot be answered simply with facts from the reading assignment”
  2. QUOTATION: “Identify quotations [students] find provocative” or particularly noteworthy
  3. TALKING POINTS: Students write down their key take-aways to distill what their opinions are before class discussion.

To prompt students to share their thoughts during class discussion, Connor-Greene asks for two volunteers at the beginning of class to put their QQTP questions on the board (alternately, she suggests that 2-3 online students post their questions to a discussion board in a similar fashion as the face-to-face version). She keeps track of who she calls on so there is an “equitable rotation among students” and that students actively monitor air time so no one posts a second question until all students have posted one. She also asks students to work in small groups to select a question, quotation, or talking point that is especially salient.

To create an efficiency process for this assessment technique, Connor-Greene stresses that every student prepares QQTPs before the next class session and she randomly collects QQTPs from select students each class period.  She provides written feedback on a third of a 30-person class each time, with students maintaining a portfolio of all QQTPs that is ultimately reviewed and graded at the end of the semester.  The QQTP portfolio is worth 25 percent of students’ final grade.

QQTPs are evaluated on a 3-point scale:

  • 3 = Outstanding: A thoughtful question that invites analysis, synthesis, or evaluation, or makes connections between previous readings and discussions
  • 2 = Good: Goes beyond the reading but prompts little discussion.
  • 1 = Poor: Confusing question or one that can be answered simply from the facts in the article (e.g., lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, such as identify, list, define)

So, how effective is the QQTP process in helping students become closer readers and more active discussion leaders and participants? Connor-Greene surveyed two of her undergraduate courses at Clemson and had students anonymously report the value of the QQTP process in understanding and processing course readings and preparing for class discussion on a 5-point scale (1 – not at all helpful to 5 – very much helpful).  Per the small survey study, Connor-Greene’s students reported that “questions and talking points received higher ratings than did quotations in enhancing both understanding and preparation for class” (2005, p. 174).  This finding made eminent sense to the professor-researcher as creating questions and talking points are more cognitively challenging than simply selecting a provocative quotation. Overall, students responded favorably to all three steps of the QQTP process.

The QQTP process really highlights a relatively straightforward approach for almost any discipline that has important course readings that need to be scaffolded into the reading, writing, and discussion process for college students. QQTP is a teaching strategy that many before Connor-Greene have found useful in engaging students in critical thinking: Voltaire, Claude Levis Strauss, and many others have underscored that it’s not the answers we come to in learning, but rather the importance of the questions we create.

References

Connor-Greene, P.A. (2005). Fostering meaningful classroom discussion: Student-generated questions, quotations, and talking points. Teaching of Psychology, (32)3. 173-175

Blog photo attribution to Flickr user, slightly everything, who took the photo of “beautiful books.” Some rights reserved.

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