I took your advice- English Discussion

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Koriemo, Mar 2, 2016.

  1. Koriemo

    Koriemo Comrade

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2014
    Messages:
    346
    Likes Received:
    24

    Mar 2, 2016

    I posted a while back about assigning reading for homework and ensuring that students actually do the reading. I wanted to get away from short quizzes and things like that, and someone (I forget who!) suggested using Harkness discussion. I started doing it with two of my classes, and the results have been amazing!

    We are reading The Great Gatsby. The book is fairly short, and compared to other texts we read, high interest and accessible reading level. Every other chapter we listen to the audio recording as a class, and they independently read the other chapters. The next class period, we have a class discussion over what happened. I rearranged my desks so that the center has a big group of desks making a long line down the middle with rows on the side. It looks like an airplane (group is the body) with three wings (the rows). I made a seating chart. I grade their discussions with a simple key by writing on the seating chart. I draw a line mapping who speaks to whom, and add notes like a star for something insightful, a check for referencing the text, and an X for rude or off topic comments. The students LOVE that they can see how their discussion went that day.

    In one of my classes, it's going pretty well. The students are definitely reading and referencing the text. They have a hard time actually discussing with each other and basically take turns making their point. They are making thoughtful points and referencing the text. But in my other class- WOW. They are learning SO much and really digging into the text.

    Here are some examples of things students did entirely on their own:
    Students analyzed Fitzgerald's use of punctuation to figure out if a comment Gatsby made was intentionally rude or just awake.
    Daisy makes a comment about "pink clouds". Students discussed the imagery of pink clouds, and determined that even though clouds represent something being "stormy", calling the clouds pink makes them think that the clouds stand for imagination/daydreaming, and the "weird" comment represents Daisy's fantasies of Gatsby.
    Students discussed how much of Gatsby's self esteem comes from Daisy's view of him, pointing of several instances in the text (even subtle ones I hadn't noticed!) in which Gatsby seems to need Daisy's approval.
    They discussed how the setting (party at Nick's house vs. Party at Gatsby's house) impacted the way the Daisy and Gatsby interacted.

    Overall, I'm so impressed at their discussions. Students are so excited to see their grade. I usually grade them in 1-2 mintues after the discussion ends and show them after class, but one day I didn't. I had 4 students come to my classroom at the end of the day to see how they did. For reference, last semester, 1/3 of my students either failed or barely passed.

    Anyways, I just wanted to share!
     
    artbrarian and Obadiah like this.
  2.  
  3. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2015
    Messages:
    1,358
    Likes Received:
    843

    Mar 2, 2016

    I'm so glad things are working out for you and your classes as they are! Way to go!

    Yes, this is what students need more of, learning through communication, both written and oral. Current alarming trends in education are diminishing communication in school (and also at home). Communication is the primary means of accessing information and the primary means for the brain to process information.

    Discovery is also an essential method of education. Without it, learners become robotic, memorizing responses for tests and not learning to think for themselves. Afterwards, most of what was supposedly learned is quickly forgotten.

    Rather than walking blindly through life, falling prey to whatever idea makes the most noise, your students are learning to discover, discuss, and decide information. That is true learning!
     
  4. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2010
    Messages:
    1,564
    Likes Received:
    743

    Mar 2, 2016

    Hi, that was me who suggested Harkness, I think :) If I remember correctly, I first heard about it on this forum a couple of years ago, although I may have stumbled across the website elsewhere (empathicteacher.com). I have found this method to work really well, as long as the text is something students can grapple with independently. I have not been using it with Shakespeare since my students need so much help just to decode the words on the page to understand what is going on that I don't think this style of discussion would work for this text. I am so glad to hear it is working for you, too!
     
  5. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2011
    Messages:
    5,770
    Likes Received:
    1,004

    Mar 2, 2016

    Wow! This sounds great. Awesome work! I would love to try this out with my students. I have 3 big tables with 12 students each, and I could have some students working on something independently while I sit with one table at a time and facilitate and monitor discussions.

    I have never had great success with discussions, though I really would like to. How do you teach them how to discuss? When we have a discussion in my class, all I get are blank stares, giggling, and silence.
     
  6. Letsgo

    Letsgo Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Messages:
    72
    Likes Received:
    7

    Mar 2, 2016

    We've had teacher facilitated discussions all year. I would guide them to what questions they should ask, how they should respond, etc. When I transitioned to student centered discussions, I began by taking a small group of the students who were already good at discussing, and had them have a short discussion while everyone else observed.

    For this text, I gave students a list of discussion questions for each chapter. That way they have a starting point. They each have to come to class with 5 things that they could bring to discussion, so they are prepared. I also emphasize that they need to be referencing the text by reading passages out loud if they want to get a good grade.

    One thing that really seemed to click for them is when I told them to stop trying to make sure that they got their points in by talking, but to work as a class to make sure everyone gets 100.

    But I guess I am still learning! I teach 6 classes, and one has a very hard time with discussion, even when I am leading it. They just sit awkwardly in silence.
     
