4 Goals for Classroom Discussion

This is the first post in my classroom discussion series, and the number of the day is four. I thought it would be helpful to chat briefly about four big picture goals of classroom discussion, four guidelines for creating discussion magic, as well as four characteristics of a successful discussion.High school students engaging in classroom discussion

Let’s get started!

First off, let’s zoom waaaaaay out to see the big picture. If you think about it, the act of discussion is pretty cool! When we discuss, our lives intersect with different individuals, each with a unique combination of age, gender, culture, education, geographic location, family life, personal values and beliefs, life experience, ideas, etc.  In true discussion, it’s not about me; it’s about the people I’m interacting with today and how I can understand myself and others better.

Four big picture goals for classroom discussion:

  1. Acknowledge and understand the past and look toward the future.
  2. Understanding that we make meaning together and not in isolation.
  3. Appreciate diversity.
  4. Be human.

Four guidelines for creating discussion magic:

  1. Clear norms and expectations
    • These should be separate from, but complimentary to your classroom norms and rules.
    • Keep the list short and specific (4-5 items) and post it clearly for everyone to see.  If you want to swipe mine, here they are (ABC’s for Discussion):  Add value, Be kind, Cultivate curiosity, Dig deep, Examine the Text
    • Click here to download the ABC’s of Discussion classroom poster!  
    • Model these, show examples if possible, and practice, practice, practice with feedback.
  2. Framed and focused
    • What are the goals for the discussion?  What skills will students need to demonstrate or practice?
    • It is helpful if you begin with a “frame” for discussion, something that will inspire thought and conversation.  Don’t overthink this.  It could be as simple as a goal statement and question written on the board, a “critical lens” (literary theory) through which students will critique/analyze, or a “lightning” round robin class summary of a chapter or text, leading into questions about the text.  It could be a film clip, a text that complements or connects to something the students have already read, a story, an image…you get the idea.  This will help you to introduce the discussion so that students are discussing out of a need to make meaning vs. saying what they think you want them to say because you’re giving them a grade.
  3. Student-led
    • It’s great if you are getting students to participate, but even better if they run the show.
    • Set up the room so that students aren’t facing YOU, but instead are facing each other.  Position yourself at the edge of the room, outside the circle or as a part of the circle.
    • Establish a procedure for students to call on each other and make that the expectation.
  4. Rooted in text(s)
    • It’s important to use the texts read in class as a springboard for conversation.  I find that this is a part of modeling, practice, and feedback that happens in the beginning of the year with a group of students. Once they understand what this should look like and sound like, it will become a natural part of their discussion flow.

Four characteristics of a successful discussion:

  1. Students can clearly explain the goal(s) for discussion and why they were having the discussion in the first place.
  2. Students run the discussion, self-monitor, and welcome everyone into the conversation.
  3. All students are active contributors, following the norms set for discussion.
  4. Students arrive at a new understanding of a text, an issue and/or themselves.

Can’t get enough of discussion?  Stay tuned for the next post.  We’re about to dive into some specific discussion strategies.  In the meantime, if you had a magic discussion wand, what would you use it for?

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