If you are like the faculty at Dublin School you believe that verbally communicating an opinion, answering or asking a question, or offering a hypothesis are important skills for our twenty first century learners. We believe in using oval and octagonal tables in our classrooms to encourage every student to be a participant in a discussion. Yesterday, our Academic Dean Sarah Doenmez asked us to consider what patterns of communication and class participation we were seeing in our classrooms. She asked us if we noticed any patterns emerging among different racial, ethnic, socioeconomic or gender groups in our classrooms. What followed was a fascinating discussion that helped us develop a list of strategies for reaching all students in our classrooms. Here is a sampling of what we shared.
1. Have students write brief responses to questions before responding verbally—allowing more time for students who need more time to process information.
2. Map discussions by drawing an oval table with a seating chart. Draw lines from one student to another as each student enters the conversation. Analyze the pattern and any gaps in it before developing strategies for the next class.
3. Assign specific roles to the students before the discussion so they are prepared and more confident entering the class.
4. Use a smart phone timer to give each student a designated amount of time to speak on a topic.
5. If one student is consistently dominating a discussion speak to them outside of class to help them develop strategies for bringing out the voices of their classmates. Coach them on the importance of listening to and supporting their peers.
6. As a teacher, use humor and self-deprecation to create a safe and relaxed environment for a discussion.
7. Work overtly to call on students who have not been participating in the discussion.
8. Hold class outside or in unexpected locations so students do not get stuck in regular patterns of discussion.
9. Have students move to different parts of the classroom depending on their response to a given question. Then, have them explain their decision.
10. Emphasize the importance of preparing for a discussion by having students choose specific parts of the homework to discuss in class the next day.
11. Use a tablet or smart phone to video a class for analysis later. Are we following up with one student or group more than another?
I feel that using these strategies to analyze and refine our approach to class discussions will help us become more student centered in our teaching. I love the power of collaboration!