Got Teaching Questions? Get Answers From Dr. Stephen Brookfield


Dr. Stephen D. Brookfield is extending his office hours and you’re invited to stop by for help.

We’re thrilled to announce that Dr. Brookfield, the John Ireland Endowed Chair at the University of St. Thomas (MN), is the latest teaching expert to get interviewed for our ongoing video series for ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices— and we want your questions!

Leave a comment with your teaching and learning questions below. You can also email your questions, leave a comment on our Facebook page, or tweet at us on Twitter. We’ll sort through the questions and pose them to Dr. Brookfield when he comes to our offices next week.

Dr. Brookfield has written, co-written or edited 17 books on classroom discussion, teaching, adult learning, and critical thinking. One of his best known works is the second edition of The Skillful Teacher, considered by many to be required reading for teachers looking to hone their craft.

Looking for his advice on how you can improve your own practice? Stumped on how to spark a great discussion about the day’s thorniest issues? Curious about what, exactly, critical thinking means and how to instill it in your classroom?

Dr. Brookfield will discuss these and other topics:

  • How to get students talking with one another in a large classroom.
  • How to have great discussions in the classroom.
  • How to deliver a creative and engaging lecture.
  • How to help students learn on their own.
  • How to encourage students to think critically and provide feedback on your practice.
  • How to support underprepared students for college-level work.
  • How to create a safe and supportive classroom community for all students.

Leave your question in the comments section. After the interview, we’ll post Dr. Brookfield’s answers in follow-up blog entry.

14 thoughts on “Got Teaching Questions? Get Answers From Dr. Stephen Brookfield”

  1. Hi, Geoff,

    These are really great tips! One of my favorite techniques is one I heavily practiced as a student in a summer session class. A single student or a group of students would be the “facilitator” of the day and would offer in-class activities and exercises with discussion questions to get a good conversation going and to show mastery of the material.. Although I like this technique, obviously, it would not be something for the students to do every meeting, which is why I was looking for some guidance on what to do during regular sessions, so these were really great, thank you!!!

  2. Hi Jamie, thanks for your questions. Planning and facilitating group discussions is so complex that we have two separate modules devoted to the topic; One is on Planning and the other is on Facilitating.

    To get you started, ACUE Director of Content Development Laurie Pendleton offered two great research-backed tips. The first, from Dr. Brookfield’s “Discussion as a Way of Teaching” book, is focused on getting a discussion started. The second is about keeping the discussion going!

    1. A sentence completion exercise at the start of a discussion session is an excellent way to get students to focus and connect to the topic at hand. First, ask students to complete a thought-provoking sentence related to the discussion topic. Second, have them share their responses with one another, either in small groups (for large classes), or as a whole-class (for smaller classes). Make sure students are jotting down responses that they’d like to hear more about. After all responses have been read, have students begin the discussion by asking about the responses they wanted to hear more about.

    Here are just a few examples of sentences that you can ask your students to complete:
    • What most struck me about the text we read to prepare for the discussion today is…
    • The question that I’d most like to ask the author of the text is…
    • The idea I most take issue with in the text is…

    2. Student-to-student interaction is the best way to keep a discussion going. It ensures a lively discussion as opposed to a back and forth between you and one or two students. Here are a few prompts that may help guide your responses:

    • Sandra has shared an interesting viewpoint on our reading. Who else shares a similar viewpoint?
    • Who would like to play devil’s advocate here? Who sees something we’re all missing?
    • Dave, when you heard Roberto make that comment, what were you thinking?
    • If a student asks you a question, you can always respond with, “That’s a good question. What do the rest of you think about that?
    • We haven’t heard much from this side of the room. What would you like to add?

    Feel free to leave your favorite technique in the comments section below.

  3. Are there any strategies, tips, or advice you can give to beginner professors with class discussions? To be more specific, how can you creatively and engagingly start one, and when should one close? When you are in the middle of a discussion, how do you know when to turn it in a different direction? The primary question I have is, how do you spin off another person’s comment? This can sometimes feel subjective, so I understand if a clear-cut method might not be useful to discern these nuances in class discussions. How to navigate them? Yet, the flip side to this is that I do not want to seem too rigid with class discussions, either. I want to be relaxed, and I want discussions to flow naturally. Lastly, what are the top things that beginner professors should and should not do? Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your comments.

  4. I have taken several 1 credit courses with Dr. Brookfield when he taught summer at Teacher’s College. He taught me about the 1 minute paper and “how adults think.” I’ll be very interested to read the discussion postings.

  5. We’ve had 20 years of No Child Left Behind legislating K-12 education in this country. Many students have been socialized not to ask questions in their pre-college classrooms, when college encourages exactly the opposite. So how can we get students contributing in the classroom?

  6. I’m at a state comprehensive university. How can we teach and assess in ways compatible with low staff to student ratios (NO TAs!) and high course enrollments?

  7. Many of our faculty struggle with effectively engaging students in large class settings. Name three things an instructor should always do to facilitate learning in a large classroom (100+ students)?
    What shouldn’t you do in this setting?

  8. I struggle between assigning partners/small groups with students of a similar caliber (to ensure higher level students receive more useful feedback) vs. pairing students of different levels (so lower level students receive more useful feedback). Although instructors can “train” students in providing feedback, there is no guarantee students will be fully equipped with the foundational knowledge necessary to critique one another’s work. So I’m wondering: What is the best way to pair students to make peer review as effective as possible?

  9. This semester I taught a general education advanced writing course of 19 students. About a quarter of the students were highly advanced writers, while about a quarter of the students were severely underprepared for the course; the rest of the students were proficient writers. In an effort to accommodate all students, I increased the number of individual conferences I held and facilitated in-class “paperventions” to highlight patterns of error in students’ papers. In cases like this in which you have such a major disparity in levels of preparation for a course, what techniques can you use to ensure advanced students feel challenged and more remedial students feel equipped with the knowledge and skills to complete the work? If an instructor’s time to meet with students outside of class is limited, what can be done during class to provide additional support to underprepared students without isolating them (e.g., only holding in-class meetings with underprepared students)?

  10. I do have a question about collaborative teaching with a large number of students….it has to do with timing….How do you know when a discussion has gone on too long (or needs more time)? How do you manage this when you’ve got many groups discussing at once?

  11. I have a question that’s not directly related to the topics above (or even how to get students engaged)…although I will have some of those as well…My question stems from a series of discussions I’ve had recently about how to interest faculty in teaching in a more collaborative way. It seems that, although there are some faculty who embrace this “new” way of teaching (and learning for the students), that the majority of faculty don’t. Reasons seem to be due to the idea that “I learned this way…so it’s the best way for students to learn”…I’d love your insight into this! Thanks!!

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