Teachers can use six effective ways to engage students in discussions, problem-solving and critical thinking, writes Dr Ramesh
To solve a specific problem, students make sketches and then pass evolving sketches to their neighbours.
How: Students sit in a group of 6-8 around a table or in a circle. Questions or problems should be well explained and understood by each student. Each participant privately makes one or more sketches and passes the sketch to the person on the right when it is finished or when a brief set time has passed. Participants develop or annotate the sketches passed to them, or use them to inspire new sketches which are also passed in turn.
Brainstorming, a useful tool to develop creative solutions to a problem, is a lateral thinking process by which students are asked to develop ideas or thoughts that may seem crazy or shocking at first. Participants can then change and improve them into original and useful ideas. Brainstorming can help define an issue, diagnose a problem, or possible solutions and resistance to proposed solutions.
How: Define the problem clearly and lay out any criteria to be met. Keep the session focused on the problem, but be sure that no one criticizes or evaluates ideas during the session, even if they are clearly impractical. Criticism dampens creativity in the initial stages of a brainstorming session. Ideas should be listed, rather than developed deeply on the spot; the idea is to generate possibilities. Accordingly, participants should be encouraged to pick up on ideas offered to create new ones. One person should be appointed as note-taker, and ideas should be studied and evaluated after the session.
Concept maps represent knowledge graphic form. Networks consist of nods, which represent concepts, and links, which represent relationships between concepts. Concept maps can aid in generating ideas, designing complex structures, or communicating complex ideas. Because they make explicit the integration of old and new knowledge concept maps can help instructors assess students’ understanding.
How: Create a focus question specifying the problem or issue the map should help resolve. List the key concepts (roughly 20-25) that apply to the area of knowledge. Put the most general, inclusive concepts at the top of the list, and most specific at the bottom. Build a hierarchical organization of the concepts, using post-its on a wall or whiteboard, large sheets of paper, etc. Revision is a key element in concept mapping, so participants need to be able to move concepts and reconstruct the map. Seek cross links between concepts, adding linking words to the lines between concepts.
Kipling Questions or Preliminary Questions Method
This method simply asks the ‘Who, What, When, Where, Why and How’ when problem-solving or decision-making.
Laddering or the ‘why method’ involves toggling between two abstractions to create ideas. Laddering techniques involve the creation, reviewing and modification of hierarchical knowledge. In a ladder containing abstract ideas or concepts, the items lower down are details or sub-sets of the ones higher up, so one moves between the abstract and concrete. Laddering can help students understand how an expert categorizes concepts into classes, and can help clarify concepts and their relationships.
How: Beginning with an existing idea, ‘ladder up’ by asking, what wider category is this an example of? ‘Ladder down’ by finding more examples. Then ‘ladder up’ again by seeking an even wider category (big picture) from the new examples obtained from step. 2. Generally, ‘laddering up’ toward the general allows expansion into new areas while ‘laddering down’ focuses on specific aspects of these areas. Why questions are ladders up; so-what questions are ladders down.
Negative (or Reverse) Brainstorming
Negative brainstorming involves analyzing a short list of existing ideas, rather than the initial massing of ideas as in conventional brainstorming. Examining potential failures is relevant when an idea is new or complex or when there is little margin for error. Negative brainstorming raises such questions as: “What could go wrong with this project?” Reverse brain-storming is valuable when it is difficult to identify direct solutions to a problem.
How: After clearly defining a problem or challenge, ask “How could I cause this problem?” or “How could I make things worse?” As with brainstorming, allow ideas to flow freely without rejecting any. Evaluating these negative ideas can lead to possible positive solutions.
In most role-playing exercises, each student takes the role of a person affected by an issue and studies an issue or events from the perspective of that person.
How: Role plays should give the students an opportunity to practice what they have learned and should interest the students. Provide concrete information and clear role descriptions so that students can play their roles with confidence. Once the role play is finished, spend some time on debriefing.