Counting to Seven12 Jun 2023 Posted in:
When working with students on DH pedagogy, one common question I get is how to run a classroom discussion. After all, some disciplines rely more on lecture-based approaches to instruction than conversation. Running a discussion can feel totally new for students unfamiliar to the format, especially so if the topic is DH-related. I wanted to share a short little trick you can use to ease into the format across topics and methods, including in DH.
A lot of the anxiety new instructors feel about running discussions comes back to silence. Dead air can be terrifying–the exact moment when imposter syndrome will flare up. When you ask a question and no one responds the instinct might be to answer it yourself. But this loop can create a space in which one gestures towards a discussion without actually giving the students space to speak up. Instead of back and forth, you produce what is essentially a lecture with performative discussion elements. Sometimes you do need to jump in. But often students actually need space to think–the silence in the room can be productive, and it rarely feels as threatening to the students as to the new instructor. The trick is to learn how to sit with the silence, to pause thoughtfully. I work through silences using a tactic that I’ve heard framed in different ways by a number of people, but I associate it most with Sophia Gu, a former colleague of mine in the UVA English Department. The tactic involves a pretty simple loop that you put into play whenever you ask a question in the classroom. You count to seven.
- Ask a question to prompt discussion.
- If you get a response, great! Move on.
- If you get no response, count slowly to seven. Take a drink of water, stare at the ceiling, or otherwise busy yourself. Think about birds.
- If you still get no response, reframe or clarify the question.
- Count to seven again.
- If you get to seven and still get no response you answer the question yourself.
I find that the simple fact of having a plan for the silence makes it much more manageable. It gives students the space to ask questions and gives your classroom the chance to have a real discussion.