Monday, February 18, 2013

Engaging Students through Discussion
We want to focus on keeping students engaged throughout class and meaningful discussion helps to accomplish this but how do you ensure that all students are a part of the discussion? These are just a few examples of things I have tried to keep all students in the class engaged in a discussion.

“Knights of the Round Table”
At the beginning of the block each student receives a note card with a shape, a color, and a number. They then need to come up with five-six discussion questions on the topic (this works well with novels, poems, and short stories but I am sure you could use it in other disciplines besides English). We also discuss that they need to be questions that apply, analyze, or evaluate. The students are then grouped three different times where they discuss the questions they came up with on their note card.

The student asks the question and then they progress around the table sharing their responses. The catch is they can’t just agree with what one of their peers said, they must add to the discussion. The student who asks the question must also answer the question. This usually ensures they will ask something worth discussing in their minds. The next student will then ask their question and it follows the pattern of before until each student has had their question discussed.

Although the student will only use three questions having five-six prepared allows for plenty of other options to ask if someone steals their question or there are duplicate questions.

After one round of discussion we will come together as a class and share insights that each group discovered before rotating to our next Knights of the Round Table. The different shapes, colors, and numbers will mix up the students so most will not be with the same person for each discussion. Below is a short example of some students discussing 1984.

3 to 5:
Have a list of the students in your class with you throughout the block and check off when they participate. You have questions, quotes, ideas, points, etc.  prepared to begin the discussion and then they will take over. Each student will need to chime in three to five times during the discussion.  I will tell students when we are doing this activity and they actually seem to enjoy it. 

I find it is helpful because everyone has to participate at least three times and those students who have a tendency to dominate the conversation have to limit their input (you may only speak up five times maximum) adding variety to the responses.

It tends to make discussions more meaningful as students are careful about what they share and when they speak up. It is also a great way to ensure they are listening and learning from one another as their comments cannot be repeat ideas but can be responses to a peer’s participation. I’ve learned a lot from the students through these discussions.

Try it and see what you can learn…

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Student Reflection

This week's post revolves around thinking and reflection.
As I remember taking my first psychology class in high school, there were so many concepts that I thought about for the first time.  The concept of "thinking about thinking" especially blew my mind.  I remember hearing that up until this point, my brain had not developed enough to fully understand many of the concepts.  It was a class where there was much to think about and reflect upon.

Reflecting is something that we should all do in life.  It gives us insight and perspective about our lives.  It can help us be more productive and help us realize what things we could do better.  That is where my students come in.

Though I admit, the freshman I teach, don't naturally seem like the students who would spend hours reflecting upon transcendental thoughts of nature... but they might surprise you.  I have started regularly integrating reflection assignments into my classes.  Though I am not teaching psychology, I have seen quite a bit of benefit.  There have been many times where a student has asked why he or she did poorly on a test or assignment.  The teacher reaction is simply to tell them.  Instead, I have tried to get in the habit of asking them what they thought happened.  I have been surprised many times by the detail of their answers.  I have found that many times it only takes a simple question or two, for the reasons to quickly become evident.  There have also been times where this technique has given me a much more thorough answer than I would have given.  Students nearly always share that they should have payed attention on this or that, or that they didn't spend as much time studying as they wanted, or that they simply forgot to study or do the assignment.

Reflection assignments after units, months, or even a semester have been particularly thought provoking.  I have even had students share some thoughts (that they are comfortable with) in front of the class, to help the class as a whole relate.  I think this give students a sense that they are not alone.  Their neighbor may be struggling with the very same thing.  It can also be an opportunity for encouragement from both a teacher and their fellow student.

Many times students don't even realize the significance of their thoughts, but I hope, if even subconsciously, the realization of what they could do better, will lead to substantive improvement.
Try it... and see what you can learn.