A number of my recent classes have been based, in some part, on class discussions. In terms of engagement, there are some clear benefits to this approach. However, there are a number of negative factors that become clear over time.
When a teacher asks a question to the class, there are more things that could go wrong than right. First, some students will misinterpret or misunderstand the question. Second, from among the students who were able to understand the question, some will have answers that are incorrect. If you consider that most teachers want to ensure they hear from all students, this is a sure plan to get lots of wrong and unrelated answers.
Some might disagree, but I find these bad answers annoying. It’s discouraging when the teacher teacher tells you that you’re wrong, regardless of how much tact they use. It is time consuming when a teacher turns down several qualified answers while they are waiting for their desired answer which will segway to the next question. The point of class is for the teacher to share knowledge with the students. To have students try to guess it piece by piece is horribly inefficient.
The root issue is that a true discussion is between peers, where neither party is authoritative. Each side contributes, and the combination of ideas may bring new insight. In a classroom setting, the teacher is considered authoritative. Each side may contribute, but the teacher nixes ideas he disagrees with. This uneven situation wastes time and discourages many students. Isn’t there a better way to increase engagement?