One of the most used strategies in my class has been the application of discussions with my students. Discussions have brought a deeper understanding of content as students show evidence to back up their ideas.
When using discussions it is not just talking with students to hear what they have to say. Discussions become a way for students to form ideas while they listen to other students’ ideas. It is asking questions about what others are saying, having them agree or disagree, and then explaining their reasoning. Discussions can be used in every subject. Language is the obvious choice for discussions because of the comprehension component. Math is a great subject for discussion to help students show evidence of their process or answer. Science and Social Studies are other subjects that lend themselves to discussions.
As we discuss each topic the students write a sentence or two about the subject we are talking about before the class discussion. Writing gives each student a moment to form an idea and think about what they have learned. As we discuss everyone’s ideas, they write another sentence to add to what they learned.
Discussions have brought a deeper understanding of content as students show evidence to back up their ideas.
I first read about using discussions in class in “Ready, Set, SCIENCE!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms” from the National Research Council. I started using discussions and found it to be very difficult. It was harder for me than it was for the students. I found myself leading them to the answer I wanted. I also found myself telling them they were right when one student said the correct answer. Once I did either of those two things, students stopped discussing the topic. This became more of looking for the correct answer and not discussing the topic. When I did not tell students they were correct, they kept discussing different aspects of the topic.
Through making students show evidence for their answers and thoughts, they became better at finding information that would help them answer the questions. This helped in every subject. The hardest subject to use discussions was math. It was a difficult change to have students show evidence and have other students agree or disagree with their evidence. I was so used to giving a correct answer and moving on.
There are a few suggestions I have for adding discussions into the classroom.
- Do not tell students they are correct. Make them show their evidence for their answer.
- Have other students agree or disagree with the answer. Teach them to not make it personal. The disagreement should be about the problem or answer not about the student.
- The teacher should lead the discussion but not lead the students to the answer. Let the students discuss how they came up with the answer and why they think it is correct.
- Make the student clarify their thoughts. Do this by repeating what the student is saying and do not interpret what you think the student is saying.
Discussions help students show evidence about their learning. It also helps listening to others tell their ideas so they can add to their learning. I asked my class whether they would like to review language individually or through discussion. Each time they requested the discussion so they could hear other students’ ideas.
It can take a while to get comfortable with using discussions in the classroom. It now takes up a good part of my lessons as we investigate concepts and go deeper with ideas. As I work with each student I see deeper learning as we test the concepts. Students need more time to understand more fully what they are being taught. Giving them time to listen to opposing points of view gives them more time to formulate their own ideas.
I find myself wondering why students do not always think for themselves and always want to know if their answer is correct. It is because we keep telling them the right answer. They have become trained to look for the right answer. We need to help them formulate the process and show evidence that what they are doing will provide them with the information they need. Discussions help to move them in this direction.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Kalexanderson.