    Obadiah likes this.
  7. LouiseB

    LouiseB Cohort

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2006
    Messages:
    726
    Likes Received:
    78

    Mar 3, 2016

    But look at your success...5 out of 6 are going well!!
     
  8. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2010
    Messages:
    1,564
    Likes Received:
    743

    Mar 3, 2016

    Peregrin, the Harkness method is highly structured and gives all students a role, so even with a class of 30+ students, all are engaged. I used an adaptation of the method for larger classes from this website.

    You do have to teach students discussion skills. I am lucky to teach at a school where the majority of my students come to my class (10th or 12th grade) with good discussion skills, having had prior experience with similar discussion methods. In any case, I begin the year by modeling discussion questions and providing examples of sentence starters and questions for discussion. I would think that at the middle school level, students would need even more scaffolding to feel confident in a student-facilitated discussion, but I believe with good support, they could get there.

    And trust me, even my seniors sometimes giggle and sit in awkward silence! I tell them not to be afraid of the silence. I talk about how as a culture, we tend to be terrified of silence and to want to fill every pause with noise. I tell them that sometimes it's good to allow for a pause, to let everyone think and reflect. I have seen quiet, shy students suddenly blossom when it's OK to not instantly have something to say.

    I think it is awesome that you are wanting to do this in science, BTW!
     
  9. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2011
    Messages:
    5,770
    Likes Received:
    1,004

    Mar 3, 2016

    Thanks! Do you have any resources for scaffolding discussion skills. It's something I have little to no experience with. Any sites or blogs with specific strategies of teaching discussion skills would be great.
     
  10. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2010
    Messages:
    1,564
    Likes Received:
    743

    Mar 3, 2016

    TBH, the Empathic Teacher was the best resource for practical discussion skills that I have found yet. One of her resources is a table-tent/nametag with discussion norms that I went over and modeled. I made a lot of the "modeling discussion norms" up as I went...Just giving examples of what I wanted to see and hear. It's a good question though, and something worth researching to see what we can find!
     
  11. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2011
    Messages:
    5,770
    Likes Received:
    1,004

    Mar 3, 2016

    I've made table tents for discussion, however I rarely saw students using them. I think because I wasn't right there actively monitoring their discussions that they thought it was just chat about social life time. If I do these Harkness discussions, I'll be right there, grading their discussions.

    How might you grade these?
     
  12. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2010
    Messages:
    1,564
    Likes Received:
    743

    Mar 3, 2016

    Empathic Teacher has a great explanation of how she grades the discussions (I'm not her or working for her, I just love her site -- super swear!). I basically follow her advice. I keep track of how many times each student participates on the seating chart. Bonus points for actively drawing out a student who has not participated, or sometimes for accurately using a vocab word or theme. At the end, I give the group an overall grade based on the level of academic discourse. Students who went above and beyond can score higher, and students who didn't participate at all can get fewer points, or zero for zero participation.

    Meanwhile, the outside circle has been filling in their observation sheets, which I grade like I would grade any assignment. I make both the discussion and the observation worth 20 points, so it evens out. I use index cards to assign students randomly to the inner/outer circle. You could use an online randomizer, but I like letting kids take turns shuffling and "cutting" the cards. It adds a nice layer of suspense :)

    The kids either love it or hate it. My admin LOVED it! I love it because it gives students a better reason to read than just to pass a reading check quiz -- they don't want to sit there looking foolish in front of their peers because they didn't read. Some times the discussions are fabulous, and sometimes they are thoroughly underwhelming. I am a firm believer that this has raised the overall level of discussion and academic discourse in my classes.
     
  13. Koriemo

    Koriemo Comrade

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2014
    Messages:
    346
    Likes Received:
    24

    Mar 11, 2016

    Update: I have had SUCH a good experience with using discussion. My students (and not just the ones that always do well) have told me that they feel like they have a reason to do the reading. They like "actually getting to talk" in class. They feel like they've learned things they hadn't mastered with literature before, especially with close reading. One student says she understands why authors use similies. Another student said she believes that every word in a novel is important. Another student said that he actually feels smart in my class (and he is! Just talkative, which comes off as distracted in other environments). My school has small classes (capped at 16), which makes discussion particularly practical. I feel like I'm the type of teacher I want to be. My personal style definitely leads towards coaching... observing and giving targeted feedback. This works very well for writing, but I hadn't found a way to apply it to our literature units as well. This is it!

    I had my formal evaluation, and admin observed this class. They loved it. They are having me teach an inservice on how to use discussion effectively in the classroom. I'm going to record a discussion to show for most of the inservice, and my students are SO honored to be chosen to do this.
     
  14. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2010
    Messages:
    1,564
    Likes Received:
    743

    Mar 11, 2016

    Koriemo, that is AWESOME!!! I am also a true believer, and my classes are capped at 32. Harkness can work in all settings!
     

Share This Page

Members Online Now

Total: 272 (members: 1, guests: 238, robots: 33)
test