I want to make sure that, when students take the lead, they present accurate information and invite discussion.

Examples of challenging situations:

  • For my exams, I usually hand out study questions at the beginning of the week and then discuss the questions at the next meeting before the exam. We were discussing a question in class that I knew was going to be on the exam, and a student volunteered some information that was almost completely wrong.  I did not want to correct him in a harsh way and discourage participation, but I could not let the misinformation stand, as the other students would believe that answer and use it for the test.
  • In a discussion section, a student made a comment about the benefits of the slave trade and colonialism.  Many students in the class looked visibly uncomfortable, but I froze in the moment, and instead of addressing the comment, I brushed over it.

Strategies from Middlebury faculty:

  • We want correct information without discouraging students from participating.  You might begin with “You’re on the right track but…” or “I’m glad you said that because it’s easy to come to that conclusion…” Rather than telling students they are wrong, you are telling them that they haven’t yet gotten to the answer. Perhaps professors can ask, “Can you build on that?” or “Can you give me an example of that?”
  • Before correcting the student, ask the class “have others in the room come to this same answer/conclusion?” If so, then the professor can say,”ok, this is important – I don’t think I explained this correctly.”  This can shift the responsibility to you.  Alternately, if other students came to different answers, they can engage in the process of finding the right answer.
  • Anchor the correction to any part of the answer that might be correct. A management training technique called “feel, felt, found” might be useful here. Basically, the goal is to (1: Feel) acknowledge that many people do “feel” a certain way so that the student does not feel their misconception is some oddity, (2: Felt) acknowledge that many people felt the same way, and (3: Found) then lead the student to “find” the right answer.
  • In general, I try to explore what unacknowledged assumptions we are making so that we can engage with them. In the example of colonialism [above], I might first point out that academics and colonial administrators have argued that colonialism brought sovereignty, infrastructure, and growth to the Global South. But I would then make clear the abuses conducted under colonialism (e.g., case studies in the Belgian Congo).  This sets up a discussion: is “development” in the Western model desirable?  How are different ideas about race constructed?