Classroom Discussion and Debate
Chapter 10 of Larson and Kieper goes over instructional strategies dealing with classroom discussion and debate. The authors present 7 different types of discussion and analyze the positives and negatives for those discussion types. These were Taking a Stand, Issues Continuum, Future’s Wheel, Fishbowl Discussions, Structured Academic Controversy, Electronic Threaded Discussion, and Structured Debate. While I have heard of or worked with most of these types of discussion techniques, I did learn about some new ones, which was cool.
One of the types of discussion that I was not familiar with is future’s wheel, which is when students think through implications of potential outcomes and think about the future and implications of decisions of future decisions. The way to present this would be to create a “wheel” with the ideas being discussed and extend the wheels to future ideas. I like this strategy because it not only helps students look to the impacts of decisions but also gets them thinking about the importance of social studies and how it shapes our everyday lives.
Another type that I was not familiar with is the electronic threaded discussion, which is when students “talk” to each other electronically via a computer. It is sort of in the form of a forum and students’ comments are called posts. The positives that I see with this kind of discussion is that it can be ongoing and students can continue to post as the class progresses, rather than all in one period. The other cool thing is that students can discuss a current event or issue that is forming and update based on new findings. However, I think this type of activity would be logistically challenging because of the technological aspect. Many school systems, such as the one I am currently placed in, does not have access to computers for students and many of the students don’t have computers at home. This may pose a problem. There’s also the issue of the quality of posts, especially when more reading and analyzing is needed towards the end of the thread.
Overall, I think the ideas are useful and could really work in a middle school or high school environment. I also liked how the authors distinguished between real discussion and “discussion” being used as a label for any teacher-student interaction. Many teachers just put up “discussion” on the board as an objective point, but really they are going over material the students read in their textbooks and doing most of the talking. I have seen this some in my field experience and never really thought about it until now. I think it’s very important that discussion involves student feedback and student thought as the basis for talking.
Another aspect that the authors presented well was logistical concerns, which are extremely important whenever the students are put in charge of their own learning. Larson and Kieper discuss forming questions correctly and avoiding closed-ended questions. I think the way that you form questions makes a large impact on what the students take away as the main point of the lesson, especially if a teacher falsely guides students to think a certain way. I have struggled with forming open questions when I’m creating my own lessons, trying not to convince the students to think exactly how I’m thinking.
A logistical aspect that I really liked was the self-assessment checklist. Since discussion is fairly hard to grade objectively, it would help to have students reflect on how they did. The checklist could also be given to students before discussion so that they know exactly what they will be expected to do and can participate accordingly. Overall, I think that if classroom discussions are left to the students and handled in a proper manner they can be extremely educationally valuable.