California Educator

August / September 2018

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Page 55 of 71

A T T H E B E G I N N I N G of the year, there's that small core of students who love to offer their opinions, eagerly raising their hands and sharing their often brilliant insights. ere's also that much larger group of students who are perfectly satisfied to sit back and listen to the same four or five students in every discussion. Over the years, I've worked to bring more of my students into the conversation, and doing so has become one of the most important ways I help my students develop essential communication and thinking skills. Discussion vs. debate I begin our pursuit of discussion with… a discussion. e class reflects on and talks about the following questions: "What's the difference between a discussion and a debate? What is the purpose of each?" Students are quick to realize that the goal in a debate is to win an argument, but when it comes to identifying what people in a discussion are trying to do, they struggle a bit. I tell them the goal of a discussion is to understand rather than win, so the tactics are different. When you're seeking to understand another person's ideas, being able to listen Bringing All Students Into Discussions How to foster meaningful class discussions where even reluctant students share their insights By Jori Krulder actively and question in a way that furthers the conversation is more important than focusing only on expressing your own opinion. We establish a simple list of guidelines for e f fe c t iv e di s c u ssi o n s su c h a s " L o o k a t th e speaker," "Wait for the person speaking to com- plete his/her thought before you speak," "Speak one at a time," and spend some time practicing them. I once assumed that students knew how to have a respectful, productive discussion, but it turns out that this is one of the most valuable skills they can learn and practice in school. " F i s h b o w l " i s a technique I've found that works well with my less experienced students. A circle of four chairs is placed within a larger circle. Students take turns moving to the inner circle for a brief, fo cu sed di scu ssion w hi l e the rest of the class watches from the outside circle. e discussion participants then move back to the outer circle to reflect with their peers on what worked well in the discussion and what they'll seek to improve. e power of fishbowl and similar formats comes from that ref lection: Students focus not only on the topics they're discussing but also on how well they and their classmates are practicing discussion techniques that facilitate understanding. Inviting quiet students into the discussion ere are many reasons students don't voluntarily join class discussions — some are introverted, while others may feel discomfort with a particular subject area or have difficulty processing information, for example. Or they may be experiencing problems unrelated to class. However, students are often much more engaged when they have a voice in class, and their contributions benefit everyone. Here are some easy-to-implement ways to give students more opportunities to be a part of the conversation. • Write first, then discuss: One of the reasons some students don't participate in class discussions is the time it takes to process their thoughts. I've found Continued on page 56 Students are often much more engaged when they have a voice in class, and their contributions benefit everyone. 54 Teaching & Learning

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