Classroom Discussions are too Risky: Think again!

There are a number of issues that may prevent you from including a discussion in your lesson. These are common concerns shared at some point by most teachers.

These include:

  1. Loss of control
  2. A student with extreme views or unexpected/inappropriate comments
  3. Dominant speakers will lead
  4. Shy students will not feel confident to speak
  5. Do not have time in lessons as there is too much to cover in the syllabus
  6. Observed lesson marked down
  7. That no student speaks

Here are some of the ways I have found help to deal with such potential issues.

  1. Loss of control: Set ground rules before discussion that are written on the board – visible in classroom. Keep drawing back to these if needed
  2. A student with extreme views or unexpected/inappropriate comments: Establish an open environment but where students must monitor and consider views as not to offend others. If students write down their views first e.g on a post it note you can have a quick class scan to pick out any potential issues. I find a straightforward, firm response of: ‘Not appropriate’ or simply ‘no’ is effective as well.
  3. Dominant speakers will lead: This can be a big issue with discussions. As the discussion facilitator you can ask for different views or other responses. You can also ‘discussion flip’ so dominant speakers raise points for the opposing view to their own (see post – Dialogic Learning: Lesson Activities Tried and Tested)
  4. Shy students will not feel confident to speak: By trying different activities to encourage views or allowing students to write views before and during discussions often helps to prompt responses (see post- Dialogic Learning: Proof of Progress).
  5. Do not have time in lessons as there is too much to cover in the syllabus: Discussions are memorable and an effective way of learning that will assess, evaluate and reinforce learning.
  6. Observed lesson marked down: Three things to ensure your discussion is recognised as outstanding practice in an observation: all students are engaged, all students contribute (this does not have to be verbal but can be seen in the written notes made during a discussion) and the findings are recorded – proof of progress. For further support or advice on these see earlier posts on Dialogic Learning including: Proof of Progress and LeArctic_Ice_2sson Activities Tried and Tested.
  7. That no student speaks: If you give students time to think (on own, pairs, small groups) and also plenty of ‘wait time’ for responses – a student will break the ice.

Discussions are an art form. They are predominately out of your control, you cannot predict how successful they will be and they take time to establish the open environment necessary for them to work. You will need to have multiple discussion activities with your students before they start to flow easily and productively. Once this happens they are a valuable learning experience for your class.


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