|Students of all ages will need lots
of practice with discussion before it begins to take off. Therefore,
we encourage you to keep your expectations for discussion realistic.
Most teachers find that students become more adept at these conversations
gradually. This is helped when teachers take time to debrief
the discussions by drawing students together afterward and reviewing
what went well and what is still challenging. Through this cycle
of practice and debriefing, you will begin to see growth.
Here are some things to keep
- Keep the debriefing short
and focused. A debriefing session does not need
to take a lot of time in order to be effective. Lori
Scobie conducts whole-class debriefings for five to ten minutes
after the groups have discussed. Vicki
Yousoofian's first graders absorb a few helpful tips in quick
debriefings immediately after their discussion.
- Start simply.
Ask your students a couple of simple questions: "What worked
well today?" and "What do we still need to work on?" Lori
does this while standing in front of the literature circle guidelines
chart. If an issue comes up that seems to be important,
she may add another guideline to the list.
"Say your prediction, then ask, 'What do you think
- Use debriefing to teach specific
strategies students can use in their next discussion.
Debriefing offers an excellent way to help students become conscious
of what works and what doesn't in a discussion. You can
achieve this best when students understand specifics. As
an example, listen to what Janine
King told one group as she debriefed their discussion:
"You had two parts to your discussion today -- predictions and
questions. One generated more discussion. Which was
that?" One student said, "Our questions." When Janine
asked the group why they thought that was true, someone said,
"When you give your prediction, you can't really argue with that.
It's their prediction." Janine built on that understanding:
"When you're talking about something that's more of a statement,
what could help the discussion?" Here's what the students
"Ask, 'What do you think might happen later in the book?'"
"Say, 'That's what I thought, too. Do you have any thoughts?'"
Through this debriefing, students demonstrated that they know what
goes into an effective discussion, and they're working on the how.
Janine summed it up for them: "When someone makes a prediction and
tells why, then you can piggyback on that other person's prediction."
Students came away with specific strategies to apply right away
in their next discussion.
- Guide students' self-reflection
Begin with reflections in response journals. The response
journal provides a good place for student self-reflection on discussions.
Useful prompts include, "What went well in your discussion today?"
"What was something that you did to help the discussion go smoothly?"
"What will you work on for next time?" In a journal entry,
one of Mary Lou Laprade's
third graders wrote: "Yesterday, I think that the book club
discussion went pretty good because we all were good listeners
and we all participated. We kept the discussion going and
we all had a lot of fun." Journal entry reflections give
you helpful assessment information about your studentsí ability
to identify and articulate the elements of effective discussion.
to Making Discussions Work