As a student, I immensely enjoyed class discussions. My favorite class was U.S. History. I went to a small, boarding school in North Carolina so the classes were very small, about 10-15 students. We would be assigned our discussion topic the night before. Our homework was to prepare for the discussion by doing several assigned readings. Although nothing was turned in, and the teacher did not check to make sure we had done the reading, we were graded exclusively on class participation. In addition, all of our statements had to be backed up with evidence from the text. If I did not prepare for the discussion by doing the readings and outlining my thoughts, I would not perform well in the discussion. The discussions were challenging but very engaging and stimulating. I learned a lot from this class. The teacher did a great job of guiding the discussion while giving students ownership over the direction and areas of discussion. I try to model this strategy when leading my own class discussions, encouraging students to participate and use their own individual thoughts and ideas.
Discussion helps students think and remember by engaging students and giving them ownership over the material they are learning. Students love to socialize, and class discussions are a great tool to teach students how to interact with each other, using academic language and metacognitive thought processes, such as explaining ideas using rationale and evidence. Class discussions can create emotional tension when heated issues are discussed, or dissenting opinions are presented. This creates cognitive dissonance, and students are more likely to remember what they’ve learned because an emotional response is elicited.
To use discussion techniques effectively as a learning strategy, the teacher must guide the students in several ways. First, at the beginning of the year, students should be guided in a discussion about what rules are necessary to support a learning class community. The teacher can also make suggestions, such as: respect, only one person speaks at a time, etc. There must also be rules set for the discussion as well, such as how long each student has the floor, who must participate, and what kind of evidence must be used to support ideas and opinions. Using a rubric can also be very helpful to communicate the expectations of each student to be successful in the discussion exercises.
Ways Students Use Discussion to Learn:
· Socializing outside of class
· Team sports
· Organized extracurricular activities (clubs, bands, newspaper, etc.)
· Group activities
· Group labs
· Teacher Call-and-Response
· Guided, Structured Discussions (Controversial issues; prior research and preparation required)
· Brainstorming Activities
· Group/class review games (with justification of answer required)
· Class Reflections/Reviews
· Peer-editing/class critiques