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discussion dynamics

amanda.simone's picture

Here are a few ideas I have or like for creating a positive and respectful group dynamic:

Respond to people's ideas, not the person - I know it sounds weird but it doesn't have to be a hard and fast guideline. My thought process behind this relates to what I have often experienced in class discussions: Sometimes when you say something outloud, then you realize you don't actually believe or agree with that point. Other times, you might want to play devil's advocate or just raise a point of contradiction or pull something from a text to complexify the dialogue even though its not necessarily your personal belief or final position. By working with the concepts presented instead of tieing them inextricably to who said them, some of the pressure or anxiety about being defined/judged by what you say in class is released. It also allows us to be in a mutable, flexible kind of learning environment where changing one mind is okay and experimenting with perspectives is easier. That being said, I think it's also great to acknowledge other people in conversation and give credit or thanks.

Avoid apologizing or putting yourself down - Throughout my educational experiences, I've noticed that a lot of people open by saying, "this might not be right but..." or "sorry that this isn't super articulate but..."  I started playing ultimate frisbee this year and one of the philosophies of frisbee, especially women's frisbee, is that you never apologize for yourself. By practicing this simple act of confidence, I notice that I take myself more seriously and see myself as a valuable team member. This contributes to a strong and supportive team dynamic that I think is not unlike the close relationship we will have in this class this semester. I believe that if we take our own worth and each other's worth as a given, we will be able to have more positive, inclusive, and interesting discussions. We are all qualified to be in this class!

The last speaker calls on the next - One method proposed this week for the actual course of class discussion is that whoever has last spoken calls on the next person to speak. We experimented with this last semester in Anne's ESEM (first year seminar) and I really liked it. It forces the dialogue to be a discussion between every student or participant instead of many nodes feeding through the professors and then back to the group. It also encourages everyone to be more observant about each persons presence which is generally the sole responsibility of the facilitator(s) or professor(s). Elizabeth Ellsworth, who I read this week, notes that the construct of a dialogue, though it may appear neutral, is actual a mode of address with particualr "rules and moves" that teachers may use to get at certain information or for a specific purpose. I think that this new strategy can help make the dialouge more neutral by combating the unblanced power dynamic that exists when the dialogue has a facilitator steering the conversation.