“We cannot have it both ways: quality of thinking and speed are anathema to each other. In conducting effective classroom discussions in which we ask students to offer their ideas, waiting for students to think must trump the rush to finish.”

In her article, “Effective Classroom Discussions,” Selma Wassermann identifies a key conflict in the classroom: the race against the clock to cover curriculum versus to desire to give students a voice in class discussions.  She accurately depicts the frustration, impatience and fear that many teachers face when attempting to incorporate dynamic discussions into their classrooms.

Up until last year, I would have wholeheartedly agreed with her assessment. I still believe she is correct that teachers cannot accomplish everything we would like in a class period- even on a block schedule. Covering content is daunting enough, but providing the time necessary to indulge in the quality conversations that make learning truly engaging is almost impossible. There are a variety of factors that impact a teacher’s ability to facilitate all inclusive discussions in the classroom, ranging from shy students to lack of time to the challenge of articulating thoughts quickly.

So, the question is…  How can a teacher do it all? My answer is blended learning.

Use an online discussion tool to compliment your classes and provide the best of both worlds.  The Blended Learning model is one I have adopted in the last year, and I have never before seen my students so engaged, energized and interested.

Why does this work? It frees teachers from the endless cycle of creating, copying and grading worksheets that have limited potential to inspire and allows students TIME to process, think and respond. Instead of assigning a traditional worksheet with 10-15 reading comprehension questions to ensure students are actually reading, I post two dynamic questions online each night. These questions have many possible answers, require analysis of content and the creation of unique ideas. Students are more invested because they are given the chance to have a voice in the class dialogue.

Blended Learning

How does this translate into richer classroom experience? I have more time to cover content in class, then I pose questions for homework on Collaborize Classroom–  structured online discussion tool (free for teachers!). This does not, however, mean that we do not have in class discussions. In fact the online discussions have made my in-class discussions more inclusive, engaging, and dynamic. Because students have been given a question to discuss online, they have had the time to articulate a response, bounce ideas around with their peers, ask questions, make connections, etc. Then when we revisit these discussions in the classroom, students have a plethora of ideas to share. They are no longer scared to speak out because they have a confidence born from their online discussions and the validation of their peers. They have already presented ideas and read other perspectives on a topic. Many students directly reference their peers’ ideas during in class discussions. They discuss comments that impressed and surprised them as well as those postings which caused them to reconsider their own view points.

So, how does a teacher ensure that quality online discussions translate into dynamic in-class conversations? Weaving. The last piece of this blended learning model is the most important- weaving.

I continually weave those online conversations back into the classroom.  This is one reason I chose Collaborize Classroom because it has varied question types (yes/no, multiple choice, vote and suggest, and forum) which allow me to add structure to the discussion questions/topics I post. It also has a “publish to results” option that takes the outcomes of a conversation and creates a colorful pie chart to show the breakdown of ideas, choices, view points. This makes it easy for me to draw that tangible outcome/information back into the class for follow up discussions, activities, debates, etc.

My Favorite Quotes from Wassermann’s Article:

  • “So much to be done! So little time!  The pressure on teachers to get everything done by the end of the school day is formidable. That race with the clock often forces teachers to speed up lessons and makes them lose patience with students who need more time to say what’s on their minds.”
  • “But a commitment to listen, attend, and apprehend means that nothing gets in the way of complete and full concentration on what the student is trying to communicate. When teachers make this commitment, it gives them the information they need to formulate an appropriate response that will promote interactive dialogue. It also creates a climate of respect for students, making it safe for all to offer their ideas.”
  • “Some students have great ideas, but they experience difficulty expressing those ideas clearly.”

Read Wassermann’s article on Effective Classroom Discussions and Blended Learning.

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