Building Community through Discussion

Class Discussion Norms

(In my class, these become our Community Norms and replace any “rules”)

A world community painted on hands with doves
Build a community of empathy and caring in your classroom through academic discussion.
  • Equity of Voice: Monitor your airtime. As a group member you are responsible to be a speaker AND a listener. You are also responsible to invite others to speak. Equal(ish) airtime is the goal. Our community values all voices.
  • Active Listening
: Eye contact, nodding, being sure you respond to a comment with a related question or comment. Build on what others say. Our community believes everyone should feel heard.
  • Respect for All Perspectives
: You will not agree with everyone’s ideas. Work to understand their thinking. Our community values diverse perspectives.
  • Safety to Share: Your language, tone, body language and overall behavior should invite others to share differing opinions. Approach others’ ideas with curiosity and an open mind. The goal is never to be right, it is always to learn. Our community values safety.
  • Self-monitor use of Electronics
: It’s hard to feel like your ideas are important when you are speaking to the top of someone’s head because they are staring at their phone or their laptop screen. Our community values you and your ideas.

*Adapted from the norms used by the New Teacher Center during the best trainings of my life!


How Can We Create A Community that Values these Norms?

I gradually release student responsibility. Here’s how:

  • Sentence Stems & Explicit Instruction. Require their use. Fishbowl small groups. Analyze their discussion as a class. Data collection tip- let observers record tic marks for certain sentence stems or behaviors you’ve agreed are important. Current Events Discussions are a great way to practice these skills within an organized structure!
  • Conduct whole group discussions- focusing on the norms and sentence stems. REALLY focusing on them. With the same vigor you focus on routines and procedure in September. You hate yourself when you relax about them in November and vow you’ll never do that again. Do better with this. They need the structure to feel safe.
  • Pull small groups for discussions (maybe even half the class). Coach them. Invite a few students to be observers/ analyzers with you. Share the highlights with the whole class. Find observation sheets here.
  • When you feel they are ready, divide the class into small groups (4-5 students max). Let them discuss! While you monitor, record excellent phrases and interactions and share them publicly as soon as it’s over! Provide students an opportunity to reflect on paper after discussion. Download my free Discussion Reflection Activity when you subscribe below.
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3 Classroom Discussion Musts

Using Sentence Stems and Explicit Instruction for Classroom Discussions

Teaching discussion skills can be daunting! You know you want productive, positive discussions… but how do you get there? Here’s some of what works for me!

  1. Body Language & Politeness Matter
  • Eye Contact: looking directly at the speaker lets them know they have your attention
  • Inviting Posture: Facing your body toward the speaker with an open posture invites them to share. Avoid crossed arms if you can!
  • Use your group member’s name when addressing them.
    Ex. “Dan, can you tell me more about what you thought the author meant by…”

man crossing arms

2. Paraphrasing lets the speaker know you have listened and understand.

  • So,…
  • In other words,
  • …It sounds like…
  • There are some key points you’re bringing up…
  • From what you’re saying,…

3. Clarifying lets the speaker know you have listened but do not fully understand.

  • Would you tell me a little more about…?
  • Let me see if I understand…
  • Can you tell me more about…
  • It would help me understand if you’d give me an example of…
  • So, are you saying/suggesting…?
  • What do you mean by…?
  • How are you feeling about…?

Let students collect data on their use of these important behaviors! Encouraging them to formally reflect on their performance after each and every discussion instills in them the importance this work.

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Using Current Events as the Context for Structured Academic Conversations

Building a Classroom Community through Academic Conversations

Respect & Rapport… starts with us!

What better way to develop an Environment of Respect and Rapport than by developing a 1:1 relationship with each student??Watch Rick connect with students about their reading during conferences. What does he do/ say that develops an environment of respect and rapport? What does Rick communicate to his students with his verbal and non-verbal language? I’ve seen similar successes with Experimental Design Conferences in a middle school science class as well as Think Tank conferences in a high school math class. In each instance, teachers demonstrated great respect for their students’ thinking by honoring scheduled time with everyone. How could you make something like this work in your context? What do you & your students stand to gain?

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Student Engagement- Week 2 Educator Challenge

If you are back for round two… congratulations on your successes during week one! If you’re just joining us, welcome~ we’re thrilled to have you here and hope you join the conversation! Let’s think about where we are starting!

Level 1: Projects, activities and assignments lack challenge, are inappropriate, or do not cognitively engage students. -> Level 2: Projects, activities and assignments inconsistently challenge all students appropriately and only cognitively engage some students. -> Level 3: Projects, activities and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage almost all students in complex learning. -> Level 4: Projects, activities, and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage student in complex learning.

With these descriptors in mind, which level would you say best describes your daily teaching experiences? Continue reading “Student Engagement- Week 2 Educator Challenge”

Teachers on the front lines

Good Morning & Happy Halloween!
If you’re reading this, you have power somewhere… and that’s great news for you and your students. They are so lucky to have you today. I want to share a quick thought with you before your day goes into overdrive and you are lost in the responsibilities and assessments and deadlines of the noble profession we are all so lucky you joined.
Today is a different kind of day. Today you need to know your students more than other days. Today (mixed with the drama & excitement of October 31), you will have a student in your class who didn’t sleep last night because he was on Grandma’s couch, because his parents were pumping her basement. Some of your students haven’t showered or eaten a good meal in days and that’s precisely why their parents sent them to school. So, when Johnny tells you his backpack is in Auntie Sue’s car… today~ let’s assume it is. Today’s not the day for: “This was your last chance to get your homework in.” Today’s one of the many days that you will juggle curriculum, a schedule, your own evaluation and parent communication… and you will put it all aside to address your students’ basic needs… you will be balancing the art and science of teaching. You will put compassion first while giving your students the structure they crave… And you’ll pull it off with a smile!
Thank you for being in front of these students today. I’ve been thinking a lot about the horrible flood a few years back that took so many of my students’ homes. That was a difficult time- students moved for months. School, for so many, was the only stable part of life that year. I hope Sandy was kind to their families- they went through so much then. I’m relieved that the students who are struggling at this time have amazing teachers like you in front of them. The work you do is beyond important & I am thrilled that you have chosen to do it.