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Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Effective Class Discussions with Black Students
How Rich Is Your Classroom Discourse?
Effective class discussions focus on critical thinking rather than right answers.
You ask the students, “What is the main idea of the passage?”
Joseph responds, “Always persevere,” to which you reply, “Very good, Joseph.”
the average classroom, as much as 70% of instructional time consists of
these kinds of verbal exchanges between you and students or among
students: teacher initiation, student response, teacher evaluation of
the response/feedback. Classroom discussion, dialogue, and discourse are
the principal means of exchanging ideas, evaluating mastery, developing
thinking processes, and reflecting on content and shared thoughts.
students in effective classroom talk begins by creating a
discourse-rich classroom culture. Begin the year by discussing what rich
discourse is, the rationale for it, and answering the What’s In It for
Me question by specifying ways students benefit.
key element of building a discourse-rich culture is embedding the
spirit of collaboration versus competition. Classroom talk is not only a
means of students supporting each other, but also of holding each other
accountable by helping clarify, restate, and challenge ideas.
may not participate if their thoughts are ridiculed, devalued, or
ignored. To that end, establishing norms of discourse helps develop safe
spaces, establishes boundaries, and moves the discussion forward.
my classroom, the norms included specifics on how to engage in active
listening, address ideas versus individuals, and respectfully
disagree/question. Role-playing appropriate and inappropriate actions
can give students a better understanding of their expected role during
third central element of developing a culture that fosters rich
discourse is helping students appreciate the processes to get there
versus simply the production of right answers. Make it clear that you
value students strategically thinking about, discussing, clarifying, and
elaborating on ideas rather than having someone simply state the
correct answer in order to save time.
Complex Thinking Processes
most of your classroom talk consist of students recalling or
reproducing facts? Or, do they often use complex thinking strategies
such as making claims supported with evidence and reasoning, discerning
the author’s purpose and its effect on the interpretation of text, and
applying models to tasks? As you begin to reshape and enrich your
classroom discourse, planning for and assessing complex thinking
processes is essential.
begin to engage students in more complex thinking processes, be clear
about the distinction between difficult and complex. I ask
teachers in my professional learning sessions whether the task of
spelling a word such asantidisestablishmentarianism is
difficult or complex. Many say it’s complex. However, if students have a
good grasp of phonemic awareness (sounds that build words), spelling
long words may be difficult, but not complex.
Depth of Knowledge (DOK) model (recall, skill/concept, strategic
thinking, extended thinking) can be used to plan and assess the
complexity of thinking as well as the presence of rigor. This tool may
help you plan for the type of discourse that evokes deeper
cognitive processes. You might use it to:
Prompt students to describe and analyze the characteristics of texts written during the modernism period.
Identify and explain misconceptions around the discovery of America.
Justify solutions for mathematical tasks involving equations with more than one solution.
Cite evidence and use reasoning to support the claim that an unknown liquid is a mixture.
probably have a few students who need their mouths physically pried
open before they will contribute. Some are fearful of being critiqued in
courtroom of classmate opinion and find solace in silence. Others are
disinterested and prefer to think about everything else except what’s
going on in your room. Here are a few suggestions for bringing such
reticent students into the fold of rich discourse:
them to discuss a topic that is important to them. Interest
inventories, heart maps, and informal conversation can help you uncover
them in partner talk (e.g., pair-share, turn-and-talk) or small group
before whole group. More students participate in whole-group talk if
first allowed to articulate, clarify, and reorganize thoughts with
wait-time. When you want to know how to repair that leaky faucet in
your kitchen or where your favorite retailer is located, you want the best answer in
the shortest amount of time. Similarly, in the classroom, you may be
guilty of wanting the best answer in the shortest time, given the
pressure of staying on target with the pacing guide. Hardly novel but
wholly effective, wait-time has been shown to improve not only the
proportion of students who respond but the quality of the responses as
Name the strategy after a student. For instance, when a student provides a substantive contribution, call it the Johnathan way,Maureen method, or Sharon technique.
the instructional reins to your students can make you uneasy. Fear of
letting go may conjure thoughts of less learning taking place,
increasing disorder, and the discomfort of not driving the wheels of
learning. However, when students lead discourse, they clarify their own
ideas and increase their levels of cognitive and behavioral engagement.
It makes their thinking visible and helps you determine the most
effective subsequent instructional moves.
introduce student-led discourse, explicitly model the talk. Have them
lead discourse about a topic many are passionate about, such as social
media rights for young people, as a way to get them more comfortable and
familiar with leading discourse.
Moving from Conventional Discourse to Rich Discourse
Conventional Classroom Discourse
Known answer questions atypically posed
Multiple answers/explanations possible
Predominantly teacher-driven and led
Students co-construct, drive, and often lead discourse
Students rarely afforded latitude to build on peers’ thoughts
Students build on, challenge, revoice, and share ideas with peers
Teacher relies on a few students to carry talk
Many students eagerly participate
Aim is to have correct answer given in shortest time
Goal is to have students articulate strategic thinking
Self-Checking Discourse Quality
A few questions may help you self-assess the quality of discourse in your class:
Is the emphasis on giving the right answers rather than processes and strategies?
Do the verbal
interactions follow the teacher-dominated initiation-response-evaluation pattern?
Is discourse carried by the voices of a few where the others are reluctant to contribute?
Do you often provide opportunities for students to lead the discourse?
Do you model and insist wait-time be used as a key component of dialogue?
Do you send non-verbal signals to students based on your perception of their ability to give a quick or correct response?
Does your lack of comfort with content lead you to pose more close-ended questions?
you create a classroom culture rife with intellectually safe spaces and
emphases on processes of strategic thinking versus production of right
answers, you invite instructional
episodes of rich discourse. Student-led discourse is a powerful way to
let students take ownership of their own learning.