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Educators talk about leading discussions

“Classroom discussions are a lively and exciting tool for providing social, verbal and cognitive growth for your students. Verbal engagement offers important opportunities for the learner to gain a deeper understanding of self through social interactions, and gain deeper insight and knowledge by communicating with more knowledgeable others. (Vygotsky, 1978)   Peers, having their own perspectives and experiences, contribute as more knowledgeable partners during dialogues and help each other achieve more through their interactions and contributions to discussions than anyone could achieve alone. There are a few things to remember to make discussions a successful experience for you and your students.

Start by setting up "rules of engagement” with the class that set the norms for respectful dialogue. Then spend time modeling what a good discussion looks like by role playing and viewing videos of successful small/large group discussions.

Remove yourself from center stage.  Teachers should be the “guide on the side” for discussions, not the one delivering a monologue and directing all the action. Drop back over time to let the students have more responsibility as facilitators, questioners and interpreters of the dialogue. The teacher should scaffold the experience and assist when students get stuck or stray off topic but should not be the one providing all the questions and framing the whole dialogue.

Teach your students about thick and thin questions.  Thin questions are weak and have only one right answer. Thick questions are open-ended and elicit many and varied responses. They are the key to engaging discussions.

Expose your students to Bloom’s Taxonomy and question stems for each level. Explicit instruction about these levels of thinking will provide the tools students need to ask questions that provoke higher cognitive engagement and will help them understand how to exercise their own brains.

Discussion times are delightful opportunities to get to know your students on a more intimate level as the dialogues offer insight into experiences they have had, the knowledge or misconceptions they bring to the table and their attitudes about life and learning. It’s a time when your anecdotal notebook should be at your fingertips so that you can make notes about future topics that come up or explicit instruction that may be needed to clear up misconceptions.  Just don’t get so busy making notes that you lose the context.

Have fun. After you carefully and purposefully set up the framework for successful discussions, enjoy the excitement and engagement that your students display when they are given opportunities for meaningful dialogue with their peers.”

--Dawn Vanzee – Elementary Talent Development