Pedagogy: The Exploration and Utility of “Probabilities Pondering”

Emmanuel C. Nwagboso • Jackson State University


This essay originally appeared in the Political Science Educator’s April 2006 edition.


“Probabilities Pondering” is a method of teaching that allows the professor to vigorously probe the students in the classroom through the discussion of assigned materials to ascertain their comprehension, thinking and reasoning abilities. Generally, if applied systematically, Probabilities Pondering stimulates discussion, encourages students to apply their comprehension and reasoning abilities, and improves their writing skills. This approach enables the professor to assess the students’ ability to interpret and apply a key classroom concept. Probabilities Pondering assumes five elements:

This essay is part of the Political Science Educator: Editor’s Reading List

1. Raise the Probabilities Question

The professor raises the probability question on the assumption that the students did not read the material in question or that there is a low likelihood of comprehension. While mentioning the concept or sub-topic of the material, the probability questions allow the students to think beyond and above the content of the materials given to them. For example, in a State and Local Government class, the professor may want to determine how well students understand the concept of federalism. The professor would introduce a current example, such as a recent presidential statement regarding new expectations surrounding federal standards in public education. Students would then be asked to articulate the beneficiaries of federalism in these circumstances.

2. Ponder the Question

Allow the students ample time to ponder the answer to the probabilities question. If after the students have considered the problem and there is no correct answer, go to probe. A series of probing questions or additional examples, connecting to previous classroom material (and course readings) may jog the students’ understanding of the concept. For example, students may be asked to refresh their memories regarding federalism and how it has applied in other circumstances.

gradually elicit the answer to the Probabilities Pondering question. In our example, the professor could provide more details as to how the various players in education are affected by these federal mandates. As students begin to understand, their examples could be solicited.

The professor’s demeanor during the discussion of the Probabilities Pondering problems will depend on the outcome of the students’ debate. Did the students ponder or cogitate on the question, and did they resolve or arrive at the answer? If the student did not arrive at the correct answer, the professor pauses and points out any miscommunications and perhaps, restates the Probabilities Pondering question to the students. Most of the time, after restating the probabilities question and in conjunction with the debates, the student will solve the Probabilities Pondering problem.

3. Dialogue

Allow a short debate on the topic or subject; it is important for students to talk amongst themselves when necessary. Dialogue among the students on the topic helps students use their mental powers to enhance their faculty of reasoning on the issues before them. It has been proven that students think faster when they get together and talk to each other on academic issues. By brainstorming potential answers to the question, students may eliminate incorrect answers on their own and push each other to consider additional possibilities.

4. Ideas/Images

While the classroom debate is going on, the professor introduces more images or examples of the material’s contents for further discussion. The purpose of introducing the new images is to gradually elicit the answer to the Probabilities Pondering question. In our example, the professor could provide more details as to how the various players in education are affected by these federal mandates. As students begin to understand, their examples could be solicited.

The professor’s demeanor during the discussion of the Probabilities Pondering problems will depend on the outcome of the students’ debate. Did the students ponder or cogitate on the question, and did they resolve or arrive at the answer? If the student did not arrive at the correct answer, the professor pauses and points out any miscommunications and perhaps, restates the Probabilities Pondering question to the students. Most of the time, after restating the probabilities question and in conjunction with the debates, the student will solve the Probabilities Pondering problem

5. Testing the Probabilities Pondering

The success of the Probabilities Pondering approach can be tested by utilizing a “Patch Method.” The “Patch Method” reintroduces the question in a different manner to test if the students’ understanding of the key concept can be applied to dramatically different examples. This approach enables the professor, if necessary, to reintroduce the topic or rephrase the Pondering question for further deliberation. The “Patch Method” also allows the students to refresh their memories of the topic, enhances their thinking skills and helps them to arrive at the answer to the Probabilities Pondering question introduced in the initial problem. Students can also engage in this same process in writing, in order to test their communication skills in this realm. Probabilities Pondering is a successful means of developing understanding by the students because it encourages them to read, comprehend, reason and improve their communication skills.


Political Science Educator: Editor’s Reading List presents select PSE articles from the previous 15 years. APSA Educate is please to announce it will feature all future Political Science Educator‘s issues.

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