Diversity: Approaches to building conceptual understanding in the Social Studies classroom, pp. 8 of 14

Possible Solutions

To address this limitation, the classroom teacher may seek to develop competencies, particularly in the aspect of questioning techniques, to better equip oneself as a teacher facilitator in the classroom. To build up confidence in facilitating dialogues, one may consider forecasting and planning how you could build up a point from a student response and connect them with wider issues to be explored. An appropriately sequenced list of questions (otherwise known as question scripting) may also help to direct student response towards a more focused conclusion (Beal, Bolick & Martorell, 2009). While there are many different strategies that one can employ (See Evans & Saxe, pp. 85-86, 1996), the above discussion-based activity shows how pre-planned questioning script (using Taba’s questioning script) could help in achieving specific instructional objectives (SIO).

To facilitate dialogue among students, the general atmosphere of the classroom environment also plays an important part in influencing student participatory levels in discussion-based activities. The teacher may consider adopting new strategies for eliciting responses from students. For instance, teacher questions could be minimised and replaced with more teacher statements. The teacher could use “That’s interesting…tell us more” or “So you’re saying…” instead of “What do you think” or “Why is that so?” (Sinnema & Aitken, 2012).  Such a shift in questioning styles helps promote greater dialogue among students by setting a nurturing tone to the classroom environment.

In addition, it is also important for the classroom teacher to provide a safe environment for the exchange of ideas, thoughts and feelings among students. Fundamental to all discussion-based activities is the belief that “student learning is promoted by respectful and productive teacher-student and student-student relationships” (Sinnema & Aitken, 2012). Research has shown that respectful relationships play an important role in creating a conducive classroom environment for dialogue (Alton-Lee, Nuthall & Patrick, 1995). This is particularly so in the context of our new Social Studies syllabus which probes into contentious issues that many of our students can identify and relate with. Hence, the teacher facilitator will need to be extremely well-versed with the various anticipatory measures and strategies that could prevent conflict from occurring (British Columbia Department of Education & Training, 2008). The teacher should always establish clear guidelines for acceptable classroom behaviour and monitor students closely. At the most fundamental level, teacher facilitators may consider Billingsley’s (2000) suggestions for effective dialogue:

  1. Create an environment of trust and mutual respect
  2. Celebrate everyone and denigrate no one
  3. Minority communities be viewed and treated as individuals, rather than categories

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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