Modeling Scholarly Discussions

In their History and Literature Sophomore Tutorial, Rachel Gillett and her co-instructors strengthened student discussions by directly modeling how to have an academic conversation.  This activity was spurred by the sense that, about two-thirds of the way through the semester, the students were being a bit shy and lazy in their discussions.  The instructors modeled for the students what a scholarly conversation looks like.  While the students observed, the instructors argued about interpretations of sources, referring directly to the sources.  The students were told that they would have to replicate this the following class. 

The following week, the students were directed to talk to each other for 20 minutes.  Their conversation had to be content-based and refer directly to the text.  About 5 minutes through, the instructors stopped the students and asked them to consider whether they were anchoring their comments in the text.  Rachel notes that, at the point, the students were raising huge topics rather than referencing then engaging with the readings by using quotations.  After this interruption, the instructors stepped back and listened.  The instructors then offered the students a few more comments, and then let them discuss for the remainder of the time.