Last week, Eye On Education hosted its premier online conference, Eye On School Success. The conference provided teachers and school leaders with a wealth of practical ideas for implementing the CCSS. (The entire conference is now available on demand.) One of our expert presenters, Terry Roberts, led the popular session Using Seminars for 21st Century Literacy." In this tip, you will learn some of Terry's suggestions for creating collaborative discussions that get all students participating and thinking at higher levels.
The Common Core State Standards require that students "engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions…building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly" (The Common Core State Standards, p. 49). Students should learn how to acknowledge information presented by others, synthesize multiple perspectives, and adjust their own views if necessary. Students need to learn these discussion skills now, since they will be required to use them in college and in 21st century careers. The jobs of the future will require collaboration, discussion, and problem-solving as never before.
However, teachers have to be careful not to divide students into groups, give them a topic, and assume that they know how to carry on an effective discussion. According to Terry Roberts, speaking and listening skills must be explicitly taught at first. Teachers have to model good speaking and listening. They also have to teach students metacognition. Students must become aware of their own speaking and listening habits, set goals, and reflect on those goals. For example, Terry says that you can have students set any of the following goals before a class discussion:
Goals for Listening
- Look at the person speaking.
- Paraphrase what you hear someone say.
- Respond to what someone else says.
- Ask a question.
- Wait your turn to talk. (Don’t talk while another is speaking.)
- Give way. (Be quiet if you begin talking at the same time someone else does.)
Goals for Speaking
- Speak loudly enough so that everyone can hear.
- Speak voluntarily x times.
- Make clear and accurate statements.
- Use appropriate grammar and vocabulary.
- Use relevant vocabulary.
- Use a collaborative tone.
- Disagree agreeably or in a neutral tone
After a discussion, teachers can have students go back to the goal(s) they identified and rate themselves on a scale from 1 to 5 in relationship to their goal(s). Students should explain their ratings.
Teachers can also keep track of student participation. During the discussion, teachers can use a map (seating-chart format) to take notes on talk turns. After the discussion, teachers can use the map to analyze who spoke the most, and who was quiet and needs more practice speaking.
Throughout this process, the teacher is doing the coaching but is not just telling students how they rate; students are thinking about it on their own, too. In this way, students are taking charge of their own thinking and learning. With practice, students will be able to have independent discussions with less and less teacher support.
Terry’s suggestions are applicable to all kinds of class discussions, but he particularly recommends Paideia Seminars, in which students have open-ended discussions about challenging texts. For more on coaching students to speak and to listen, or for more information specifically about implementing Paideia Seminars, check out his book, Teaching Critical Thinking: Using Seminars for 21st Century Thinking, with coauthor Laura Billings.
Eye On School Success, featuring Terry Roberts' session, Using Seminars for 21st Century Literacy, is now available on demand. Register now, and you’ll learn how a seminar approach can lead students deeper into a text and improve their speaking, listening, and writing skills, as recommended by the Common Core State Standards.