To Discuss or Not to Discuss?

Discussions are unpredictable, time consuming, difficult to record and lack the common teaching styles based on rote and recitation. So what is the point of rocking the boat and introducing such a teaching technique into your classroom?

Benefits for your students:

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The Art of Classroom Discussions

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.

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Lesson Activities Tried and Tested

These activities are designed to encourage all students to participate, challenge their viewpoints and stretch their understanding:

  • Formal debate: (two side, four side, court case) P7071247.JPGCourt Cases can be memorable, challenging and engaging for all. Each student has their own role:judge, jury members who scribe the debate,  defence lawyers, prosecutors, criminals. Each student/ team are allocated time to prepare their points, each team then presents their points with an opportunity for opposing teams to question and raise issues. The judge decides the fate.
  • Movie make/ pictures/ film clip: students write down everything they can remember, all students contributes one point

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Proof of Progress

Once your classroom discussion is up and running (see earlier posts: Let’s Talk and Facilitating a Discussion) what is shared between your students must be captured. The unfolding views, thoughts and insightful ideas need to be carefully developed, monitored and …recorded!

The key theme for Ofsted, Educational Researchers and lesson observers is proof of student progress. This is more difficult to verify within a discussion. With a usual classroom task students show evidence of learning through Q/A, completion of worksheets or writing an assessment answer – with a discussion this takes on a whole new art form. How do you assess a unique piece of work to see if learning and progress has taken place? Yes you can set an essay after the discussion to assess learning but the beauty of that discussion has finished – those remarks and perceptive comments may now been lost.

So here are a few of my tips to ensure your discussion has purpose:

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Facilitating a Discussion

Now that you have created the right environment for a discussion and you have planned a set of questions that will encourage student talk tumbleweed.jpg(see post- Dialogic Learning: Let’s Talk) the next important step is how to facilitate an on-going discussion. Put simply: How to avoid the tumble weed where no student speaks!

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Let’s Talk

How many times during a teaching day do you say to students: “Stop talking?”Are you tired of student chatter that distracts rather than encourages learning? Discussions in the classroom can be a powerful teaching technique that channels both the students’ need to talk with the desire of the teacher to stretch and challenge learning.

Facilitating a discussion in the classroom can be difficult. Asking a number of students their opinion on a topic area is not a discussion but a transmission of views through talk. Instead there are a few key pointers that distinguish a developing discussion from other types of talk:

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