Discussions are a powerful tool for making meaning
Engaging in academic discourse allows students to test their ideas, ask questions, make connections, and learn from their peers. Not only is discussion critical to developing a deep understanding of complex concepts, issues, processes, and phenomena, it builds community among members of a class.
Depite the potential that discussion has to deepen learning, teachers may feel frustrated by the time required to facilitate meaningful whole group discussions and the inequitable contributions by different members of the class. A handful of outspoken students may dominate the conversation while the rest of the class remains quiet, refusing to participate. Ironically, the person who actually dominates whole group, teacher-led discussion is the teacher because we feel pressure to respond to each student’s contribution, either complimenting a strong point they made or gently correcting an error or misconception.
Barriers That Prevent Participation
There are a host of reasons students may not contribute in a whole group, rapid-fire, real-time discussion. Some students may need more time to process the questions before they are ready to respond. Others may be shy or struggling with anxiety and uncomfortable sharing their ideas. In addition to these barriers, some students may not have the necessary academic vocabulary, language proficiency, or the background knowledge to understand the questions.
Instead of continuing to use a discussion strategy that fails to engage the majority of students and requires that teachers do the heavy cognitive lift of digging into ideas, making connections, and asking follow up question, it’s time to shift to a student-led approach!
Shifting to Student-led Small Group Discussions
In The Shift to Student-led, Dr. Katie Novak and I unpack ten teacher-led, time-consuming, and often frustratingly ineffective workflows and reimagine them to allow students to lead the learning. Workflow shift #2 focuses on moving from teacher-led whole group discussions to student-led small group discussions. The chapter establishes the challenges of teacher-led discussion, dives into research about discussion, and presents multiple strategies teachers can use to position students to drive their own small group discussions. The goal is to give students more opportunities to learn with and from each other!