Discussion Analysis

Good discussion is central to fostering student thinking, voice and participation, students mastering course content.

This assignment is for you to record and analyze a discussion that you lead during your intern placement, at least 20 minutes long. Be sure you are leading a large group discussion, not a lecture, small group, read around, or some other activity. A video recording is better than an audio recording because you can see what students are doing who are not speaking.

In thinking about which discussion to record the goal is for you to do the maximum amount of learning -- not to prove that you are a good discussion leader. You might focus 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.

It would be helpful to have the recording transcribed. There are websites that can do this quickly and for free. As you study the recording you made of the discussion you led, analyze the exact words you used. How did the way you worded discussion questions impact student responces? Also carefully attend to student comments and participation. Be precise and specific. You are looking for data that is as objective as possible.

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: 8/23