**Discussion Sections**

- A Taxonomy Of Questions
- Discussion Leading As Fishing With a Net
- Discussion as Polite Conversation
- Preparing Students for Discussion Sections

**Problem Set and Laboratory Sections**

### Discussion Sections

An ideal discussion section makes each student feel like a vital part of the intellectual fabric of the class. Participation should be expected and your guidance of the discussion should be subtle and responsive to students' ideas. Poor discussions are characterized by an inflexible agenda and heavy-handed control, domination by a few students, boredom by the rest, and a feeling that the class is sinking and can only be saved by the teacher's lecturing. They seldom reach a goal.

Discussions are not ideal for delivering information; this is the function of lectures. Discussions are, however, an extremely efficient means for students to learn skills, generate ideas, solve problems, consolidate knowledge, criticize arguments, develop insight, and gain confidence in handling new concepts. Good discussions also allow students to formulate the principles of the subject in their own words.

How do you prepare to lead a discussion? First think about the material in light of your students' knowledge and experience. Second, think of questions that will stimulate them to think about the topics at hand in new and significant ways. Third, set objectives and share them with your students. Do you want your students to apply new skills, explore the significance of scholars' different points of view, learn to analyze the arguments in secondary sources, or become motivated to do research?

### A Taxonomy of Questions

There are many types of questions you can use to guide discussion. The following is one taxonomy that may help you. (For more on this topic, see *C. Roland Christensen, Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership*, available at the Bok Center, Science Center 318.)

### Discussion Leading as Fishing with a Net

Discussion leading is often compared to fishing with a net. Cast out a broad question to see what you get and then pull in the net, sorting out what is valuable. This approach provides you with the opportunity to summarize the discussion and to pick up and emphasize the important points. Here are some suggestions to help you do so:

### Discussion as Polite Conversation

One professor who teaches in the Core stresses the important social functions of discussion sections. She describes them as "one of the last bastions of the art of polite conversation," noting that a teaching fellow's duty is not only to be a knowledgeable scholar but also to host a purposeful conversation.

How, then, does one interrupt politely? Praise a valuable contribution? Ensure that various points of view are heard? Encourage reticent students? Save the discussion from domination by a few overly talkative students? Here are some suggestions:

### Preparing Students for Discussion Sections

Here are a few ways to encourage students to take some responsibility for the discussion:

### PROBLEM SET and LABORATORY SECTIONS

### Problem Sets and Pre-Labs

As you begin teaching in a science or problem set based course, it is important to clarify with your course head what topics will be covered and the depth of understanding required of the students. It is essential that you attend course lectures. Professors typically approach material idiosyncratically, so it is important that you know know first-hand how the course topics are being handled. The following are general suggestions for running problem set and pre-lab sections:

### Teaching Labs

The following tips will help you make the most of the limited time for each section, run your lab smoothly, and maximize what your students learn.