NEW!!! For more information, see “Difficult Dialogues”
Teachable moments can be found in this terrible situation, and thus can provide much needed support and healing through the learning process. Destiny Aman, with input from a number of other teaching institute consultants, developed the following tips for teachers interested in incorporating difficult dialogue discussions into their courses.
- Set Ground Rules. Encourage students to practice empathetic listening, use “I-statements,” and avoid personal attacks.
- Start with a guided reflective writing exercise – give students a chance to write about what they’re feeling and experiencing, but also incorporate questions to stimulate critical thinking.
- To give all students a chance to participate, and reduce the chance that a few individuals will dominate discussion, incorporate think-pair-share activities, dyads, or other discussion techniques that allow students to talk and process their ideas in smaller groups prior to speaking in the larger class setting.
- To the degree possible, connect the situation to course material and learning goals (keep in mind that while this might not directly relate to your course content, such discussions do overlap with learning goals such as critical thinking, reflection, and peer-learning).
- Recognize your own experience and role in the dialogue. Do not respond angrily or shut down students whose positions you disagree with – this will result in defensiveness and have a negative effect on student learning.
- End the session with a Critical Incident Questionnaire, and follow up with the topic as needed during the next class session or via email.
Even in classes where course content does not overlap, the learning environment will continue to be affected as news breaks on a daily (or even hourly) basis. Many students are struggling emotionally and psychologically, and may find it difficult to focus on course material. All students should be made aware of resource centers on campus where they can find a supportive, safe, and productive space to process their experience. These include:
As always, the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence stands with all who teach at Penn State, and especially now as you work through this difficult time. If you have questions, concerns, or would like more suggestions related to teaching at Penn State, we are happy to schedule an individual consultation.