How To Use Recitation/Discussion Sections

Many college course have meetings of recitation or discussion sections in addition to the course lectures which are sometimes run by the professor, sometimes by teaching assistants. What goes on in the recitation is usually supposed to be different than the kind of thing that happens in the lecture; the small size of each recitation group, relative to the course’s whole enrollment, allows for different pedagogical strategies. 

How do you make use of the recitation? What do you or your TAs do with the students? What do you do to encourage quality participation from a variety of students?

There is some possibly helpful information online. One study based on a physics lesson found that “the most effective teaching method was for students working in cooperative learning groups with the instructors questioning the groups using Socratic dialogue.” A longtime MIT math professor has written a small book, available online, for free, on how to teach recitations (I’ve read just the first chapter so far but it looks pretty good, and makes use of student feedback like “Listening to the instructor was like listening to the hum of bees buzzing in a meadow out in Missouri.”)

However, there does not seem to be much in the way of tips specifically for philosophy courses, so if you have some relevant ideas, please share them.

(Thanks to Jeff Sebo for suggesting the question.)

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