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Think-Pair-Share
(TPS)

Use Active Learning to Create a more

Engaging and Interactive Learning Experience

Want to Make Your Lectures More Interactive/Engaging?

This active-learning strategy can create more interaction/engagement between other students and the instructor. It is designed to give all students in your classroom an opportunity to think about and discuss problems, scenarios, and solutions.

Introduction to Think-Pair-Share:
Think-Pair-Share is an active learning strategy designed to increase interaction and engagement in the classroom. It involves students thinking individually, discussing in pairs, and then sharing with the class. This method is particularly effective for Problem-Based Learning (PBL) activities.

The Process:

  1. Think: Students reflect individually on a question, jotting down their thoughts.

  2. Pair: Students discuss their responses in small groups, with a focus on diversity and inclusivity in group formation.

  3. Share: Groups share their insights with the class. However, new insights question the effectiveness of this stage under certain conditions.

 

Challenges with the Share Stage:

  • Inequity in Voice Representation: Dominant voices may overshadow others, leading to biased perceptions of group discussions.

  • Classroom Anxiety: Randomly calling on students can increase stress, potentially hindering their focus and participation.

  • Public Speaking Apprehension: TPS may not sufficiently develop public speaking skills or reduce students' fear of speaking.

 

Innovative Alternatives to Enhance TPS:

  1. Modifying the Share: Explore consent-based sharing, local sharing in larger groups, or a round-robin approach for equal participation.

  2. Real-Time Synthesis: Use techniques like ARS polling, instructor observations, or highlighting specific student contributions.

  3. Asynchronous Synthesis: Implement index cards or electronic posts for after-class review, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of student perspectives.

  4. Eliminating the Share: Consider removing this stage entirely for a more student-centered approach, focusing on pair discussions.

Merits and Drawbacks

It is clear to see the potential benefits of the TPS strategy in terms of increasing student engagement, learning, complexity of thinking/responses, and willingness to share their ideas with others. Pairing/sharing provides opportunities for learners to recall, process, practice, and communicate in low-stakes environments. There is a plethora of research showing potential benefits of TPS across multiple domains of learning. 

However, new research calls into question the efficacy of the SHARE portion of TPS under various scenarios. 

Reconsider the SHARE Portion of TPS

While at face-value, having students share their ideas from group discussion seems like an effective way to conduct active learning, receive feedback about group work, and assess ideas from students. But this may not always be the case. ​

Here are some problems with TPS worth noting

While there are rich discussions in the small groups those may not make their way back to to the instructor/rest of class when shared. For example, whole class discussions may not capture high-quality comments made by women in the discussion when men dominate the sharing. It is perceivable that systematic exclusion of high quality ideas among other groups of students during the SHARE portion may occur. You definitely don’t want to filter out certain voices/exclude certain students. 

Accordingly, whole-group shares my promote biased view of the nature of the group discussion and be unrepresentative of student thinking of that group on that topic. As a result, this could promote classroom inequities and also be misleading for instructors regarding the knowledge gained from the activities and next steps for subsequent activities/discussion. In other words, there's a chance that this portion of TPS be not be effective for gaining accurate insights into student thinking across the class

Also, it can be the most confident students talking/sharing during TPS. You can randomly call on students but are you precipitating new forms in inequity in the classroom when trying to diversify who is speaking by randomly calling out students? Students who experience fear of being judged by others/talking report they can struggle to think through complex problems in class. When they are worried about being called on, they are preoccupied, spending their mental energy on their fear instead of focusing on the material. Which means they could learn less when being called on randomly. In other words, while randomly calling on students can eliminate equities associated with voices hear, it may actual create inequities in the experiences of students during the share portion. 

Another concern is that some instructors may think that call on students in the class is good public speaking practice for them and that it will improve those skills.  But it is unlikely that TPS provides enough opportunities/training to improve their speaking and to actually reduce their fear/apprehensions. It is possible that random calling may not be perceived as a positive experience and you don't want students to associate your teaching activities with fear/as negative. It could decrease sharing by students in future activities. Random calling may increase fear and cause better preparation but is this the best way to encourage preparation? It's clear there may be better approaches. 

All of the above can occur in large or small classroom settings. 

Solutions/Modifications for TPS Sharing

TPS is still a great method for active learning and can be modified in many ways to make it more efficacious/equitable and comfortable for students.

 

Below I list four descriptions and benefits of alternatives to the SHARE portion of TPS: 1) modifications to the share, 2) real-time instructor synthesis of student ideas, 3) asynchronous synthesis of student ideas, and 4) the possibility of eliminating the share entirely.

Modifying the Share

This modification outlines three alternatives to the share portion: 1) consent to share; 2) local sharing; and 3) a go-around.

1. Consent to share means explicitly getting student consent to make students more willing/comfortable participating. It gives them agency/choice and indicates you as an instructor respects student autonomy. Consent to share may be more equitable than hearing from volunteers, because it does not require the student to take initiative to share. This alleviates anxiety about being judged and gives students time to prepare.

2. Local share gives students opportunities to exchange ideas beyond their pairs but is not opened to the entire class. This allows students to articulate their responses in front of a slightly larger audience but not the entire class. 

3. Go-around strategy allows every student to contribute to an idea/class discussion. It is bested designed where there is not one right answer but a variety of possible answers. For example, an open-ended question. Every student is heard and there is no right or wrong answer which may reduce anxiety. 

Real-Time Synthesis of Student Ideas

This modification outlines three alternatives to the share portion: 1) classroom polling; 2) listening in; and 3) assigning competence.

1. Classroom polling via an Audience Response System (ARS), as you know, is one of my preferred methods of creating student engagement/interaction. In reference to TPS, instead of a handful of students being called on/dominating the speaking, you create an opportunity for all students to respond anonymously. As I mention in my other article on ARS, CrowdPurr is currently my favorite ARS. 

2. Listening in is simple but effective. As an instructor, you can walk around the room and listen to the small group discussions to get a real-time synthesis of student ideas without the need to share. This can allow you to gather evidence on student thinking to guide more class/lecture discussion. 

 

3. Assigning competence means that as an instructor you can strategically bring attention to the contributions of specific students. You can make a public statement that specifically recognizes the intellectual contribute a student has made to the task/activity. By acknowledging the student's contribution, you can change that student's expectations for competence and at the same time raise the class's expectations for that student.

 

Asynchronous Synthesis of Student Ideas

This modification outlines two alternatives to the share portion: 1) index cards; and 2) electronic posts.

1. Index cards can be used by students to write down ideas/answers following the pair discussion and after the class you can can review the cards to assess dimensions of student learning objectives. The cards can be used as assessments, with options to revise. You can also look for emergent themes to discuss during the next class period. This approach honors all voices and their thoughts, opinions, and answers. 

2. Electronic posts can take the shape of allowing students to post their ideas after the the pair part of the session on a discussion board, survey instrument, or shared document. Such online approaches can exhibit greater equity across learner differences and provide students with a greater sense of comfortable.

3. Eliminating the Share

Finally, you can eliminate the share portion of TPS all together if you think it will create a more equitable learning environment. This could be more student-centered because the instructor gives up control of picking who to share, leaving students more time to talk to one another. 

TPS Video Resources

Below I provide some videos on the TPS strategy. You'll notice that all of these videos are geared toward STEM. I will be looking for others to create similar videos sharing their approaches, techniques, and challenges for social sciences courses to better align with the goal of this site. Or perhaps I will make some my self. If you are interested in producing a video for this site please let me know!

TPS from MIT Science and Engineering

TPS from Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

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