Monday, July 6, 2015

How to Build Meaningful Student-Led Discussion

Creepy crawly spiders! Heights! The dark! These are some common top fears to name a few, and if you're anything like me, heck, you're not too fond of any of those three. But do you know what the number one fear is? The one that outweighs all others? Glossophobia. (Cue the eery music) Dun, da, dun! Now before we get all panicked and shriek in horror, what exactly is this dreadful phobia? In layman's terms--the fear of public speaking. Even if you don't personally suffer from glossophobia, you probably have experienced some type of symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, dry mouth, or some type of mild anxiety before speaking in front of others. So how do we get better at communicating in a group setting, and how do we prepare our students, even at a young age, to do this?

Like other academic skills, how to participate in a discussion is something that needs to be taught explicitly.

When I was early in my teaching career, whole class discussion typically consisted of me asking the questions while my students provided the answers. Sure, the questions were good, and by good, I mean the kinds of questions that were open-ended and required critical thinking. But still, I was the one that was doing all the leading. I was doing all the asking. I was doing all the steering. I was the driver if you will.

Now instead imagine a classroom where the students are the ones in the driver's seat. The students are the ones asking the questions AND providing the answers. The students are the ones steering the discussion. Over my years of teaching, I have learned (and am still learning!) to "release control," and recently, I envisioned a classroom where student-led discussion was the norm.

Thus, began my quest of how to make this happen. If I wanted my students to truly lead the discussion in my classroom, then I would need to give them the skills and tools to be able to do this.

This is where gradual release comes into play. Gradual release is the process in which you basically pass the baton slowly from teacher to student as students gain independence with a particular skill or concept. Here's how it works.

1) You teach the skill directly. This involves direct instruction and modeling.
2) You involve students in the process while you still support. This is often referred to as guided instruction. For example, for a math lesson involving the steps of solving a story problem, you now do a few story problems "together."
3) You give students independent practice time with the skill while you provide feedback, both affirming and adjusting (i.e. "I see you drew a picture to help you solve the problem, great job choosing a strategy. Let's double check your addition in the tens place...") .
4) You wrap up the lesson by clearing up misconceptions, going over answers from independent work, and perhaps informally assessing students through say an exit ticket or cold calling with popsicle sticks.

In sum, you go from "me" to "we" to "you." So I thought, why couldn't this process be used for teaching student-led discussion? Using the idea of gradual release, I broke down teaching student-led discussion into the six steps below:
The outline above involves starting in baby steps. First, introduce students to discussion stems. It is best to only start with a few at a time as well as to choose more concrete stems to begin with like, "I have a question..." or "I agree/disagree with..." first. These stems give students the language they need to jump into the discussion both in the format of asking a question as well as replying with a comment or relevant thought. I have designed 16 meaningful discussion stem posters for students to refer to.
The posters come in three different sizes, one perfect for hanging up on your classroom walls, one perfect to put on a ring and use for a small group, and one perfect for students to use as their individual resource.
Second, have students begin with less-academic, more fun topics vs. essential questions that require critical thinking. The goal here is that students can initially focus mostly on their communication skills vs. having to delve into deep thinking. Of course, once students have had ample practice learning the process of student-led discussion, then by all means dive head first into critical thinking guided by your academic units!  For teaching student-led discussion with juicy yet "easy" topics that hook students' interest, I created 20 discussion starters to use.
Third, give students time to write down their thinking and plan out what they are going to say about the topic rather than making them think and speak on the spot. I created some planning templates that can be used for any topic or essential question so that they can be used for meaty academic topics too. (P.S. They are editable so that I can type in my topic or essential question and make as many copies as I need!! Whoopee!!)
Fourth, set clear expectations before you start the student-led discussion such as what respectful listening looks like. Teach, model, and have students model these expectations so that you are setting students up for success.
Fifth, give students a goal as to how many times to speak and over time, increase it. For example, for the very first practice, you might say something like, "Today, everyone needs to speak at least one time. You may participate by asking a question, making a comment, or responding to someone else's comment. If you want to participate more than one time in the discussion, you may." Here's a rubric that can help students self-monitor and self-evaluate their communication skills.
Sixth, the very first time students practice student-led discussion, participate as the teacher as needed, calling on students who may need some encouragement. Over time, you will participate less and less until not at all! I made some recording sheets as an assessment tool to give students feedback, celebrate sutdents' successes, and support students in making growth in their communication skills. They come in different forms where I can record specific discussion stems students used or just in general whether students asked a question or made a comment. I also made them different sizes--one for whole class, one for small group. (PPS These are editable too so that student names can be typed directly on the sheet!)
The key to this whole process is baby steps. You want students to feel safe, encouraged, and confident, and the way to do this is to give students the tools they need up front and then release them slowly towards independence.

To see this "How to Teach Meaningful Student-Led Discussion Pack" in detail, click on the image below!
With the resources in this pack, your students certainly will not suffer from glossophobia as you create a safe and welcoming environment where students lead the discussion as your norm. Now as calming other fears like spiders... Good luck! :)
 photo Slide1_zpsig73du7d.png

No comments:

Post a Comment