Friday, May 27, 2016

Student-led Classroom Discussions

In my quest to give students voice and control over their education and learning, I've started giving real-life problems for them to solve. For example, when we had repeated problems with picking who got to get the milk or the chrome books, I asked my students to come up with a solution so that no one would ask me (I have some issues with being crowded and this seemed like something that didn't need approval).

The first two discussions we had were somewhat productive. I was quite impressed that many students gave ideas and spoke out for what they thought was a good solution. They came up with ideas (not the ideas I'd have come up with) and they effectively owned those ideas. For these first two discussions I didn't intervene. I listened but didn't even have to join the circle.

Then we tried a third problem: Making sure the class was tidy. They quickly decided they wanted jobs, but a few other issues came up. One student was dominating the whole discussion and in essence was trying to bully (not really, but that's the closest word to what was going on) the other children to agree with him. The second was that the discussion very quickly descended into chaos as side discussions started happening

So I had to intervene. Even though there were some (most of my students, really) that were genuinely trying to have an open discussion there were some who weren't.

I had a think about it and decided that each of these discussions would have certain students playing roles in order to move things along.

Today we tried out five jobs:

Moderator - chooses who speaks, stops others from interrupting, makes sure everyone has a say

Challenger - puts forth an opposing viewpoint (if it hasn't been already)

Recorder - writes down/types anything that needs writing down

Questioner - asks people to explain their thinking more

Monitor - makes sure we are not taking too long, saying the same things over and over and that students are not disrupting the discussion or wasting everyone's time

I actually had to appoint two monitors today because a lot of students were being silly, BUT the two were pretty good at keeping the students focused.  I still needed to add some input, though. They kept on suggesting ideas and then asking: "Who disagrees?" That led to us pretty much going in a circle, saying the same ideas over and over. So I got my moderator to list the ideas and they took it from there - sort of. They have decided to make some pictures to print out for jobs and they want me to laminate it

Was all this hassle worth it? I could have solved the problem quickly myself and come up with pretty much the same thing. But I think that I've planted several seeds in these students now and they will be given more opportunities to have a say. The problem has not been solved, but we have a potential solution.

I do think I'll try these jobs with other aspects of group work and we can develop more roles that will be appropriate to different situations.

As always, suggestions are always appreciated!

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