Classroom Discussion - Sparking Learner Curiosity #3

Michelle Lucas has great ideas about Sparking Student Curiosity This blog entry continues my exploration of the ideas she poses in her article above. Read her article for more context.
Below, you'll find my connections to the activities she mentions. Feel free to leave a comment to share your insights.
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLiR0OAyjfM


Activity #3: Discussion

In Sparking Student Curiosity, Michelle Lucas shares about the power of discussion. She likens it to sharing. At first, I thought she meant sharing with the world or audience beyond classroom walls. She meant this:
We know the power of learning alongside and from others. This includes working collaboratively to solve problems and listening to the viewpoints of others. A strategy I love involves a roundtable discussion where students write a summary of what each person at the table shared before they can write a collaborative summary. This also allows for assessment of how the students have been able to incorporate the views of others.
She sees it then as:
  • Working side by side to solve problems
  • Listening to viewpoints of others
  • Engaging students and have them:
    1. Participate in a Roundtable discussions 
    2. Write a summary of what each person at the table shared
    3. Work together to craft a collaborative summary
This is quite critical for classroom discussions, as I've shared in this blog before.

Hattie's Take on Discussion

I was curios about John Hattie's take on classroom discussion. So, I looked up Corwin's Visible Learning MetaX info on it:
A form of instruction in which students are invited to speak about the topic at hand. It involves much more than a teacher asking a class a question, then another, etc., but involves students discussing with each other, often prompted from an open and not closed set of questions.
Classroom discussion has an effect size of .82, which is significant.

Why Does It Matter?

It may seem obvious that classroom discussion is important. I didn't appreciate how MUCH it matters, and so please allow me to share some stats. These come from the 2007 administration of the NAEP as cited in the meta-analysis Hattie lists:
  • 25% of fourth graders were “able to demonstrate a strong understanding of the text . . . to extend the ideas in the text by:
    • making inferences, 
    • drawing conclusions, and 
    • making connections to their own experiences,”
  • ** 8%** were able to “judge texts critically . . . and
    • explain their judgments . . . 
    • make generalizations about the point of a story and 
    • extend its meaning by integrating personal experiences and other readings”
  • At the eighth grade...
    • the percentage of students performing at the Proficient level was only 27%, and 
    • the percentage of students performing at the Advanced level was a mere 2% (Lee et al., 2007). S 
Classroom discussion serves as a way for students to transfer knowledge. As McTighe and Wiggins (2011) pointed out:
The ability to transfer is arguably the long-term aim of all education. You truly understand and excel when you can take what you have learned in one way or context and use it in another, on your own.
Reading across documents to conceptually organize (d=.85), formal discussion including debates and Socratic Seminars (d=.82), Problem-solving teaching (d=.61) and extended writing (d=.43) are some of the ways to achieve that.

Exploring Discussion

Mike Schmoker says authentic literacy is essential to transforming schools (ASCD, September, 2019). One of the components includes discussion. A short paraphrase of what Schmoker writes appears below:
Discussion: All text-based learning should feature focused talk. Think-Pair-Share, class discussions and debates define focused talk. All teachers should be able to instruct students in how to speak in clear, logical and civil ways.
When I teach students, it's clear that they aren't learning these. These are essential communication skill. They rank at the top of what employers want (Gewertz, 2018).
How do you deepen classroom discussion? Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy), whose blog finds me a frequent visitor, has some ideas. Jennifer points out that when teachers say, "We will discuss" it means "I will talk, you will listen."
She has a strange name for this type of class participation. That is, teacher discussion punctuated wih extroverted student talk is "the fisheye syndrome." She points out that discussion is a great form of formative assessment. Jennifer says it is the simplest, quickest and most effective of assessment.
By asking our students good questions, we can determine what they know and how well they know it in seconds.
To me, this is what Schmoker refers to. Mastering this type of discussion, or formative assessment, is what Gonzalez refers to.
Jennifer includes an amazing list of classroom discussion strategies divided up into three areas. Check them out!

My Top Three Picks

Here are my top three picks from Jennifer's list that I'd like to try in my own workshops:
  1. Socratic Seminar: This one classroom discussion strategy is mentioned by name in Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey's presentation on Visible Learning for Literacy. My first exposure to this was through AVID. That said, I have seldom practiced it and plan to do more in my own sessions.
  2. Pinwheel Discussion: This is a fascinating approach, dividing class into groups. Three groups focus on content, while a fourth group focuses on keeping the group talking and working through ideas. Each speaker for each group introduces new questions. Speakers switch periodically armed with new question. Watch video example | Learn more
  3. Conver-Stations: Watch video example

Final Reflections

I like the Conver-Stations approach since it reminds me of what Michelle Lucas' idea for having students write a summary.


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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