After several more years of teaching, Kelvin quit lectures altogether, even ones interspersed with questions and answers. He began simply leading general discussions about children’s play.
Instead of outlining detailed content, he now just made concise notes that listed issues about children’s play that students needed to consider.
The shift in participation structure led to several major changes in communication between teacher and students as well as among students. Since students spoke more freely than before, it became easier to see whether they cared about the topic. Now, too, more students seemed motivated to think and learn about children’s play; quite a few selected this topic, for example, for their term projects. Needless to say, these changes were all to the good.
But there were also changes that limited the effectiveness of classroom communication, even though students were nominally freer to speak than ever.
• Kelvin found, for example, that certain students spoke more than their share of the time - almost too freely, in fact, in effect preventing more hesitant students from speaking.
• Sometimes, too, it seemed as if certain students did not listen to others’ comments, but instead just passed the time waiting for their turn to speak, their hands propped permanently in the air.
• Meanwhile there were still others who passed the time apparently hoping not to speak; they were busy doodling or staring out the window.
Furthermore, since the precise focus of discussion was no longer under Kelvin’s control, discussions often did not cover all of the ideas about children’s play that Kelvin considered important. For example, on one occasion he meant for students to discuss whether play is always motivated intrinsically, but instead they ended up talking about whether play can really be used to teach every possible subject area. In itself the shift in focus was not bad, but it did make Kelvin wonder whether he was covering the material adequately. In having these misgivings, as it happened, he was supported by other educators who have studied the effects of class discussions on learning (McKeatchie & Svinciki, 2005).
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