Classroom discussion is a common yet critical aspect of the educational experience. For many, learning happenings not necessarily when students listen but also when students express their thoughts and opinions regarding a matter. This post will look at reasons for discussion, challenges, and ways to foster more discussion in the classroom.
Reasons for Discussion
Discussion is simply the flow of ideas between individuals and or groups. It is a two-way street in that both sides are actively expressing their ideas. This is how discussion varies from a lecture which is one-sided and most question and answers learning. In a discussion, people are sharing their thoughts almost in a democratic-like style.
Classroom discussion, of course, is focused specifically on helping students learn through interacting with each other and the teacher using this two-way form of communication.
Discussion can aid in the development of both thinking and affective skills. In terms, of thinking, classroom discussion helps students to use thinking skills from the various levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Recalling, comparing, contrasting, evaluating, etc are all needed when sharing and defending ideas.
The affective domain relates to an individual’s attitude and morals. Discussion supports affective development through strengthing or changing a students attitude towards something. For example, it is common for students to hold strong opinions with little evidence. Through discussion, the matter and actually thinking it through critical students can realize that even if their position is not wrong it is not sufficiently supported.
Barriers and Solutions to Classroom Discussion
There are many common problems with leading discussions such as not understanding or failing to explain how a discussion should be conducted, focus on lower level questions, using the textbook for the content of a discussion, and the experience and attitude of the teacher.
Discussion is something everybody has done but may not exactly know how to do well. Teachers often do not understand exactly how to conduct a classroom discussion or, if they do understand it, they sometimes fail to explain it to their students. How to discuss should be at a minimum demonstrated before attempting to do it
Another problem is poor discussion questions. The goal of a discussion is to have questions in which there are several potential responses. If the question has one answer, there is not much to discuss. Many teachers mistakenly believe that single answer questions constitute a discussion.
The expertise of the teacher and the textbook can also be problems. Students often believe that the teacher and the textbook are always right. This can stifle discussion in which the students need to share contrasting opinions. Students may be worried about looking silly if disagreeing, One way to deal with this is to encourage openness and trying to make content relevant to something it the students lives rather than abstract and objecive.
In addition, students need to know there are no right or wrong answers just answers that are carefully thought out or not thought out. This means that the teacher must restrain themselves from correcting ridiculous ideas if they are supported adequately and show careful thought.
Discussion happens first through example. As the teacher show how this can be done the students develop an understanding of the norms for this activity. The ultimate goal should always be for students to lead discussion independent of the teacher. This is consistent with autonomous learning which is the end goal of education for many teachers.