Use Effective Facilitation Strategies

Effective facilitation requires a set of skills that can take time to develop and refine and can have a substantial effect on the quality of conversation among your students. It’s possible to learn these skills, and we suggest starting with the following approaches.

  • Plan to slow down the conversation, an inclusive teaching strategy we know supports student learning more broadly. For example, provide quiet time after a question for students to brainstorm responses in their notes, or allow students time to discuss a prompt with a partner first.
  • Manage time effectively and redirect the conversation to course materials and goals as needed. Sometimes, a new conversation develops that is surprising and productive. Make space for it if you can. Sometimes, the conversation gets off-topic or too focused on one student. Use the language you’ve prepared to open, maintain, redirect, or close a conversation (see “Navigating Difficult Moments” from the Harvard University Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning).
  • Make space for all students to contribute, not just verbally. You might pause to ask whether students who haven’t contributed yet would like to share. You could also ask students to summarize the conversation and add a reaction, question, or idea, in writing, or using a collective writing or annotation tool.
  • Note and attend to your own emotional responses as the conversation proceeds. You may need to pause to make space for your own reactions to students’ comments, shift the conversation, or give students quiet time to reflect while you consider next steps. 
  • If feedback would help you develop your skills, consider asking for it, anonymous or not. This could be as simple as a two-question survey asking students what their key take-away was and one thing about which they still have a question. You might also consider using a Critical Incident Questionnaire as an evidence-based tool for eliciting feedback. In any case, be sure to share back (briefly) with students what you heard in their feedback, along with any changes you might make in future conversations.